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Updates on Multi-Tracking the Two BNSF Transcons

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Posted by rdamon on Tuesday, October 31, 2023 3:14 PM

Some good photos of the new North 1st Ave. bridge over the BNSF tracks in Barstow.

https://www.gosbcta.com/project/north-first-avenue-bridge-over-bnsf-railroad-project/

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Posted by kgbw49 on Friday, October 27, 2023 6:49 AM

BNSF just keeps plugging away on capacity improvements.

There are several interesting short videos embedded in this article.

https://bnsf.com/news-media/railtalk/service/west-coast-commitment.html

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Posted by Tunnel on Tuesday, October 10, 2023 12:04 PM


Do you have information on the DT project in Texas from the Alliance Yard south to Fort Worth to Cleburn, Rio Vista and Blum? 

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Posted by kgbw49 on Monday, October 2, 2023 8:27 AM

Thank you, MikeF90!

BNSF just keeps plugging away on capacity expansion.

The second bridge over the Missouri River at Sibley, MO is gradually working its way to construction.

 

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Posted by MikeF90 on Sunday, October 1, 2023 6:46 PM

On the southern transcon, the latest section of second track has been activated between Chelsea and CP El Dorado MP 172.8.  Further grading for the final second track segment from W. Augusta to East Jct continues.

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Posted by Erik_Mag on Thursday, August 17, 2023 12:38 AM

Vermontanan2

One line that was built in the area was the 38-mile Sarpy Creek branch south from the ex-NP main line near Hysham.

I remember seeing that line under construction ca 1973. My most recent trip by it was in April to attend the funeral of my aunt who I flew to Sheridan in 1976. The rails still had a shine.

One difference between that line and the others is that it was built to serve a mine that oterwise would not have had rail access. I'm guessing that there might have been more mines served by that had Montana not imposed the 30% coal severance tax.

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Posted by Vermontanan2 on Wednesday, August 16, 2023 11:29 PM

MidlandMike

What traffic is left on the ex-MILW line?

Here’s what has historically been the traffic flows on the ex-MILW main, but I can’t vouch for specific present day-to-day operation.
 
There’s a merchandise train between Northtown (Minneapolis) and Laurel, Montana (and vice versa).  In addition to single car shipments, it handles auto racks for the auto facility at Laurel.  It picks up and sets out a Willmar, mostly traffic to and from south of Willmar toward Sioux City and Lincoln.  At Aberdeen, it sets out and picks up local traffic.  At Hettinger, ND, they’re the connection for a local primarily serving industries at Gascoyne, North Dakota, but can go as far west as Baker, Montana.
 
There’s a local between Willmar and Aberdeen.  Locals also run in either direction from Aberdeen, east toward Big Stone City (Ethanol plant), south toward Mitchell (including South Dakota’s biggest interchange with RCP&E at Wolsey), and west toward Mobridge.  And then the local at Hettinger as indicated above.
There’s a lot of local business at Aberdeen and nearby.  The giant AGP processing plant northeast of town on the ex-GN line toward Rutland, ND opened in 2020.  There are numerous ethanol plants in the area:
 
There are numerous shuttle grain train facilities along the ex-MILW main line.  The only ones West River are McLaughlin, Lemmon, Bucyrus (ND), and Scranton (ND).  All others are at Selby and east.  There are also numerous facilities south of Aberdeen on the route to Sioux City via Mitchell as well as east of Mitchell toward Canton and Sioux Falls.  BNSF shuttle trains are loaded at four facilities on the RCP&E west of Wolsey and at three on the Ringneck and Western west of Mitchell.  Some of these locations also are equipped to accommodate unit fertilizer trains.  Any shuttle grain train in South Dakota billed to the Pacific Northwest could be routed via the ex-MILW main line, but for locations east of Aberdeen and east and south of Mitchell, they can also be rerouted east and northeast to Willmar and Benson, and then to the Northern Transcontinental to avoid helpers on MRL.
 
