Amtrak Eyes Better ‘Builder’ OT Performance

Those who follow railfan oriented chat lists have known for months about the lackluster ontime performance of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder, but now the news media are starting to take notice.

A Montana newspaper, the Flathead Beacon, recently reported that an increase in freight traffic combined with track work projects on BNSF in North Dakota and Montana are behind the tardiness

During October, the Empire Builder had an overall on-time performance rate of 41 percent, but the eastbound train had a zero percent performance.

This made the on-time record of the Builder among the worst in the Amtrak system.

“It has certainly been a concern of ours, of BNSF Railway and of our passengers,” said Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari.

BNSF spokesman Matthew Jones said a primary reason for the delays is track improvement projects. The railroad is spending $115 million in Montana and $220 million in North Dakota to resurface track and replace more than 100 miles of rail and 310,000 ties.

Jones said there are also more crude oil trains and general freight trains running across the Hi-Line, reflecting an improving economy. Trains carrying new automobiles have increased by 10 percent over the past year.

BNSF handles an average of 38 freight trains per day run between Glasgow , Mont., and Minot, N.D., which is 18 more trains than the daily average in 2008, at the height of the economic downturn, Jones said.

He said the track repairs are wrapping up, which should enable the line to become more fluid.

Magliari said Amtrak is expecting to be able to improve the on-time performance of the Empire Builder as a consequence.

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