Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Empire Builder’

Blizzards Halted Empire Builder

April 18, 2022

Severe winter weather led Amtrak this week to cancel the Empire Builder between St. Paul, Minnesota, and Spokane, Washington, last week Trains magazine reported.

The report said Amtrak cited blizzard conditions in North Dakota and Montana for terminating the eastbound Builder at Spokane on Monday and Tuesday.

The westbound Empire Builder ran only as far as St. Paul with an abbreviated consist.

Nos. 7 and 8 are not currently scheduled to depart Chicago or Seattle on Thursdays or Fridays.

Tough Luck Continues to Shadow Chargers

February 14, 2022

Amtrak’s tough luck with operating ALC-42 Charger locomotives in long-distance service continued last weekend.

Nos. 302 and 301 led the eastbound Empire Builder out of Seattle on Saturday, but were involved in a grade crossing collision in Sultan, Washington.

Train 8 struck a pickup truck and wound up losing more than an hour. Trains magazine reported that by the time No. 8 reached Havre, Montana, on Sunday night it was nearly eight hours down.

The two Chargers had been assigned to led the westbound Empire Builder from Chicago on Feb. 8, but positive train control issues with No. 301 led to a P42DC being put on the point of the train.

That delayed the departure of No. 7 by more than an hour. No. 7 was further delayed when the Sightseer Lounge was removed in Milwaukee due to a fire.

Charger Era Off to Shaky Start

February 9, 2022

Amtrak ALC-42 No. 301 in the “First Day” livery poses with No. 300 in an Amtrak photo. The 300 wears the Phase VI livery that will be replaced soon by a yet to be revealed Phase VII scheme that will be applied to most ALC-42 locomotives

Amtrak’s first revenue service run with a Siemens ALC-42 Charger on the point didn’t get very far.

No. 301 with its “Day One” heritage livery was posed with ALC-42 No. 302 and Phase I heritage unit P42DC No. 161 at Chicago Union Station on Tuesday afternoon as the motive power to lead the westbound Empire Builder.

After the media event ended, a fourth unit, P42DC No. 84, was placed on the point and that four-locomotive consist pulled No. 7 out of the station.

Trains magazine reported that Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the addition of No. 84 was made for technical reasons related to positive train control.

As it was, No. 7 was 34 minutes late arriving at Glenview in suburban Chicago, the first scheduled stop en route to Seattle and Portland.

The Empire Builder lost another 32 minutes while making its Glenview stop, which is 18 miles from Chicago Union Station.

During the media event, Amtrak’s George Hull, vice president and chief mechanical officer, said the passenger carrier will increase its order of new Chargers for the national network by 50 units.

Amtrak had in 2018 ordered 75 ALC-42 locomotives with the first of those arriving earlier this year.

The new Charges have been undergoing testing since then and Tuesday’s run of the westbound Empire Builder was to be the first revenue service operation in which a Charger was leading a train.

Until now, Chargers have been trailing units, usually the second or third locomotive, in motive power consists on national network trains.

Amtrak plans to use the Chargers to replace its aging P42DC fleet, which dates to the early 1990s.

The ALC-42 chargers are being built in Sacramento, California, and are similar in design to Chargers used now to pull Amtrak Midwest corridor trains.

The Trains report noted that Nos. 7 and 8 normally operate with three locomotives during the winter.

Aside from No. 301, the Chargers have been leaving the factory with a Phase VI livery that Amtrak has said will be limited.

A new Phase VII look will adorn most of the 100 Chargers although that scheme has yet to be released to the public.

“Later this spring you will see new looks on these locomotives as they come from the factory,” Hull said on Tuesday.

Empire Builder to Get First Chargers

January 29, 2022

Amtrak plans to place its new ALC-42 Charger locomotives into regular revenue service on the Empire Builder in the coming months.

Railfan & Railroad magazine reported on its website that the Chargers are being moved to the route so that operating crews can become familiar with them.

Amtrak plans to eventually use the ALC-42 to replace the P42DC locomotives that have been national network mainstays since the 1990s.

The magazine said Amtrak has been placing a Charger in the various crew bases for the Empire Builder as part of the familiarity process.

Initially, the report said, Amtrak plans to par ALC-42 units with P42s in revenue service.