And then, of course, there are all the corresponding empties trains going to all these various facilities.  So, it’s all about demand in the Ag sector and that varies with the season.
 
--Mark Meyer
 
 
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Posted by MidlandMike on Wednesday, August 16, 2023 9:59 PM

Vermontanan2
... These used to be the only regular coal trains on the ex-Milwaukee across South Dakota, but now the plant gets its coal from a Wyoming mine, and trains operate via Lincoln, NE and Willmar, MN.

What traffic is left on the ex-MILW line?

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Posted by Vermontanan2 on Wednesday, August 16, 2023 1:37 PM

Erik_Mag

Another potential short cut could have been between Harden and Custer/Bighorn, but the savings probably didn't cover the cost to build the line.

 

Yes, this route from Hardin to Custer along the Big Horn River would have saved about 50 miles, but it likely was never considered because it didn't address the primary reason for the Tongue River Railroad, which was to avoid the steepest grades.  The only large mines were at Decker and Spring Creek (northeast of Sheridan, WY) and without the Tongue River Railroad, loads for places like Minnesota and Wisconsin had to tackle the 1.25% grade to the main line at Dutch, drop back into the Tongue River drainage at Sheridan (on a 1.6% grade no less), and then tackle the 1.25% grade from Ranchester to Parkman.  A short cut from Hardin to Custer wouldn't have changed this.

In the end, the short "new" line built from the mines to the main line at Dutch (east of Sheridan) was not only cheaper, but would still have been necessary to allow access for trains destined to places like Missouri and Texas.  

All this suggests that in the end, the powers-to-be decided that there wouldn't be the volume of traffic to justify construction of the new line, and it really wouldn't be useful for anything else but coal.  

One line that was built in the area was the 38-mile Sarpy Creek branch south from the ex-NP main line near Hysham.  Like the proposed Tongue River Railroad, it is pretty much all downhill from the mine northeast of Hardin to the Yellowstone River, and then to Glendive.  However, its lone customer now is the Sherco power plants near Becker, Minnesota, which are set to all be decommissioned by 2030.  It used to supply the Big Stone power plant in South Dakota near Ortonville, MN.  These used to be the only regular coal trains on the ex-Milwaukee across South Dakota, but now the plant gets its coal from a Wyoming mine, and trains operate via Lincoln, NE and Willmar, MN.

--Mark Meyer

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Posted by Erik_Mag on Tuesday, August 15, 2023 11:39 PM

Vermontanan2

The Tongue River railroad always seemed to be a no-brainer.

I remember hearing a lot of discussion about the Tongue River railroad in 1976. I got a decent look of the route when flying my aunt from Miles City to Sheridan that summer.

Another potential short cut could have been between Harden and Custer/Bighorn, but the savings probably didn't cover the cost to build the line.

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Posted by SD60MAC9500 on Tuesday, August 15, 2023 11:29 PM

Vermontanan2

Having said that, coal routed via Sidney and Williston would have saved one locomotive over the traditional route as the maximum grade (beyond Glendive) for coal trains would be reduced from 1% to .6%.  

 
Thanks for chiming in Mark. That's why I mentioned the theoretical routing. It would reduce the amount of locomotives needed vs the NP across North Dakota. I envisioned sending EB across from Minot via the Devils Lake, Grand Forks, and Lakes Sub. With empties returing to the PRB via the, Brainard, Staples, Jamestown Subs, etc..
Rahhhhhhhhh!!!!
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Posted by Vermontanan2 on Monday, August 14, 2023 5:28 PM

SD60MAC9500

For Great Lakes bound coal. I had always hoped the Tongue River connection would've been built. Sending loaded coal via the TR and an upgraded Sidney Line would've made a great shortcut for PRB coal to the docks at Superior, WI, instead of the current routing.

The Tongue River railroad always seemed to be a no-brainer.  From the mines around Decker, Montana, loaded trains climbed out of the Tongue River drainage on a 1.25% grade to the main line east of Sheridan (at Dutch) and then plummeted back into the same drainage at Sheridan, and then climbed out again on a similar grade on the hill at Parkman.  Plus many extra miles.

