2024 Sandpoint
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2024 Sandpoint

Written by Lindsay Korst


Thursday, June 20th

It's the longest day of the year with blue skies and temperatures in the low 80's. Let's go check out BNSF's double track bridge over Lake Pend Oreille (including a side trip or two).

BNSF Silver (MP 35 - roughly)

This is a double crossover just west of the Silverwood Amusement Park and a great place to catch trains in early morning light.

Here we find a westbound H train (merchandise) led by BNSF #3812/6581/8221 with #8072 pushing as DPU.

I didn't have to wait long, when an eastbound merchandise came blasting by with a long string of power (BNSF #5645/7769/5496/5804/3696/4381). This is Brunner Road at North Pole, ID.

"You, Athol!" (MP 33.5)

Yep. That's how this locale is pronounced. On another day (April 30, 2024), I was standing on a loading platform in beautiful, downtown Athol, as this westbound loaded oil train (BNSF #5276/4346 and #4452 as DPU) rolled by on Main 1. It is hard to say the town name with a straight face.  Road crossing in the background is ID Hwy 54.

Granite Loop Road (west - MP 25)

I've always had a fond spot for this location, as it is where I caught a picture of BNSF #477433, a grain hopper sporting a Great Northern Railway logo, two years ago. Another April 30th picture, reveals a pair of Norfolk Southern units lugging an eastbound empty grainer up Main 2.  (Athol...snort...)

This section of track is a relocation of the original NP mainline, after a terrible derailment of the North Coast Limited, at nearby Granite Lake.

Lake Cocolala (MP 16.4) - Back to the present [June 20].

Six BNSF GE's wind along the shore of Lake Cocolala in the early morning sun.

Lake Pend Oreille from Bottle Bay Road lookout (MP 3.0)

This is my favorite morning shot of the trestle. The problem is there's no place to pull over (at least not much) and doing so, tends to block one lane of traffic, and tick off the locals.

To my surprise, I jumped out of my truck and got all these pictures without another car coming by -- on what's normally a fairly busy road. I also discovered the train had a 7th locomotive as DPU, BNSF #8043. Maybe the seventh engine was the charm.

Bottle Bay Road - BNSF Access Road (MP 4.0)

I retreated to this newish spot where the railroad bulldozed a gravel road down to the tracks and you can still, sort of, see the trestle. Lots of room to park. AND this location made the cover of an issue of Trains Magazine, IIRC.

First to trundle by on Main 1 eastbound, was this short work train led by BNSF #3126/2577 and a #3043 unknown short line locomotive (gray with orange stripe).

Second was a monster eastbound on Main 2. Part 1 was the locomotives BNSF #6222/6019 with overseas containers.

Part 2 were the mid-train engines NS/BNSF/BNSF with Q priority containers (J.B. Hunt, FedEx, etc.) No DPU bringing up the rear.

Coming into Sandpoint on US95, I spy a westbound J train with 3 - 737 fuselages and double stacks trailing.

Leaving ex-Northern Pacific territory behind, I head over to the Great Northern side of town.

West Boyer is the end of double track on the ex-GN to Sandpoint Junction connecting track built after the BN merger (GN to NP). It appears BNSF 2577 and 3126 (seen previously), have dropped off their #3043 unit and are returning to Spokane with 29 loads.

Great Northern Sandpoint Depot

No visit to the old GN is complete without a stop at the former station on the west end of town.

Great Northern Road follows the tracks for a short distance north (east) - where I spotted a "junk" train with a unit fore and aft (BNSF #7246/6185). The DPU is just passing MP 1401 (that's 1,401 miles from Saint Paul, Minnesota on the former GN Ry.).

On this trip, I followed the ex-GN all the way to Naples and back and did not see a single train. Skunked. Signals all dark. Scanner silent. Fortunately, I DID see trains on that previous trip of April 30th:

Hearing a nearby detector sound off, I captured this grain train westbound led by BNSF #7032 at McArthur (MP 1383, roughly).

Naples (MP 1380)

Taken from the old US95 highway bridge, this is one of my favorite "spots" on the BNSF Kootenai River Sub as #4319 and two mates roll an empty grainer east. 33 years ago, I took a much better picture on the Fourth of July, 1991 - which wound up being published in Pacific Rail News Magazine. THANK YOU CARL! ;p

Looking the other direction from the old bridge, you can see the ex-GN Naples depot and this approaching V (Vehicle) train led by BNSF #5491.

