Depot could reopen by year’s end

Amtrak designing remodel for historic landmark

A BNSF Railway freight train eases past the Sandpoint Depot on Friday. (Photo by KEITH KINNAIRD)

SANDPOINT — A cracked and fading jewel in Sandpoint’s crown is finally going to be repaired and polished.

Amtrak officials expect the historic Sandpoint Depot to reopen for passenger use by the end of the year, according to Vernae Graham, an Amtrak spokeswoman in Oakland, Calif.

The ornate depot was closed to the public in 2009 due to safety concerns regarding the 97-year-old structure.

Graham said Amtrak’s engineering services will be doing the design work for the remodel and a request for proposals is forecasted to be issued in June.

“We anticipate that we’ll be able to reopen it by the end of this year,” said Graham.

The design and construction of a new platform is slated to occur sometime in 2013 or 2014, Graham added.

The Gothic-style depot was constructed for the Great Northern Railroad in 1916 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

The depot, now owned by BSNF Railway, is one of the last vestiges of Sandpoint’s original town site.

Time and the vibrations of decades of train traffic have been unkind. The Idaho Transportation Department hired a masonry restoration firm to analyze the structure and shore parts of it up in preparation for construction of the Sand Creek Byway.

The U.S. Highway 95 rerouting project ultimately elevated the profile of the depot because the highway now runs right beside it.

During construction of the bypass, Amtrak considered relocating passenger facilities elsewhere, but the City Council and the city’s Historic Preservation Commission rallied to have the depot stay put and restored for Amtrak passenger use.

“Originally, we were going to be involved in the rehab of the building, but now it’s going to be Amtrak that’s doing the work,” said Councilwoman Carrie Logan. “It’s actually a lot cleaner deal doing it that way.”

More than $920,000 was set aside by ITD for depot improvements through a right-of-way agreement for the U.S. 95 bypass.

Amtrak currently leases only the platform from BNSF and Logan said the lease is being modified to include the building.

“Once that lease document is accomplished, then BSNF has to transfer the dollars to Amtrak,” said Logan.

Questions about the depot resurfaced last December, when an Amtrak passenger was struck and killed by a BNSF freight train. Some wondered whether the death could have been avoided had the depot been open, although an Idaho State Police investigation suggested the victim may have been intoxicated and walking on the tracks when she was killed.

Logan said the city has been a “squeaky wheel” about the depot restoration, but it also acknowledges that negotiations with railroads can take several years.

“We’re impatient, but in terms of railroad business this is not an unusual period of time,” she said.

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