Sandpoint Train Station (Sandpoint Train Depot) - This 1916 Gothic-style station in Sandpoint, Idaho is the oldest remaining active passenger depot of the former Northern Pacific railway. The building is closed to the public and used by Amtrak as a platform stop only. There is a outside covered waiting area at the south end of the depot.
Sandpoint, Idaho Train Station Sign
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Sandpoint Depot Update: December 7, 2014

Just a quick update on the Sandpoint Depot renovation progress. The new south facing door is in and most of the new roof is on. Things are coming along nicely although there a few details that I have reservations about. Nevertheless, it is wonderful to see this historic structure getting some needed attention.

It is unfortunate that the beautiful structure is being obscured by the vinyl banner of the contractor/builder. Truth be told, there are a lot of people who were instrumental in making sure that the depot renovation became a reality. Thanks to all of the modest individuals involved in making sure this structure is still standing. I know who you are and I am very grateful!

Here are a few photos taken on December 7, 2014:

Posted in Access, Amtrak, BNSF, Historic, Station Status.


Empire Builder train times changing at Sandpoint

Amtrak Empire BuilderEffective April 15, the schedule for Amtrak’s Empire Builder is changing.  Westbound, train 7/27 for Seattle and Portland is scheduled to stop at Sandpoint at 119 AM (instead of 1149 PM), and eastbound train 8/28 for Chicago is scheduled at 1135 PM (instead of 235 AM).

The winter of 2013-2014 has been exceptionally harsh on the Northern Plains with much snow, but also much cold weather.  When temperatures get well below zero (Fahrenheit), railroad operations are negative affected.  Rails can contract in the cold, causing them to break; trains whose brakes are released by compressed air from the train’s locomotives must be much shorter during very cold weather, resulting in needing to run more trains with fewer cars and increased cost.

Trains delayed for cold weather often result in the crews operating them to expire their hours of service (a crew can only work 12 hours), resulting in increased usage of relief crews, and in cases of inclement weather, the inability to transport crews to relieve these trains when roads are closed.  In other words, that delays can “snowball” is very appropriate when contemplating railroading during severe winter weather.  Such was the scenario for freight train operations along the route of the Empire Builder across the Northern Plains for much of this past winter.  In addition, the train also experienced numerous service interruptions between Seattle and Everett due to mudslides.

As a result of the weather, and freight train interference caused by the weather, the Empire Builder has endured significant delays on nearly every trip.  And, if the weather in Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota was not enough, the route includes the Bakken oil boom area of Northwestern North Dakota and Eastern Montana.  BNSF Railway has seen a spike in business over the past 5 years and can originate and terminate as many as 20 unit crude oil trains daily at facilities along the Empire Builder route.  In addition, there is increased freight traffic to this area hauling materials necessary to support the oil boom, such as chemicals, pipe, and fracking sand.  The infrastructure in place could not handle this much additional demand n such a short time.  Couple this with winter weather, and it created a recipe for long delays to the Empire Builder.

Passengers Boarding Train in Sandpoint Idaho

As a result of these recurring delays, Amtrak has suspended most connections to the Empire Builder, including all connections in Chicago, except for the Lake Shore Limited (to New York and Boston, a 5.5 hour connection).  It has also broken the guaranteed connection in Portland from the Empire Builder to the Coast Starlight (for California).  As a result of very late trains and broken connections, Empire Builder ridership dropped 20% in January of 2014 and 24% in February.

In order to reinstate a semblance of reality to the schedule, effective April 15, Amtrak will operate trains 8 and 28 from Seattle and Portland three hours earlier from origin through Sandpoint to Stanley, North Dakota, where there will be incremental schedule padding additions to St. Paul, Minnesota where the train keeps its pre-April 15 schedule through to Chicago.  This may result in the reestablishment of more guaranteed connections with other Amtrak trains in Chicago.  Westbound, train 7/27 will operate its same schedule from Chicago to Rugby, North Dakota, and west of there will see incremental schedule padding of 90 minutes to Shelby, Montana, and will operate 90 minutes later west of there, including at Sandpoint.

