Ride the Rails: Get on Board with Sandpoint’s Train Depot – Sandpoint Train Station (Sandpoint Train Depot)
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Ride the Rails: Get on Board with Sandpoint’s Train Depot

Article I wrote for the Sandpoint Reader (modified slightly with more photos etc.), published on May 27, 2010.

Sandpoint Depot & Highy Construction

Southwest Side of the Sandpoint Depot with Highway Construction in foreground

There was a time when no less than six daily passenger trains rolled through Sandpoint. Those trains included the Empire Builder, the Western Star and the North Coast Limited.

Our town is now still served twice a day by Amtrak’s Empire Builder, named in honor of the previous passenger train operated by the Great Northern Railway. The original route started in 1929 and was named for James J. Hill whose nickname was “The Empire Builder” due to the economic dominance exerted by his multiple rail lines across the upper portions of the United States. The Empire Builder is still the most popular long distance train operated by Amtrak, serving more than 500,000 passengers a year.

With the advent of affordable automobiles, train travel fell out of favor and with it many of the passenger routes that stitched our nation together. Tax dollars were directed into roads and highways while passenger rail travel and other alternative transportation received very little funding in comparison. Major cities such as Las Vegas, Columbus, Dayton, Nashville, Louisville, Tulsa, Sarasota, Fort Myers and Scranton currently have no intercity passenger trains at all.

The encouraging news is that many more people are exploring train travel again and towns all across the United States are rethinking the benefit a passenger train stop offers them. Leavenworth in Washington State recently completed a new platform and enclosure and is now the newest stop on the Empire Builder route. Their slogan in an advertisement is “Amtrak to Bavaria.” Other towns such as Seattle have embraced their rail history and now have many rail travel options accessible right in the core of downtown.

Seattle's King Street Station

Seattle's King Street Station

In the past, stations were abandoned and now they are being restored, not only to preserve history, but to encourage their continued use as a passenger stop. Many towns have lost their stops altogether while others found their new “station” located nowhere near the population base and wound up with little more than an unheated bus stop type shelter, often with no restroom facilities.

The town of Windsor Locks, CT recently voted to allocated $23,000 for an independent study to assess the possibility of moving their stop back to the downtown area from where it was moved more than thirty years ago. The outcome of the study was encouraging and they are now working to make moving the stop a reality. The town’s historic 1875 brick depot still stands and their preservation commission is working hard toward securing money for restoration.

windsor_locks

We are very fortunate, Sandpoint’s Depot is located downtown right smack in the middle of the population base, is in relatively good condition and most importantly, Amtrak still stops here daily. However, the depot has been closed since June of last year due to a leaking roof brought on by many years of deferred maintenance and is currently serving as a platform stop only. The City of Sandpoint is in talks with BNSF Railway to acquire the depot and is also in discussions with Amtrak in hopes of continuing the daily intercity rail service at our historic depot. Amtrak had in the past considered moving the stop out of town and the fate of our passenger train service in downtown is still uncertain.

The ease with which anyone can get to Sandpoint from many major cities by train is amazing. I think that with a little publicity Sandpoint could see many people choosing this low stress way of travel to visit our wonderful town by the lake. Having taken the train six times this year myself, I can personally attest to the comfort and convenience of rail travel. So, next time you’re planning a trip from Sandpoint to Seattle (or anywhere to anywhere, for that matter), think about taking the train.

If you are concerned about the future of our historic depot, please show your support and stay informed by filling out the “Show Support” form located in the right hand column of this page. Also consider contacting our government officials and ask them to make sure Sandpoint does not lose its downtown Amtrak stop.

- Aric Spence is a member of the Sandpoint Historic Preservation Commission, Chair of the Depot Sub-committee and has lived in Sandpoint for more than thirty years.

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

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© Copyright 2009-2015: Site design and all photos (unless otherwise noted) by Aric Spence, Spence Design