Deep Creek (MP 1376.3)

Another beautiful spot just north of Naples is the Deep Creek trestle and tunnel. If you're really lucky, a colorful S train will trundle by with its splashy consist of containers contrasting with the green trees and orange diesels. Train Hype!

BNSF #6531/6540 lead an eastbound S train towards Bonners Ferry with BNSF #6357 pushing as DPU.

Back to Sandpoint for lunch, my next side trip was to follow the old Great Northern mainline west towards Priest River, ID and Newport, WA.

It's a beautiful drive along the Pend Oreille River where hotshot freights, Western Stars, Empire Builders and silk trains once highballed. Of course, BNSF now sends everything on the double-tracked ex-NP line "funnel" to Spokane. GN's old line is currently operated by Port of Pend Oreille Valley Railroad (POVA) from Dover to Newport.

Newport, WA (MP 1431.3)

Critters! WRIX #1001 is a former NYC EMD SW-1, seen here at Newport.

Also at Newport is POVA #8310, rebuilt EMD GP10, ex-IC #8310, nee UP #152B (EMD GP9B) built 2/1954. Check out all the cab-side lettering commemorating the Newport-Metaline Falls, Milwaukee Road heritage.

Now used by Stimson Lumber Company, the ex-GN depot still stands trackside.

Thama (MP 1420.4) & Laclede (MP 1415.7)

Heading back to Sandpoint, I stopped to photograph a couple BN/GN era "station" signs.

BNSF's trestles over Lake Pend Oreille at Sandpoint

It's late afternoon, and the sun has worked its way around to shine sideways onto the flanks of trains crossing Lake Pend Oreille. The IDOT has provided one spot at HMP #473 where you can safely park on the Highway 95 bridge and take pictures - so here I am.

The first train through is a westbound V train on Main 1. Power for the train is BNSF #8172/3904 with no DPU.

Main 1 (the new and higher bridge) is closest to the camera. Once the new bridge was finished, BNSF rebuilt the original, lower bridge (Main 2). There is a double crossover now at the north end of the bridges. My 55mm to 200mm zoom lens comes in very handy.

The second train is an eastbound S (overseas) train with a BNSF EMD SD70ACe, yeah! #9162 / GE ES44C4, yawn...#8154 on the point.

Wouldn't you like to stay in one of those houses on the cliff above the train? Morning shots would be choice.

Boat races! The S train is going rather slow on Main 1, allowing that watercraft to catch up to the head end. Wave to the nice Conductor!

Overseas containers brighten up the scene as the S slowly makes its way across the bridge. BNSF #8581 another "ACE" is pushing in DPU mode.

The S finally comes to a stop at the north end crossovers as boats continue to cruise up and down alongside the trestle.

What's this? WHAT'S THIS? Right on the markers of the stopped S train comes a 3rd consist, a grain train led by BNSF #6618/977. Isn't that a funky looking cabin cruiser under the diesels (last picture)?

Finally, the dispatcher routes the S and Grainer on their way (either ex-GN to Whitefish or ex-MRL, nee-NP to Missoula) and the bridge clears.

C Train! A bicyclist pedals by as a westbound loaded coal starts across on Main 1. This heavy train's motive power is: NS #8040/BNSF #7082/1102. The sun is starting to set and I intend to follow this 4th train home. Coal on the water at mooring post #9!

The wealthy folk in their hillside mansions have a great view of fossil fuels being transported just under their noses. There's that boonie cabin cruiser again as the units rumble past along the shore.

Bringing up the rear is BNSF #7855. That guy in the boat next to mooring pole #8 is starting to give me the stink eye for taking his picture so often.  Speedboats and jet skis alike, sail past the hard-working DPU.

Now.  On with the chase!

Lake Cocolala (MP 16.4)

A fisherman ignores the NS "Thoroughbred" unit leading a train of black diamonds south (railroad west). A bit back-lit, but still a nice spot.

Granite Loop Road (east - MP 24)

Now on the "sunny side", I caught the westbound coal for the last time.

With the exception of the sharp curve at Cocolala, most of the funnel is a 60mph railroad, and trains fly along. As the gondolas trundled by, I swear I could hear/see little "bing-bang-bong" sounds -- lumps of coal being blown off the hopper onto the roadbed.

Granite Loop Road (west - MP 25)

Back here again, for one more series of shots in the setting sun. It was just a short wait for this eastbound Z to show up. Led by BNSF #8070/4539/5719, it is making good time as it speeds towards Sandpoint.

As always, I had a great time out hunting for trains. I really need to do this more often.