BNSF is working to add capacity to the Empire Builder route and has already done so, but all the capacity enhancements likely will not be complete before the end of 2015.  In 2013, BNSF added three new sidings between Williston and Minot, as well as additional crossover tracks in existing doubletrack sections of the route.  This year, about 50 of the 90 miles of railroad that is not doubletrack from Minot to Williston will receive a second main track, with the remainder to be doubletracked in 2015.  Between Minot and Fargo, the Empire Builder actually uses a secondary main line via Grand Forks (whereas most BNSF freight trains use a route via New Rockford); BNSF is planning to add or upgrade 10 sidings on its route through Grand Forks this year, effectively creating two main line routes between Minot and Fargo.  All told in 2014, BNSF is planning to spend nearly $250 million in infrastructure enhancements in North Dakota alone.  This is a synopsis of the upgrades:

The railroad plans to spend:

  • $162 million to double track its line from Minot, N.D., to Glasgow, Mont., to help address major congestion issues for westbound traffic to Pacific Northwest destinations;
  • $26 million to add sidings to address congestion from Fargo to Grand Forks, N.D., in the Hillsboro subdivision;
  • $14 million to add sidings to address congestion from Bismarck, N.D., to Glendive, Mont., in the Dickinson subdivision;
  • $13 million to add sidings to address congestion from Minot to Grand Forks in the Devils Lake subdivision;
  • $13 million to add sidings and an interchange track to address congestion from Canada into the United States through the Port of Pembina in the Noyes subdivision;
  • $11 million to install Centralized Traffic Control to improve service from Bismarck to Fargo in the Jamestown subdivision; and
  • $8 million to add sidings and conduct signal work along track from Fargo to Minot in the KO subdivision.


The $247 million is part of BNSF’s record-setting $5 billion capital spending budget for 2014.The bullet points that are italicized are part of the Empire Builder route, or would directly affect the Empire Builder route.  This is the bulk of the spending.

The Empire Builder schedule change is currently only planned from April 15 to May 31, but since extensive trackwork will continue until late fall, it is likely to be extended or changed.

While the delays to the Empire Builder are frustrating, it’s also important to remember that it relies on infrastructure provided by private sector freight railroads which must balance the cost of such expenditures with the demands of stockholders and freight customers. This is in stark contrast to other modes of transportation which simply wait for the government to build additional roads and airports, largely with tax dollars, such as the truck bypass around Williston, making US85 four lanes from Williston to Belfield, and construction of a new airport terminal in Minot.  Amtrak is held in disdain by some for being “subsidized”, but the reality is that much of the infrastructure it uses is provided and maintained by the private sector, something trucking firms, airlines, and barge operators couldn’t even consider.

Amtrak Website

Amtrak's Website

For further updates with regard to the Empire Builder schedule, consult Amtrak at www.Amtrak.com

The Empire Builder schedule effective April 15 is at:http://www.amtrak.com/ccurl/954/441/Empire-Builder-Schedule-041514.pdf

Posted in Amtrak, BNSF, In the News, Station Status.


Empire Builder Schedule Change Coming April 15th, 2014

Amtrak Empire BuilderI just found out that the Amtrak Empire Builder passenger train schedule is changing. Effective April 15, 2014. Train 8 will be going through Sandpoint 3 hours earlier (and scheduled at St. Paul at the same time as now, adding 3 hours to the schedule), and Train 7 will be going through Sandpoint 90 minutes later than the current schedule.

Simplified version below:

New Empire Builder Schedule Starting April 15, 2014
Amtrak Empire Builder Train 7 to Seattle: Arrives/Departs at 1:19 AM
Amtrak Empire Builder Train 8 to Chicago: Arrives/Departs at 11:32 PM

Current Schedule
Amtrak Empire Builder Train 7 to Seattle: Arrives/Departs at 11:49 PM
Amtrak Empire Builder Train 8 to Chicago: Arrives/Departs at 2:32 AM

Looking for more information?
Link to an article from the Star Tribune in St. Paul MN:
Amtrak’s Empire Builder schedule changing to account for chronic freight delays

Posted in Amtrak, BNSF, Station Status.


