Empire Builders Swap Routes in North Dakota

The saga of the Empire Builder has taken another turn as the trains have swapped routes in North Dakota.

The eastbound train is now operating via the KO Subdivision between Minot and Fargo with the westbound train now making the regular stops in Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Rugby.

Those communities will be served by buses connecting with eastbound No. 8. Amtrak officials told Trains magazine that the flip was made at the request of BNSF to better expedite trains in both directions as grain harvest traffic patterns emerge.

BNSF has instituted directional running in part because the westbound train’s schedule would interfere with track and signal rehabilitation, especially if it was delayed by freight congestion at BNSF’s Dillworth Yard near Fargo, as was often the case.

Most of the track work has been completed, with only some passing track power switch and signal installation remaining. Amtrak also has increased the dwell time at St. Paul Union Depot dwell times. The westbound Builder had begun taking the KO Sub since last May in an effort to alleviate delays caused by freight congestion.

BNSF has been undertaking a track capacity expansion program prompted by increased freight traffic, much of it oil traffic. Amtrak and BNSF officials said the status of operations of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder will be reviewed in early January. BNSF recently removed some slow orders on the route.

Amtrak officials said they have been told by BNSF that track work is expected to be completed west of Grand Forks by the end of November.

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