But back in the day (1970s/1980s), BN was investing a buttload of money in the Powder River Basin and had to make hard choices.  I always thought BN never got the credit it deserved for providing the country the infrastructure it needed when the coal boom took hold.

Same for the Glendive-Snowden line, except it would just be an upgrade and not new construction.  As for coal trains using that route, it was 50 to 60 miles longer to Superior depending on the alternate route.  The route just kind of evolved as coal traffic picked up and included the awkward situation where the roundhouse was in Glendive, but the train inspections (as well as adding back fill cars) were done in Mandan.  The roundhouse at Glendive (and the yard) were beyond the switch to the Sidney line for a loaded coal train.  As Dan pointed out, the route via Mandan/Bismarck was "the least-crowded" as this wasn't the transcontinental route, and route east of Snowden through Williston couldn't/ve handled the extra traffic without upgrade (but could now).

Having said that, coal routed via Sidney and Williston would have saved one locomotive over the traditional route as the maximum grade (beyond Glendive) for coal trains would be reduced from 1% to .6%.  Until the mid-2010s, the operation of coal trains east of Glendive entailed cutting a locomotive at Fryburg, ND or east (when the train was by the two steepest grades) and sending it back to Glendive.  Sometimes an actual helper engineer would be used; in distributed power days, the unit would just set out and picked up by a westbound train.  In any event, it was quite cumbersome positioning the power back to Glendive for subsequent trains.  Since then, common practice was to let all the power go through, and in July 2020, the Glendive roundhouse was closed.

The actual superior routing involves trains going the other way.  From Glendive to Sandpoint, Idaho (where the ex-GN and ex-NP routes meet), it's only 4 miles further via Snowden and Havre, than via Billings and Helena.  The routing via Havre and Marias Pass (maximum: a very short 1.2% grade) would be much preferred to adding a rear-end helper at Livingston (1.8% grade) and cutting in a helper midtrain at Helena (2.2% grade).  But like the Tongue River railroad, the overall anticipated usage were the line from Glendive to Snowden upgraded was insufficient weighed against the cost.

--Mark Meyer

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Posted by Vermontanan2 on Monday, August 14, 2023 4:54 PM

dpeltier

 As you know, the Sidney line had once been leased to a short line, and was only re-acquired by BNSF due to a surge in oil-related online business.

 

 
The Yellowstone Valley railroad - and it still survives as a switching railroad at Dore, North Dakota (between Fairview and Snowden).  
 
I would encourage anyone to check out the railroad from Williston to Sidney in Google Earth just to take a look at all the Bakken railroad infrastructure, including crude facilities at Trenton, Dore, and East Fairview, as well as numerous other auxiliary tracks for everything else like sand, chemicals, and pipe.  In 2020, a grain elevator on the north edge of Sidney became a shuttle facility.  (All the loaded unit trains operate north to Snowden.)  Sadly, the line's anchor industry, Sidney Sugars (processing sugar beets; once Holly Sugar) closed earlier this year after being in operation for a century.
 
When it was all said and done, the Snowden-Glendive line did get one operational upgrade:  A long siding was constructed at Crane, south of Sidney.
 
--Mark Meyer
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Posted by dpeltier on Monday, August 14, 2023 1:52 PM

SD60MAC9500

For Great Lakes bound coal. I had always hoped the Tongue River connection would've been built. Sending loaded coal via the TR and an upgraded Sidney Line would've made a great shortcut for PRB coal to the docks at Superior, WI, instead of the current routing.

One iteration of the TRR would have cut significant mileage off the current routing through Jones Jct near Billings, but there would not have been any more reason to go up the Sidney sub to Snowden than there is today. From Miles City, where the TRR would have ended, the most direct and least crowded route east would have been the same route that coal uses to go east from Miles City today: east through Glendive and Bismarck to Fargo, and from there to the on-line power plants in Minnesota and Wisconsin or to the port at Superior.

