BNSF officially opens two-way rail traffic over Lake Pend Oreille bridges

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

After more than a decade of planning and construction since 2019, BNSF Railway announced Aug. 7 that it had officially opened two-way traffic on the new and refurbished train crossings over Lake Pend Oreille.

The inaugural trip across the “Sandpoint Junction Connector” marked “the last step of the project,” according to a news release from BNSF, and signified the “final configuration” that would allow “both lines to now carry freight simultaneously.”

The second rail bridge — which spurred no small amount of controversy among many who opposed it due to environmental and safety concerns related to increased coal and oil shipments — runs parallel to the existing bridge, separated by approximately 50 feet.

Photo courtesy of BNSF.

Grassroots climate change activist group Wild Idaho Rising Tide has been the most vigorous and longtime opponent of the second rail bridge, consistently speaking out against the project as a source for ongoing and increasing pollution due to coal dust and diesel emissions, as well as arguing it represents a public health risk through the potential for derailments and spills.

Citing a July 2023 report from The Wall Street Journal, which found lead pollution stemming from buried communication cables beneath a number of rail bridges — including the Sandpoint bridge — WIRT leader Helen Yost told the Reader in an email that, “BNSF’s second lake and creek bridges construction in and near Sandpoint released not only toxic coal, diesel, and Superfund site contamination into the Pend Oreille lake and river watershed and the federally designated, critical habitat of threatened bull trout, but apparently disturbed buried lead, too.”

Completion of the new train bridge in late 2022 came about a year ahead of schedule, according to BNSF, and enabled the company to undertake a modernization project on the original 1904 bridge, which had been closed since last year for maintenance upgrades. Meanwhile, new bridges were also constructed over Sand Creek and Bridge Street in Sandpoint. 

“The completion of this bridge is a big win for our customers and the community, especially before the start of the fall harvest season,” BNSF Vice President of Engineering John Cech stated in a news release. “This milestone is thanks to many team members spanning across multiple departments who collaborated to help improve the consistency of our service. 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.”

BNSF went on to state that the commencement of two-way traffic over Lake Pend Oreille will reduce congestion at area railroad crossings by making freight traffic more efficient, therefore cutting down on the number of trains that sit idle on the tracks.

“BNSF thanks the community for their patience as the team worked to complete this important work as safely and efficiently as possible,” the company stated.

To learn more about the Sandpoint Junction Connector Project, visit

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.