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Crews start scrapping old tracks

Ripping up some rail

Reybel Babadilla, Jose Lopez and Manuel Oliver pull up spikes during the removal of the 100-year-old BNSF Railway Co. line in Coeur d’Alene on Wednesday. (Kathy Plonka)
Reybel Babadilla, Jose Lopez and Manuel Oliver pull up spikes during the removal of the 100-year-old BNSF Railway Co. line in Coeur d’Alene on Wednesday. (Kathy Plonka)

A Chicago company this week began tearing out about three miles of a BNSF Railway Co. line that has run through Coeur d’Alene for 100 years.

On Wednesday, heavy equipment operators from C&C Track Works pulled up the steel rails and crews followed with long crowbars wrenching up the spikes. When they’re done, said worker Jose Lopez, the rail line will be left a gravel trail.

“It’s a lot of work,” said Lopez, who said crews can remove about a mile of rail in a day. Recently, they’ve removed rail lines in Minnesota and South Dakota.

BNSF received federal approval about a year ago to abandon six miles of rail line between downtown Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls. C&C Track Works is removing the rail line under contract with BNSF, said Coeur d’Alene City Attorney Mike Gridley.

Once the rail line was abandoned, the land stretching from Garden Avenue south to City Park reverted to the city of Coeur d’Alene, Gridley said.

The land north of there, reaching into the Riverstone development on Northwest Boulevard, reverts to the federal Bureau of Land Management and then, through a planned land swap, is expected to be transferred to the city’s urban renewal agency for use as part of the education corridor, Gridley said.

The land between Riverstone and Huetter is owned by the railroad, Gridley said.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said negotiations are under way with “various parties” for future ownership of the segment, but declined to identify the parties. Gridley, however, said the stretch through the former Atlas Mill site on Seltice Way likely will be sold to a developer who wants to build apartments. The city would like to buy the segment in the Mill River development west of there, Gridley added, to expand its trail system.

“The goal from the city’s point of view is we have an opportunity to create a new trail that would go along the river out to Mill River and the Huetter area,” Gridley said. “This is a turning of a page. It is definitely a passing of an era.”

In its petition to the federal Surface Transportation Board, BNSF said it would use the remaining two-plus miles of track, between Huetter and Ross Point Road in Post Falls, to store rail cars.

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