Dan

 

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Posted by SD60MAC9500 on Monday, August 14, 2023 10:57 AM

dpeltier

 

 
Vermontanan2

While it's only 80 miles from Snowden to Glendive and it would make a great route for fluidity and detours, BNSF has yet to do the necessary work to get 50 miles of the route south of Sidney on the ex-NP portion to be good for 143-ton cars.

 

 

During the MRL outage earlier this year, loaded coal trains were moved north from Billings to Shelby via the Great Falls route, and empties were then returned by sending them hundreds of miles east to Snowden, then to Glendive via Sidney, and from Glendive to Billings.

(I'm using the term Billings somewhat loosely here.)

As you know, the Sidney line had once been leased to a short line, and was only re-acquired by BNSF due to a surge in oil-related online business.

Dan

 

For Great Lakes bound coal. I had always hoped the Tongue River connection would've been built. Sending loaded coal via the TR and an upgraded Sidney Line would've made a great shortcut for PRB coal to the docks at Superior, WI, instead of the current routing.

Rahhhhhhhhh!!!!
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Posted by dpeltier on Monday, August 14, 2023 8:31 AM

Vermontanan2

While it's only 80 miles from Snowden to Glendive and it would make a great route for fluidity and detours, BNSF has yet to do the necessary work to get 50 miles of the route south of Sidney on the ex-NP portion to be good for 143-ton cars.

During the MRL outage earlier this year, loaded coal trains were moved north from Billings to Shelby via the Great Falls route, and empties were then returned by sending them hundreds of miles east to Snowden, then to Glendive via Sidney, and from Glendive to Billings.

(I'm using the term Billings somewhat loosely here.)

As you know, the Sidney line had once been leased to a short line, and was only re-acquired by BNSF due to a surge in oil-related online business.

Dan

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Posted by caldreamer on Monday, August 14, 2023 7:38 AM

Thank you Vermontman:

  That is EXACTLY what I needed to know.  It appears that there is a little single track left on the northern transcon, but not much.  Double tracking would help where there are bottlenecks, but they do have alternate routes

         Caldreamer

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Posted by kgbw49 on Monday, August 14, 2023 6:46 AM

Vermontanan2, thanks for that great breakdown!

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Posted by Vermontanan2 on Monday, August 14, 2023 1:24 AM

kgbw49

On the east end of the Northern Transcon from Galesburg IL all the way up the Mississippi River to St Paul MN and then to Fargo ND the line is primarily double track. (Most intermodal trains head east at Savanna IL on single track to Aurora and then on to Chicago on the triple-track main.)

Not quite.  It's nearly 100 miles from Galesburg to Plum River (Savanna) in Illinois - all of it single track CTC.  There are a few stretches of single main track from there to the Twin Cities (bridges over rivers).  There are two routes (both 2 MT CTC or mostly as such) between St. Paul and North Minneapolis (Northtown area).  Between Northtown and Moorhead via Staples, it's all 2 MT CTC except for segments (2.5 miles and 23 miles). The route via Willmar and Breckenridge is also used as an alternate route as needed. 

Between Aurora, IL and Plum River/Savanna, there's a short section of 2 MT CTC either side of Rochelle.

kgbw49

From Fargo ND to Minot ND there are two separate mainlines - one direct and one via Grand Forks, ND.

Around Williston ND there are stretches of double track.

To clarify:  There are two routes between Moorhead and Surrey/Minot: One via Hillsboro and Devils Lake (trains actually don't go into the yard at Grand Forks) and the more direct route via Casselton and New Rockford.  From Surrey (east of Minot) to Williston, it's all 2 MT CTC except over Gassman Coulee bridge west of Minot.  This and upgrading the route via Devils Lake was as result of the Bakken boom.

kgbw49

From Snowden, MT to Sandpoint ID there are two options across Montana - the former Great Northern and the former Northern Pacific. 

