BNSF Railway opened the new Sandpoint Junction Connector rail bridge making an inaugural trip at the beginning of August to mark the completion of the project.
The double-track bridge crosses Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho now allowing both tracks to be simultaneously used by trains benefiting BNSF’s customers and the passenger trains that run on BNSF’s main line.
To meet the growing needs of the communities BNSF serves, the rail freight operator began constructing a second bridge over Lake Pend Oreille in 2019, adjacent to the existing bridge. The two bridges over Sand Creek and Bridge Street in Sandpoint run parallel to each other, approximately 50 feet (15 metres) apart.
The original rail bridge was 1.45 km long (4,769 feet). In Sandpoint, BNSF’s mainline track merges with Montana Rail Link, which created a bottleneck of multiple tracks merging into a single track across Lake Pend Oreille. Since only one train could cross at a time, trains were often staged, leaving them idling and blocking local roadways while waiting to cross.
The new rail bridge was completed in late 2022 and opened to rail service in November, nearly a year ahead of schedule. The completion of the new bridge allowed BNSF to begin a modernisation project on the original bridge, built in 1904. It has been under construction since last year and has been closed for maintenance upgrades until now. New bridges over Sand Creek and Bridge Street in Sandpoint were also constructed.
The inauguration of the Sandpoint Junction Connector rail bridge “is a big win for our customers and the community, especially before the start of the fall harvest season. This bridge will be critical moving forward to address our long-term growth and will allow us to meet customer expectations for the next century or more,” John Cech, vice president of engineering for BNSF said.
The upgrades will reduce congestion and help move current and future freight traffic more efficiently, significantly reducing idle times for trains. Drivers should see shorter wait times on nearby roads and streets that cross BNSF tracks.