Empire Builder Suffering from Late Running Again

A Trains magazine study of the on-time performance of the Empire Builder has found that the train is again being plagued by delays.

Slow orders that were imposed in late June have resulted in the trains taking more than 10 hours to travel 430 miles between Havre, Montana, and Minot, North Dakota.

The Chicago-Seattle/Portland train is scheduled to take seven hours between the two cities, both of which are service stops for the Builder.

In 2014, the Empire Builder suffered from extreme delays due to BNSF track work and freight congestion.

The route used by Nos. 7 and 8 has seen an increase in freight traffic, much of it driven by crude oil trains coming from the oil fields of North Dakota.

Amtrak had created a sixth equipment set to protect the Builder and after the on-time performance of the route improved, it dispersed that equipment elsewhere and restored most same-day connections in Chicago that had been broken last year due to the chronic lateness of No. 8.

Trains noted that the en route delays had been virtually eliminated in North Dakota between Fargo and Minot.

The magazine noted that delays to the Empire Builder in both directions have occurred on virtually every trip since June 25.

Combined with other periodic delays from Spokane, Washington, to Whitefish, Montana, and on the Portland section, late West Coast arrivals have resulted in tardy eastbound Seattle departures on seven of eight days beginning June 25.

A forest fire closed BNSF’s Scenic Subdivision in Washington state on June 29, which prompted Amtrak to consolidate the Seattle and Portland sections.

BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said additional speed restrictions have been imposed as a result of high temperatures on the Hi Line used by the Builder in Montana and North Dakota.

“Additionally, we have been conducting significant maintenance activity in these areas. Six separate gangs are at work on the Hi Line and Glasgow subdivisions and various expansion, replacement, and maintenance activity will be occurring across much of the region through the summer and into the fall,” she said.

McBeth said that BNSF is in the second year of a program to increase track capacity on its Northern Corridor.

She said the track work will result in enhanced infrastructure that will benefit Amtrak and BNSF freight customers.

Trains also reported that every other long-distance train from the West has suffered occasional significant delays in recent weeks.

Between June 21 and July 5, 16 eastbound arrivals missed all connecting trains in Chicago with the California Zephyr accounting for nine of these instances.

In the past, Amtrak has held the eastbound Lake Shore Limited for late in-bound western trains.

But it been doing that less and now rarely holds No. 48 for more than 20 minutes past its scheduled 9:30 p.m. departure from Chicago.

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