Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Empire Builder’

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.

Amtrak Long-Distance Trains to Resume Daily Service

March 11, 2021

Amtrak said Wednesday it will reinstate daily service on 12 long-distance routes starting in late May.

Trains on those routes shifted last year to tri-weekly or quad-weekly service in the wake of steep ridership declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement of expanded service came hours after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a pandemic relief package that contains increased funding for Amtrak.

The legislation also contains a mandate that routes that had daily service until last year resume daily operation and that furloughed employees be recalled.

President Joseph Biden is expected to sign the $1.9 trillion bill on Friday.

Two routes, the Chicago-New York Cardinal and New Orleans-Los Angeles Sunset Limited will be unaffected by the changes because those routes have operated on tri-weekly schedules for years.

Amtrak has already resumed selling tickets for the expanded days of operation on the 12 routes.

Trains returning to daily service on May 24 include the Chicago-Emeryville, California, California Zephyr; Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight; Chicago-Portland/Seattle Empire Builder, and the Chicago-San Antonio-Los Angeles Texas Eagle.

Daily operation returns May 31 for the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited; Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans, Chicago-New York/Boston Lake Shore Limited, and the Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief.

Resuming daily operation on June 7 will be the New York-New Orleans Crescent, New York-Savannah Palmetto, and the New York-Miami Silver Meteor (via Savannah) and Silver Star (via Raleigh).

In a news release, Amtrak said new Viewliner II sleeping cars will be making their debut on the Silver Service trains.

The Auto Train had continued to operate daily and its operations will remain unchanged.

Amtrak will receive $1.7 billion in emergency pandemic aid, which will help fund restoration of daily service on long-distance routes.

Minnesota Gov. Seeks Funding for New Passenger Service

February 26, 2021

Bonding authorization for development of a Chicago-Twin Cities train was included in a proposal issued this week by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.

The governor’s $518 million capital investment bonding proposal includes $10 million for the train, which would be the second to serve the route via Milwaukee.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder currently operates tri-weekly on the route on its Chicago-Seattle/Portland trek.

Minnesota’s funds would match a a $32 million federal grant awarded last year.

Studies have concluded the cost of creating the additional Chicago-Twin Cities service will be $53 million.

That includes $40 million for track and signal work in Minnesota to add capacity for passenger and freight trains.

Amtrak and the State of Wisconsin have already approved their share of the matching funds.

The new service is projected to serve 13 stations and have ridership of 124,000 annually.

Man Arrested for Threatening Amtrak Crew With Knife

November 10, 2020

An Oregon man was arrested for threatening Amtrak crew members aboard the Empire Builder as it crossed Wisconsin last Saturday.

Police said Timothy Isaiah Thomas, 31, of Portland tried to use a knife to get into a secure part of the train.

He was arrested during a stop near Oakdale, Wisconsin. Although Thomas reportedly ran away after the train stopped, he was apprehended by shortly thereafter by Wisconsin State Patrol officers after he was spotted walking along a nearby highway.

No one was injured during the incident, which continues to be under investigation.

Stations in Havre, Holdrege See Changes

October 30, 2020

Amtrak customer service representatives have begun staffing the station in Havre, Montana.

They will assist passengers in making reservations for travel on the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder and with boarding and disembarking from trains.

The station waiting room will be open at all train times.

In a service advisory Amtrak reminded passengers that it is no longer accepting cash for ticket purchases.

Tickets can only be purchased with a credit card, reloadable credit or debit card, or Amtrak gift cards.

In other station news, work has been completed on building a new boarding platform in Holdrege, Nebraska, for the California Zephyr.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said parking arrangements at the station have changed.

Parking is now being provided the city parking lot north of the train station.

The lot can be reached from Third Avenue with an entrance west of East Avenue. The lot is free and has no time limit.

Minnesota Legislature Decline to OK Funding for New Amtrak Service

October 29, 2020

The Minnesota legislature declined to appropriate funding this year to support new Amtrak service between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

Rail passenger advocates had lobbied lawmakers to approve $10 million in matching funds for a federal grant to be used toward launching the service.

The $31.8 million Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grant was awarded in September and is contingent upon it being matched by Minnesota, Wisconsin and Amtrak.

Amtrak has pledged $5 million while the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has agreed to kick in $6.2 million.

The Great River Rail Commission, which represents 18 governmental bodies in Minnesota and Wisconsin, indicated it will try again next year to win legislative approval of the funding from Minnesota lawmakers.

The proposed service would extend one Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service train to the Twin Cities.

The route is also served by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.