Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Empire Builder’

Taking Breakfast Orders

June 23, 2018

An Amtrak server writes the breakfast orders of passengers as the Empire Builder makes it way west through North Dakota.

During this May 2014 trip, No. 7 was detouring via the former Great Northern Surrey cutoff due to traffic congestion on the train’s regular route via Grand Forks.

The Surrey cutoff was the route used by GN’s Empire Builder in pre-Amtrak days.

During the days of the original Empire Builder passengers would have written their orders on the check and server would tear off the top copy and take it to the kitchen.

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No One Home in Havre to Meet Builder

June 23, 2018

In announcing plans to eliminate 18 station agent positions, Amtrak said that all of the affected stations would have a caretaker who would open and close the waiting room at train time.

But the Empire Builder recently arrived in Havre, Montana, but the waiting room was closed and locked.

That prompted a protest from Havre Mayor Tim Solomon who said he has regularly received complaints from community members and travelers about the lack of a ticket office in the norther Montana city.

Solomon said he has not yet been able to talk with Amtrak but wants them to know the changes are not working.

Thus far Amtrak has held firm on closing all of the ticket offices that it said that it would.

Amtrak Says Montana Ticket Office Closings are Final

June 8, 2018

Amtrak has told a Montana senator that the closing of ticket offices in Havre and Shelby is final.

In a letter to Jon Tester, Amtrak Executive Vice President Stephen J. Gardner said the Havre ticket agents have lost their jobs.

Gardner said in the letter that most Amtrak passengers purchase tickets online and over the phone nationwide and that the passenger carrier is eliminating ticket agents at stations averaging fewer than 40 passengers a day.

Tester’s press secretary, Marnée Banks, said the senator is continuing to look at what can be done to save the ticket offices.

The letter from Gardner also reiterated a comment he made to a congressional committee that Amtrak at this time has no plans of reducing the frequency of operation of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder, which is Montana’s only Amtrak train.

“Amtrak must remain mindful of our congressional directive . . . to minimize government subsidies,” Gardner said. “We estimate that removing full-time agents from these two stations with fewer than 40 passengers will save approximately $200,000.”

Money saved from closing ticket offices will be redirected toward the national network capital investments and other improvements, Gardner said.

Gardner said 6 percent of ticket sales are made through traditional ticket agents at stations nationwide.

“Of nearly 10,000 customers boarding at (the Havre and Shelby) stations in Montana so far this fiscal year, we believe that only 30 percent and 17 percent, respectively, purchase tickets though the stations agents and of these approximately 2,300 passengers, only 14 percent and 16 percent, respectively, paid with cash,” Gardner said.

However, former Amtrak Havre ticket agent Leslie Shelton said during a meeting of the Havre City Council that she and a co-worker started in April tracking ticket sales in Havre and found that seven out of 10 passengers purchased their tickets from the ticket agents, with a large number of them being purchased with cash.

Both Havre and Shelby offered checked baggage service, which also ended with the closing of the ticket offices.

Gardner said in his letter that the onboard crew will offer any necessary baggage assistance for passengers whether they are boarding or disembarking from the train.

Amtrak has hired caretakers at both stations who will open and close the waiting room around train time and keep it clean.

Montana Lawmakers Want Ticket Offices Kept

June 2, 2018

Montana’s Congressional delegation is protesting the closing of Amtrak ticket offices in Havre and Shelby.

Both cities are served by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder and are among 15 offices being closed during May and June.

Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines along with Rep. Greg Gianforte criticized the actions and called on Amtrak to reverse that decision.

In Shelby and Havre, Amtrak plans to hire caretakers to open and close the station waiting room at train time. The caretakers will also be responsible for keeping the waiting rooms clean.

The Havre office was to close on June 1 while the Shelby office is set to be shuttered on June 3.

Portage Platform Being Repaved

June 1, 2018

Canadian Pacific is resurfacing the Amtrak boarding platform in Portage, Wisconsin, which will affect boarding of the Empire Builder in that city.

As part of the project, which extends through June 30, workers will also be conducting tie work on the adjacent tracks.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said passengers will need to exit the station shelter and walk to the far east end of the platform to board their train.