No date has been set for the first revenue service run of an ALC-42. Amtrak thus far has taken delivery of five ALC-42 units and expects to receive two more in February.

Eventually, Amtrak will operate 75 of the units, which are being assembled in Sacramento, California.

The report can be read at https://railfan.com/amtraks-new-chargers-will-debut-on-empire-builder/

Empire Builder, Wolverines Have Rough Week

January 28, 2022

Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder suffered a minor derailment in the station on Wednesday in Milwaukee.

An online report indicated that the derailment involved one truck of a coach behind the dining car and occurred after one of its three locomotives, No. 815, was removed from the train due to a mechanical issue.

The online report indicated that the 815 had been flagged by a dragging equipment detector at milepost 72.7 on host railroad Canadian Pacific.

No. 7 had arrived in Milwaukee at about 4:40 p.m. and did not depart until 12:35 a.m. @AmtrakAlerts had described the delay was due to a “malfunction with one of the railcars.”

The derailed car was removed from the consist and left in Milwaukee.

Early Friday morning, Amtrak reported No. 7 was operating nearly nine hours late west of Malta, Montana.

In an unrelated development, mechanical woes led to the cancellation of Wolverine Service No. 352 last Tuesday.

The train departed Chicago Union Station 80 minutes late and halted two miles away due to a mechanical breakdown.

The train was returned to the depot and canceled. Passengers were either rebooked aboard Wolverine Service No. 354 or given a refund of their fare.

The next day Wolverine Service No. 351 from Pontiac, Michigan (Detroit), to Chicago was canceled on account of no equipment being available. Normally, No. 352 turns to become No. 351 the next day.

An online report indicated a breakdown of the SC-44 Charger locomotive assigned to No. 352 caused the problems. The unit reportedly malfunctioned after the equipment arrived in the station and again after leaving.

The report indicated that mechanical issues with Charger locomotives led Amtrak to replace them with P42DC units on corridor trains operating in the Chicago-Quincy, Illinois; and Chicago-Carbondale, Illinois, corridors.

The Wolverines have had a rough week with many of them operating late. Amtrak reported Thursday night that No. 354 was operating more than five hours late east of Battle Creek, Michigan.

It left Chicago three hours late due to mechanical issues, Amtrak reported.

Earlier on Thursday, a late arrival of inbound Wolverine Service No. 350 in Pontiac resulted in a 40-minute late departure of No. 355. That delayed had reached an hour and 20 minutes by the time No. 355 reached Hammond-Whiting, Indiana.

Empire Builder Sidelined Until Saturday

January 13, 2022

Amtrak is hoping to get its Empire Builder back to normal winter operation following a week of delays and cancellations due to severe winter weather.

However, the passenger carrier said Wednesday that it doesn’t expect to resume operations on the route until Saturday due to equipment and crews being out of place.

Mudslides and two derailments of BNSF freight trains on the Builder’s route in Washington State have led to a tangle of issues.

An avalanche on Jan. 7 in Montana in Marias Pass halted rail traffic. News reports indicated the snow, mud and other debris was 60 feet wide and in some places 15 feet deep.

The westbound No. 7 was one of the last trains to traverse the route before the avalanche struck.

The Empire Builder originates in Chicago, Seattle and Portland with sections for the latter two cities converging and diverging at Spokane, Washington.

New ALC-42s Move East on Capitol Limited

January 11, 2022

Two new Siemens ALC-42 locomotives operated eastbound on the Capitol Limited today behind P42DC No. 188.

An online report indicated that the 305 and 304 were being delivered from the Siemens assembly plant in California. Both units wore the Phase VI livery.

Reportedly Amtrak is training crews in Chicago in the operation of the new ALC-42 locomotives, which are slated to begin replacing P42s in Amtrak’s national network this year although P42s will continue to work for a few more years as Amtrak takes delivery of its ALC-42 fleet.

Nos. 29 and 30 in recent days have been operating with four cars, a sleeping car, dining car and two coaches. During the holiday travel season the Capitol Limited had been assigned an additional sleeping car.

In an unrelated development, Amtrak continued to have equipment and weather-related issues last weekend.

The eastbound Cardinal departed Chicago on Saturday night more than seven hours late due to what Amtrak described on its Twitter feed as equipment and mechanical issues.

