Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak’s Empire Builder’

SPUD Tops 1 Million Visitor Mark

October 8, 2019

St. Paul Union Depot has hosted more than a million visitors and seen the leasing of all its available commercial space, both firsts since the renovated station reopened in 2012.

The million visitors include Amtrak passengers, those riding the light rail system serving the station and shoppers and attendees of various events.

SPUD is served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Renovation of the station cost more than $240 million in federal, state, and county money.

Local government entities still provide about $6 million of SPUD’s $8.2 million annual budget.

The largest other revenue source is parking revenue at $1.3 million.

Among the events annually held at SPUD are an annual Christmas tree lighting and European Christmas market.

Thus far this year the depot has hosted 400 private events.

Your Rental Car Awaits

August 31, 2019

During a stopover in Minot, North Dakota, a few years back I noticed this car with flat tires next to the station.

I don’t know the story behind this vehicle, but I joked at the time that someone might get a shock if this is their rental vehicle.

Of course it might also be the vehicle of a passenger who went on a trip and is going to have to do a lot of pumping or call AAA upon arriving back home.

Whatever the case, this car isn’t going anywhere for a while.

Empire Builder to be Affected by BNSF Track Work

August 2, 2019

BNSF track work will affect the operations of the Portland section of the Empire Builder on Aug. 4 and 5.

Train 27 will terminate at Spokane, Washington and alternate transportation will be provided to the missed station stops of Wishram, Bingen-White Salmon, Vancouver and Portland.

Bus 6027 will operate from Spokane to Portland connecting with Train 27 at Spokane.

Train 28 will originate at Spokane with alternate transportation being provided to the missed station stops of Portland, Vancouver, Bingen-White Salmon and Wishram.

Bus 6028 will operate from Portland to Spokane connecting with Train 28 at Spokane.

St. Cloud Station Parking Lot Closing

July 21, 2019

The parking lot at the Amtrak station in St. Cloud, Minnesota, will temporarily close on July 25 due to construction.

Passengers will need to find parking on nearby city streets and will not have access to the parking lot.

Pedestrian access to the station, which is served by Amtrak’s Empire Builder, will be maintained.

The small concrete lot southeast of the station will remain accessible for ADA parking.

Wisconsin DOT Tells Hiawatha Expansion Plans

July 18, 2019

Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee is expected to increase in the next five years, Wisconsin transportation officials said this week.

Speaking at a news conference at the Milwaukee Amtrak station, Arun Rao, manager of passenger rail for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said the plans call for one additional roundtrip in the next three years following by two more in the two years after that.

Amtrak currently operates seven Hiawatha roundtrips, all of which are funded by Wisconsin and the Illinois Department of Transportation.

The corridor also hosts the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Funding for the expansion comes from an increase in spending on Amtrak service approved this year by the Wisconsin legislature.

WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson said the 2019-21 budget includes $10 million in bonding and $25 million in segregated funding for Amtrak Hiawatha services.

“This funding enables us in the department to qualify for federal funds to improve passenger rail service, providing mobility and transportation choices between Milwaukee and Chicago for both business and leisure,” Thompson said.

Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Association of Commerce, said at the news conference that the Hiawatha Service helps the city’s economy.

“We’re part of Chicago’s mega-region, which is one of the 10 largest economic regions in the country, and to put it simply: Commerce is about connections,” he said.

Amtrak ridership statistics showed that the Hiawathas carried more than 858,000 passengers in 2018.

Officials expect ridership to increase by 5.6 percent in 2019.

Joel Brennan, state Department of Administration secretary, said a recent survey found that 40 percent of trips Hiawatha passengers were traveling for business or work related purposes that 60 percent of their trips were same-day round trips.

Infrastructure spending for the Hiawatha corridor includes adding a second platform at the Milwaukee Mitchell Airport Rail Station, which is expected to cost $10 million.

Another $5 million is projected to be spend for new traffic control equipment at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station .

New passenger cars will cost $39 million. Amtrak is seeking a federal grant to help pay for those.

Supporters of New Train Look to Next Year

July 9, 2019

Supporters of a second Amtrak train between Chicago and Twin Cities are taking a “wait ‘til next year” approach after failing this year to win state funding for development of the service.

The Minnesota legislature did not approve a request from the Minnesota Department of Transportation to pay for more environmental and design work and service planning.

“We’re kind of on life support for right now from our perspective, but we’re keeping the project moving forward,” said Dan Krom, director of MnDOT’s Passenger Rail Office.

However, in Wisconsin the legislature did OK $300,000 to fund environmental work related to the project.

The proposed service would supplement the existing Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder that currently operates between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Supporters of the second train say the Empire Builder is delay prone, particularly headed eastbound.