Um...no.  The junction point for the ex-GN and ex-NP routes is in Moorhead, Minnesota.  The GN route via Devils Lake or New Rockford to Minot and then west through Williston to Snowden, Montana; The NP route is west from Casselton via Jamestown and Mandan to Wibaux and Glendive, Montana.  There is a connecting route from Snowden to Glendive (ex-GN north of Sidney, ex-NP south).  While it's only 80 miles from Snowden to Glendive and it would make a great route for fluidity and detours, BNSF has yet to do the necessary work to get 50 miles of the route south of Sidney on the ex-NP portion to be good for 143-ton cars.

kgbw49

There is also some double track on Marias Pass on the former Great Northern.

West of Williston on the Northern Transcon, there are short sections of 2 MT CTC at Glasgow and between Havre and Pacific Jct., just west of Havre.  On either side of Rudyard, Montana (40 miles west of Havre), there is 23 miles of 2 MT CTC.   In the 150 miles between Shelby and Whitefish, about 65% of it is 2 MT CTC including about 50 miles on either side of Cut Bank (but not over the bridge), all of the 1.8% eastward grade from Java (east of Essex) to Summit atop Marias Pass, either side of Essex, and east of Columbia Falls to Whitefish.  In Idaho east of Sandpoint, there's also a short stretch of 2 MT CTC eastward from Bonners Ferry.

The ex-NP route from Casselton, ND to Sandpoint doesn't have any signficant sections of two main tracks; the longest is from East Billings through Billings to Laurel.  Additionally, there are some just west of Casselton, either side of Jamestown, either side of Missoula and in some other terminals.  Between DeSmet (Missoula) and Paradise, there are two routes.  The river grade route is CTC and the preferred route; the shorter route via Dixon is dark territory (except for one CTC siding) and features a 2.2% grade in each direction, so it's used mostly for eastward empties trains.

--Mark Meyer

 

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Posted by MikeF90 on Sunday, August 13, 2023 8:34 PM

kgbw49
From Snowden, MT to Sandpoint ID there are two options across Montana - the former Great Northern and the former Northern Pacific. (Montana Rail Link leased the former NP several decades back and BNSF guaranteed traffic minimums over the line, and now BNSF has bought out the lease effective January 1, 2024.)

@caldreamer, check out my northern transcon map in my .sig.  Given that BNSF will have control of the former MRL, I would believe that they will adopt a flavor of the UP philosophy - just extend sidings to accomodate 'nofitter' trains. 

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Posted by kgbw49 on Sunday, August 13, 2023 11:37 AM

From Minnesota west to the Pacific Coast, BNSF has multiple parallel mainlines that can be used to take pressure off of each other as necessary.

The primary exception to that is Sandpoint to Spokane (aka The Funnel) which is why BNSF has put so much capital investment into double tracking that stretch.

On the east end of the Northern Transcon from Galesburg IL all the way up the Mississippi River to St Paul MN and then to Fargo ND the line is primarily double track. (Most intermodal trains head east at Savanna IL on single track to Aurora and then on to Chicago on the triple-track main.)

From Fargo ND to Minot ND there are two separate mainlines - one direct and one via Grand Forks, ND.

Around Williston ND there are stretches of double track.

From Snowden, MT to Sandpoint ID there are two options across Montana - the former Great Northern and the former Northern Pacific. (Montana Rail Link leased the former NP several decades back and BNSF guaranteed traffic minimums over the line, and now BNSF has bought out the lease effective January 1, 2024.)

There is also some double track on Marias Pass on the former Great Northern.

Here is a link to a detailed BNSF System Map:

https://www.bnsf.com/bnsf-resources/images/ship-with-bnsf/maps-and-shipping-locations/bnsf-ag-map.png

This is not a comprehensive nor detailed list - just some general information to contribute to the answer for caldreamer.

(PS - I suppose Snowden, MT was named after someone, but I have also thought that it might be a wry play on words given the northern location with long winters and short summers - "snowed in".)