KRFY Radio Interview About the Sandpoint Train Depot

KRFY Studio - Talking about Sandpoint Train DepotJust a quick post to let all the site visitors know that Carlos Suarez the local Engineer working with Amtrak on the Sandpoint Depot renovation and Aric Spence, Website Designer, Entrepreneur and long time Sandpoint train depot advocate did an interview with local community supported radio station KRFY this morning. If you did not catch the show, we will be posting a link to the podcast once it is available.

Thanks to KRFY for having us on! Please consider donating to the station.

Posted in Amtrak, BNSF, Historic, In the News, Station Status, Support.


Daily Bee article: Amtrak officials detail historic depot’s restoration

Nice article by Cameron Rasmusson of the Daily Bee regarding the meeting yesterday and the information detialed by Robert Eaton of Amtrak. Here is an excerpt, full article linked below.

SANDPOINT — With plans moving along for the Sandpoint Depot restoration, Amtrak officials say the historic structure’s future is back on track.

Sandpoint Train Depot - Empire Builder Day Time StopRob Eaton, director of Amtrak government affairs in the Pacific Northwest, visited Sandpoint Tuesday to give a rundown of the anticipated station improvements. Necessities like a new roof and structural improvements will be balanced with convenience and accessibility features, Eaton said.

Throughout negotiations with BNSF Railway, which owns the facility, several key design points emerged for the project. First, the building’s east side doors will blocked off from passenger use. Meanwhile, the entrance on the building’s south side will receive a new door. The asphalt platform on the building’s east side will be removed and replaced with a ballast, and safety fencing will be installed on the east side of the station.

Fortunately for the depot, installation of a second set of tracks will not be part of the deal. It’s still a feature that BNSF wants to see in the future. However, the $300,000 cost will not eat into the almost-$1 million Idaho Transportation Department gave BNSF during Sand Creek Byway negotiations to move operations or restore established facilities.

“It’s not going to be there, but we have to plan for it — we have to design for it,” Eaton said.

Several major improvements are expected for the building’s exterior. These include a replacement of… Read the entire article.

Posted in Access, Amtrak, BNSF, Historic, In the News, Meeting, Station Status.


Amtrak on Track to Renovate the Depot

Amtrak sleeping car at Seattle King Street StationI attended a meeting today where Robert Eaton from Amtrak gave an excellent presentation detailing the renovation time line and what is planned for our historic Sandpoint Train Depot. More details to come as I hope to get an electronic version of his presentation so anyone can download the details. There will likely also be a Daily Bee article in the next day or so. Look for an excerpt to be posted here when the article is online.

Bottom line, they have chosen a local design firm to finalize the drawings/design/engineering and plan to have the final construction details put out for bid by middle of May with completion of the project late 2014. So it looks like come winter of 2014, there will be a heated waiting area for train passengers and a historic structure still standing!

Great news!!

Posted in Amtrak, Event, Historic, In the News, Meeting, Station Status.


City endorses Sandpoint Depot deal

Unfortunately, this article is quite incomplete with regards to mentioning all the people involved in making sure Amtrak kept a presence in Sandpoint and agreed to restore the Historic Sandpoint Train Depot with the monies received from the Idaho Transportation Department.

I want to  personally thank all involved, especially everyone on the Sandpoint Historic Preservation Commission for their tireless work and efforts keeping the ball rolling and discussions continuing over the last 3-4 years of this process. Look through the archive of this site (going back to April of 2009) and you will get a flavor of all the work that has been done to get to this point. Hat tip to all the people that had a part in this, I realize and truly appreciate all your efforts. Thank you!!

Special thanks to: Tim Boden, Carlos Suarez, Hellen Newton, Carrie Logan, Kody Van Dyk, John Reuter, Zach Hagadon, The Sandpoint Reader, The Historical Museum, Michael Snedden, Bob Camp, Dann Hall, Bruce Vogelsinger, Jacquie Albright, Krister Allen, Melissa Bethel,  Sue Graves, Brad Granfield, the rest of the Sandpoint Historic Preservation members, all the local citizens who wrote to the City Council to express their support for the depot, Perservation Idaho, Dan Everhart (ITD), Jonathan Hutchison (Amtrak), Mark Meyer, National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), Nancy Renk, Gale Lister, Jim Hamre, Arther Poole, Barry Green, Jim Walter. Sorry if I missed anyone, I will add more as they arise.

