Friday, June 05, 2015

Narrow rescue for Amtrak’s only Idaho depot

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Narrow rescue for Amtrak’s only Idaho depot Bruce Kelly

A ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 30, 2015 celebrated the completion of extensive restoration work on the historic brick depot in Sandpoint, Idaho, which serves as Amtrak’s only scheduled stop in the Gem State. In attendance were Idaho Senator Shawn Keough, a spokesperson for U.S. Representative Raul Labrador and Amtrak Director of Government Affairs-West Robert Eaton.

Built in 1916 by the Northern Pacific Railroad, the depot was threatened with demolition or relocation to make way for an elevated byway that rerouted U.S. Highway 95 away from Sandpoint’s downtown streets. BNSF Railway, which owns the depot, Amtrak and the city joined forces to save the depot, which stands on a narrow strip of land with Sand Creek and U.S. 95 on one side and BNSF’s busy Northern Corridor and lakefront condominiums on the other. After the byway was completed in 2012, attention was focused toward repairing the depot both inside and out. Most of the restoration was performed under plastic tarps during the 2014-15 winter months, with crews replacing all defective roof components, then installing new lighting, signage, rain gutters and downspouts, and ultimately bringing the brick walls and tiled roof back to mint condition.

The Idaho Transportation Department funded nearly all of the $1 million project cost; Amtrak paid for additional amenities, including a new ADA-compliant wheelchair lift installed on the platform. The project earned an Excellence in Historic Preservation Award from Preservation Idaho. Sandpoint’s depot restoration has also allowed the popular year-around tourist destination to maintain its vital rail connection. Amtrak’s daily Empire Builder carried 8,489 passengers to or from Sandpoint in 2014, down slightly from 2013 but nearly double that city’s ridership a decade ago.

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