BNSF mulls second railroad bridge

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SANDPOINT — Already flush with bridges, Sandttttpoint could be see one more being built in the near future.

BNSF Railway is contemplating the construction of a second railroad bridge over Lake Pend Oreille, according to regional spokesman Gus Melonas.

“It’s on our radar screen and something that’s being highly considered,” Melonas said.

The proposed bridge would be located near the 109-year-old railroad bridge east of the U.S. Highway 95 Long Bridge. The existing bridge underwent extensive rehabilitation starting in 2008.

A new bridge would be approximately 4,800 feet long and composed of steel piling and concrete spans. Melonas did not have an estimated cost for a new bridge.

Melonas said a new bridge would be subject to extensive geotechnical studies, environmental permitting and corporate authorization to fund the project.

“There’s various factors, but we could see a bridge in place as early as 2018. However, this is speculative,” said Melonas.

A new railroad bridge would eliminate a bottleneck at the convergence of BNSF’s High Line route and a Montana Rail Link route, Melonas said.

BNSF was experiencing peak volumes in 2006, prior to the economic downturn. But as the country pulls out of the downturn, the demand for rail transportation is increasing.

“We are going to be at record volume sooner rather than later. We expect it to soon surpass the record volumes we were handing in 2006,” Melonas said.

More than 50 trains are already passing through Sandpoint every 24 hours, according to BNSF.

“There are double-track areas. However, you have a single bridge for a two-thirds of a mile going over Lake Pend Oreille and this is a bottleneck,” said Melonas.

The bottleneck scenario can become exacerbated if a train has mechanical issue or there is a problem with a section rail, leading to delays and blocked railroad crossings.

“It can have a trickle effect onto the routes that connect here and that can be significant as time is critical in rail operation,” Melonas said.

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