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Bonner County Daily Bee from Cameron Rasmusson:

At Wednesday’s council meeting, members approved a letter of agreement between Amtrak and Burlington Northern-Sante Fe Railway Company over the restoration of the depot. While the agreement is still in draft form according to city attorney Scot Campbell, its approval by City Council members is a step in the right direction toward a re-opened and functioning train depot.

Idaho Transportation Department originally supplied $921,664 to Burlington Northern to replace the depot as part of an obligation to keep a regional stop open for Amtrak’s use, according to city engineer Kody Van Dyk. Given the Sandpoint Depot’s dilapidated and inoperable condition and complications from the presence of the Byway, Amtrak officials had resolved to abandon the structure and set up shop elsewhere. Thanks to some persistence from some Sandpoint officials — including an especially diligent effort from … Read the entire article here.

Posted in Amtrak, BNSF, Historic, In the News, Station Status, Support.


Depot could re-open by end of 2013

Histoic Sandpoint Train DepotAfter nearly 5 years since we began advocating for the preservation and restoration of the Historic Sandpoint Train Depot, we finally we have an announcement!!

Here is an excerpt from an article in the Bonner County Daily Bee from 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… Read entire article here

Posted in Amtrak, BNSF, Historic, In the News, Station Status.


Sandpoint Depot article by The National Trust for Historic Preservation

Here is an excerpt from a recent online article written by Sarah Campbell of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

All Aboard to Sandpoint, Idaho
Groups Agree to Maintain Train Service and Renovate Historic Depot

National Trust for Historic PreservationFor residents of Sandpoint, Idaho, the sound of a train whistle signals a job well done. Following years of uncertainty, the historic Sandpoint Burlington Northern Railway Station (now known as the Sandpoint Train Station) will remain the Idaho town’s train stop after the City of Sandpoint, Amtrak, and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway reached a tentative agreement in late June. The written agreement, which officials and residents hope will be finalized this fall, comes after many options for the National Register-listed depot were considered—including abandoning the historic structure and building a new depot outside of town.

“[It would have been] taking public transit away from the public,” says Aric Spence, a local preservationist who led efforts to save the depot. The station was closed in June 2009 after the building’s deteriorating ceiling caused safety concerns, making it a platform-only stop. Originally, it serviced the Northern Pacific Railroad, the first northern transcontinental route in the nation. Today, the Gothic-style depot is the only… Read the entire article.

Posted in Amtrak, BNSF, Historic, In the News, Station Status, Support.

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Deal brokered to save historic Sandpoint Train Depot

Article by Cameron Rasmusson from the Bonner County Daily Bee:

SANDPOINT — Months of negotiations paid off this week after city officials brokered an agreement on the restoration of the historic Sandpoint Depot.

City Council members Carrie Logan and John Reuter and Public Works Director Kody Van Dyk saw the fruits of their labors after representatives from Amtrak and BNSF Railroad agreed to cooperate in whipping the depot back into shape.

“We worked with really good people from Amtrak and BNSF,” Logan said. “I think they were a little curious at first that we wanted to keep the depot here.”

A vocal and eclectic range of interest groups invested in the depot’s restoration ended that curiosity. Logan said that the depot retains historic, economic and infrastructural benefits for the community. As one of the last vestiges of old Sandpoint and a transportation center, the city has much to gain from its refurbishment.

“There was a lot of community support for this project, and not just locally, but across the country,” Logan said.

Under the current agreement, depot owner BNSF will lease the building and platform to Amtrak, which will then sublease it to the city of Sandpoint. According to Logan, the Idaho Transportation Department will pony up nearly $1 million in escrow funds to pay for the restoration as a requirement of the Sand Creek Byway’s Environmental Impact Statement.

City, Amtrak and BNSF officials are still working out the details of the written agreement. After all the specifics are defined and put to paper, however, the city will begin designing and constructing the depot’s restoration.

Reuter said that Logan and Van Dyk were the instrumental figures in bringing negotiations to a successful conclusion.

“They deserve huge credit for all the work they’ve put into this,” he said.

Posted in Amtrak, BNSF, Historic, In the News, Meeting, Station Status.

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© Copyright 2009-2014: Site design and all photos (unless otherwise noted) by Aric Spence, Spence Design