 

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Posted by caldreamer on Sunday, August 13, 2023 10:27 AM

Are there any segments that have to be double tracked on the northern transcon to make it totally double track.

         Thank You In Advance

                   

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Posted by Bruce Kelly on Sunday, August 13, 2023 8:06 AM

According to BNSF's investment plan announced earlier this year...

https://www.bnsf.com/news-media/news-releases/newsrelease.page?relId=bnsf-announces-plan-for-2023-capital-investments

...aside from the second main and second bridge currently under development between Irvin and Otis Orchards, WA, the only other big project in the PNW at this time is a siding near Pasco. 

 

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Posted by dpeltier on Saturday, August 12, 2023 10:57 AM

MikeF90

Thanks for the update, Bruce. Here is a little more detail from Railway Age including pictures of the new Amtrak platform:  https://www.railwayage.com/mw/bnsf-completes-sandpoint-jct-connector/

 

Freightwaves: https://www.freightwaves.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/09/sandpoint2.1-Edit-1200x900.jpg

This one has a photo taken by BNSF of a train passing the depot building.

Dan

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Posted by SD60MAC9500 on Saturday, August 12, 2023 10:50 AM

Bruce, any projects planned for the, Spokane, Lakeside and Columbia River Subs?

Rahhhhhhhhh!!!!
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Posted by MikeF90 on Friday, August 11, 2023 10:38 PM

Thanks for the update, Bruce. Here is a little more detail from Railway Age including pictures of the new Amtrak platform:  https://www.railwayage.com/mw/bnsf-completes-sandpoint-jct-connector/

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Posted by Bruce Kelly on Wednesday, August 9, 2023 9:52 PM

The new dual crossovers just northwest (railroad east) of the two big bridges are currently named CP35, according to a ranking individual on site. (I did not get close enough to see a trackside marker or identifier on the bungalow.) That name would correspond with it being at milepost 3.5. Which, BTW, is counted westward from Kootenai, ID, on MRL, which had been the division point in NP days.

When BNSF doubletracked between Athol and Cocolalla, ID, in 1997-98, they added a set of X-overs near MP 22.3 that got named CP223. When they doubletracked Rathdrum to Athol in 2017, they added X-overs named Silver, named after the nearby Silverwood theme park. And when they doubletracked Cocolalla to West Algoma in 2019, they added X-overs named Reasor, named after (I was told by BNSF) a railroad employee who was associated with the area.

Some of us around here were disappointed to see the return to numeric naming on this latest installation near Sandpoint. 

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Posted by dpeltier on Saturday, August 5, 2023 7:15 PM

kgbw49

While not specifically about the track or Sandpoint Junction, this link is an excellent short read on the history of the Sandpoint Depot, and of course as with so many railroad-related structures or facilities, some interesting history of the community. It has some excellent historical photos of the area also.

https://spokanehistorical.org/items/show/571

You can also read the file on the station at the National Archives here:

https://s3.amazonaws.com/NARAprodstorage/lz/electronic-records/rg-079/NPS_ID/73000682.pdf

Amusingly, the docket consists of:

- The original nomination to the National Register of Historic Places (12 pages, 1973)

- A series of letters from Idaho politicians asking the Feds to remove the station from the NRHS so that it can be removed for the US-95 bypass, interspersed with replies from the Feds explaining over and over again that there is no legal mechanism for removing NRHS entries, and that whether a structure is actually in the NRHS or not has no effect on highway projects (35 pages, 1974-1977). Section 106 and NEPA were pretty new back then, presumably there weren't nearly as many consultants around to advise people on how to get projects through the process.

In the end, of course, the bypass was constructed 30 years later without removing the station, although station access is even more limited than before.

Dan

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Posted by kgbw49 on Saturday, August 5, 2023 6:51 PM

While not specifically about the track or Sandpoint Junction, this link is an excellent short read on the history of the Sandpoint Depot, and of course as with so many railroad-related structures or facilities, some interesting history of the community. It has some excellent historical photos of the area also.

https://spokanehistorical.org/items/show/571

 

 

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