“I think we finally got some momentum this legislative session,” said Mark Vaughan, chairman of the Great River Rail Commission, a group of local government officials in Minnesota and Wisconsin that supports efforts to add a second train.

Getting the second train started is projected to cost between $130 million and $140 million.

An Amtrak feasibility concluded that the service could attract 155,000 passengers annually, in addition to the existing 123,000 passengers riding the Empire Builder.

“You’d be providing an option for folks who don’t want to fly or drive, or can’t drive anymore or choose not to drive,” Krom said.

“A lot of people from Red Wing, Winona, La Crosse, Tomah, the Dells are getting on and off,” he said. “It’s providing access for people for those markets in between where there aren’t many options to fly.”

Amtrak Marks 90th Anniversary of Empire Builder

June 13, 2019

Amtrak this week observed the 90th anniversary of is Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The train was created by the Great Northern Railway with the first westbound train departing Chicago on June 10, 1929.

The train was named for James Hill, the “empire builder,” who in the late 19th century founded what became the GN.

GN and three railroads merged in 1970 to form Burlington Northern, which continued to operate the Empire Builder until May 1, 1971, when Amtrak took it over and changed the route to include Milwaukee by using what is now Canadian Pacific between Chicago and St. Paul.

In October 1979, the Empire Builder became the first overnight train to be assigned bi-level Superliner rail cars.

Amtrak said that last year 428,854 passengers rode the Empire Builder.

Funding OKed for Washington Passenger Study

June 10, 2019

The Washington state legislature has approved funding for a study of a cross-stand passenger train route.

The $250,000 study will look at using the former Northern Pacific line over Stampede Pass for the Seattle-Spokane, Washington train.

The route would pass through Yakima Auburn, Cle Elu, Ellensburg, Toppenish, and the Tri-Cities.

The study is due to be finished in June 2020 and will focus on potential ridership, station locations, equipment needs, and operator options. However, Amtrak is expected to operate the trains.

The route, if developed would be funded by the state in the same manner as those of other Amtrak corridor operations.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder currently operates between Seattle and Spokane via Stevens Pass.

The legislature also agreed to spend $671,000 for “continued analysis of the ultra-high-speed ground transportation corridor in a new study, with participation from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia.

Some funding for that study is expected to come from other sources, including computer software developer Microsoft.

Wisconsin Committee Mulling Rail Funding Increase

June 6, 2019

A Wisconsin legislative commission is posed to vote on a request by the governor to spend $45 million more to increase Amtrak service.

Gov. Tony Evers has proposed the additional funding to be used to pay for three more daily roundtrips of the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service and another train that would operate between Chicago and the Twin Cities of Minnesota.

The funding request is before the budget committee, which is considering several requests from Evers, including some pertaining to highway funding.

Wisconsin currently funds seven Hiawatha roundtrips. Service between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota, is provided by the Empire Builder, a long-distance train operating between Chicago and Seattle/Portland, Oregon.

Wisconsin rail advocates have long desired another train to supplement the Empire Builder, which they say is prone to delays, particularly eastbound.

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers has said some Hiawatha Service trains are now standing room only during peak travel periods.

WisARP said it would be less expensive to add more trains than to attach an additional rail car or two to existing trains, because during slow periods those extra cars would be empty but still heavy.

Arun Rao of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation said his agency is talking with its counterparts in the Illinois Department of Transportation and the host railroads of Hiawatha Service about how to expand capacity in the Chicago-Milwaukee corridor.

A proposal to add passing sidings in north suburban Chicago drew fierce opposition and IDOT recently said it would no longer support creation of sidings to enable freight trains to get out of the way of Amtrak and Metra trains.

“We would also be looking at incremental improvements. If we did a smaller subset of infrastructure, could we move up to an eighth round trip, and then ninth, and then tenth?” Rao said.

The funding for the proposed additional Chicago-Twin Cities train is needed to qualify for federal grants to help pay to develop the service.

WisDOT said that train could be operating within three to four years.

The committee considering the governor’s requests is controlled by Republican legislators whereas Evers is a Democrat.

There have already been conflicts in the legislature over other transportation spending as well as the overall state budget.

Washington to Study Cross-State Service

May 9, 2019

The transportation budget for Washington State includes an authorization to conduct a study of cross-state rail passenger service.

The proposed service would link Seattle and Spokane, Washington, via Ellensburg and Yakima.

The report is due by June 2020 and will evaluate route options, potential ridership, equipment needs, and operator options.

The study was pushed by All Aboard Washington, which had sought but failed to win authorization of the study last year. The study is expected to cost $250,000.

Neither Ellensburg or Yakima is currently served by Amtrak although they’ve had service in past year from either the Empire Builder or the discontinued North Coast Hiawatha.