Passengers are also urged to use caution when walking and driving in this area as portions of it are active construction zones.

Taking Dinner Orders on No. 7

May 25, 2018

An Amtrak server takes dinner orders from a table in the dining car of Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder as it cruises through Wisconsin.

It is May 2014 and the train and this is the first meal to be served in the diner after leaving Chicago more than an hour late due to waiting for connecting passengers from a tardy inbound Lake Shore Limited.

In fact, I would have dinner with one of those passengers during the dinner hour. I even recall ordering the steak dinner, one of the few times I’ve ordered it when dining in an Amtrak dining car.

Red Wing Station Gets New Roof

May 14, 2018

The Amtrak station in Red Wing, Minnesota, is getting a repaired roof after it was damaged by hail.

Workers are replacing the red tin shingles that were damaged. Eventually, the entire roof will receive new shingles.

The depot is also home to the Red Wing Arts Association and the Visitor & Convention Bureau.

Red Wing is served by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

 

Empire Builder Subject to Delay

May 7, 2018

Track work being performed by Canadian Pacific in Wisconsin is expected to delay the Empire Builder through Oct. 3.

Train No. 8 will be held up to 60 minutes between Winona and La Crosse, departing no earlier than 11:47 a.m.

Train No. 8 will operate on a later schedule through to Chicago and passengers are advised to check Amtrak.com for the latest schedule times.

In a service advisory said that although delays of up to an hour are expected, the delay could be less at individual stations because trains can make up time.

The advisory recommended that passengers check the status of their train at Amtrak.com, with Amtrak mobile apps, speaking with station personnel or calling 800-USA-RAIL (800-872-7245).

Amtrak also offers text or email delay alerts when booking a reservation.

More Ticket Office Closings Planned

May 1, 2018

Amtrak will close 15 ticket offices in the next several weeks serving seven long-distance route. The closings will begin on May 15 and extend through late June.

Spokesman Marc Magliari said the closing are a bid to reduce expenses that was “made jointly by the operating divisions and the Long Distance Service Line.”

Magliari said the carrier is still figuring out which, if any, of the affected stations will have trainside checked baggage.

He said 22 jobs are being eliminated although some of the affected agents are retiring, leaving Amtrak service or bumping another agent at another location by exercising their seniority rights.

“The different dates depend on the staffing in the area and also whether agents are moving from station to station as a result of attrition,” Magliari said.

Caretakers are being hired to open and close the waiting rooms of all affected stations before and after train arrival and departure times.

The affected stations and closing dates by route are:

Southwest Chief: Lamy, New Mexico, (July 31); La Junta, Colorado,(June 1); Topeka, Kansas, (May 20); Garden City, Kansas, (May 15); and Fort Madison, Iowa, (May 16)

Crescent: Meridian, Mississippi, (May 17) and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, (May 21)

Texas Eagle: Texarkana, Arkansas-Texas, (May 15) and Marshall, Texas,  (June 29)

Empire Builder
: Havre, Montana, (June 1); and Shelby, Montana, June 5)

Cardinal: Cincinnati (June 5) and Charleston, West Virginia, (June 6)

California Zephyr
: Ottumwa, Iowa, (May 19)

City of New Orleans
: Hammond, Louisiana, (May 15)

Amtrak management has for several years been guiding passengers to booking travel on its website and closing small town and lesser used ticket offices.

It has also offered some discounts that are only available online.

Magliari said just one in 10 reservations are booked by station agents.

“This seems to be part of Amtrak’s new cost-savings strategy under CEO Richard Anderson to cut station staffing and on-board service to the long-distance national network,” said Peter LeCody, Rail Passengers Chair and President of Texas Rail Advocates in a statement.

Seattle Service Disrupted

April 16, 2018

Amtrak issued a service advisory today saying that Cascades trains and the Empire Builder between Seattle and Everett, Washington, have been canceled with substitute bus service being provided.

The bus transportation will continue through the morning of April 18 due to a moratorium on passenger service issued by BNSF following a landslide.

Amtrak service south of Seattle will continue to operate normally.