Also running late in recent days have been the California Zephyr and Empire Builder.

Trains magazine reported on its website that a westbound Zephyr last weekend was delayed by more than seven hours after hitting a track obstruction east of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

The Empire Builder continued to be plagued by weather woes with the train that departed Chicago last Friday canceled in Minot, North Dakota, due to weather-related operating conditions.

The westbound Builder from Chicago was canceled on Saturday and Sunday while its eastbound counterpart was canceled from Seattle and Portland on Sunday and Monday.

Saturday’s eastbound Empire Builder had originated in Spokane, Washington, rather than Seattle.

Minnesota OKs Funding for New Second Chicago-Twin Cities Train

July 8, 2021

Minnesota has approved $10 million in funding for a second Amtrak train between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

Gov. Tim Walz approved the funding when he recently signed a $7 billion state omnibus transportation bill.

The money will provide a state match to a $31.8 million 2020 Federal Railroad Administration grant to help get the service started.

Wisconsin has committed $6.5 million to the project while Amtrak is chipping in $5 billion.

Host railroad Canadian Pacific has agreed to allow capacity improvements in the Minnesota cities of Winona and La Crescent.

The next step will be to reach a Memorandum of Understanding must among the states, Amtrak, CP and the Federal Railroad Administration that could lead to establishing agreements on the projects final design and construction.

Work is expected to get underway in 2023 with the service starting in 2024.

Amtrak said schedule and equipment service development planning is underway. The second train is expected to depart Chicago at about 11 a.m. and leave the Twin Cities about 11:30 a.m.

The route is now served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder, which is scheduled to depart Chicago at 2:15 p.m. and St. Paul at 8 a.m.

One Morning at Chicago Union Station

June 29, 2021

It is Sept. 9. 1995, on the north side of Chicago Union Station. A Hiawatha Service train sits adjacent to the equipment to be used later today for the outbound Empire Builder.

At the time, Hiawatha Service trains were using former Metroliner cab cars. This equipment also was common at the time on the Chicago-Detroit route.

Note the mismatching liveries on the Superliner equipment on the Empire Builder. Amtrak was moving into a new look for its rolling stock and the old and new continued to mix for a while.

Resumption of Daily Service Yielding Fare Bargains

March 14, 2021

It didn’t take Amtrak long to make available additional sleeping car space and coach seats for the summer on long distance trains that have operated tri-weekly since last fall but will resume daily operation starting in late May.

Daily service will retrn on May 24, May 31 or June 7 depending on the route.

Those who are able to book shortly after the expanded service space and seats went up for sale were able to find some economical fares.

Amtrak’s yield management strategy ties fares to demand. So if you plan to travel this summer on a day when your train would have operated even on its tri-weekly schedule, you would have found high fares, an analysis published by Trains magazine found.

But for those able to travel on days when their train would not be serving the station from which they planned to depart, there are some bargains available for now.

For example, on one day that the Empire Builder was scheduled to operate in early June on the existing tri-weekly schedule coach seats from Chicago to Seattle were priced at,$245 while a roomette was selling for $1,074 for one adult and a bedroom was priced at $1,816 in a family room.

But on the following day coach seats were selling for $150, a roomette was $651, a family bedroom was $842 and a bedroom was priced at $1,210.

Amtrak’s Roger Harris, the carrier’s executive vice president and chief marketing and revenue, told Trains he is confident that demand this summer for coach seats and sleeping car rooms will be high enough to fill those seats and rooms at fares close to what Amtrak has charged in previous years.

“Under our original restoration metrics, we needed to see forward load factor bookings within 10 percent of historical levels, and we are actually ahead of that for this summer.”

That is likely to mean, the Trains analysis concluded that fares will not be drastically reduced across the board.

Amtrak has boosted its advertising budget by $10 million and Harris said the carrier will attempt to reach travelers through media channels it has not made much use of in recent years, particularly radio and television.

There won’t be a major advertising campaign in traditional media. Harris said Amtrak’s market’s efforts will continue to a more targeted digital advertising approach.

“It’s starting in March, because that’s when people begin planning trips and buying tickets,” Harris said.

Also look for unsold sleeping car space in a few months to be auctioned through the BidUp program that recently launched that enables passengers to upgrade from coach accommodations to business class and first class seats, particularly on corridor trains.