WB Empire Builder Detour to Stay Until January

Amtrak announced this week that the detour of the westbound Empire Builder in North Dakota will continue through Jan. 12, 2015.

Amtrak agreed last May to move Chicago-Seattle/Portland No. 7 to the freight-only KO Subdivision via New Rockford, N.D., which meant missing stations at Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Rugby. Those stations are currently served by a chartered bus service.

The eastbound Empire Builder continues to operate via its regular route through those communities.

In a news release, Amtrak said Empire Builder passengers can expect to encounter delays en route due to continued BNSF freight train congestion.

Amtrak estimates the average train delay is eight to 10 hours. Through June, Amtrak said ridership of the Empire Builder had fallen by 15 percent and the railroad estimated that the trains are losing $1 million per month.

Also contributing to the delays is construction on the route that BNSF is undertaking to increase its capacity. In particular, an increase in crude oil trains has necessitated the track capacity expansion projects, which are costing BNSF nearly $400 million.

Amtrak said it would reassess whether to continue the detour the westbound Empire Builder after the December holiday season.

Among the projects are additional and lengthened passing sidings and added double track. In a news release, Amtrak said that once those projects are completed it expected the on-time performances of the Empire Builder to significantly improve.

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