Posts Tagged ‘Empire Builder in North Dakota’

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.

Good Morning, Fargo

May 21, 2018

It was still dark outside as I awakened in my Superliner roomette aboard Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder.

The train had stopped and I pulled back the curtains to see where we were.

The sun was just starting to climb over the horizon as No. 7 paused at the former Great Northern passenger station in Fargo, North Dakota.

From what I could tell the depot is now in part a bicycle shop.

The dawn of a new day also brought a certain amount of anticipation. By the time the sun set we would be in the Rocky Mountains in Montana.

It sort of worked out that way. Because we were running behind schedule, we didn’t make it into the Rockies until after dark.

Most of the day would be spent in Big Sky country, which in its own way is dramatic enough.

But for the next few hours I would be witnessing the North Dakota countryside.

Vanishing Sight

January 23, 2018

All of Amtrak’s long-distance trains carry baggage cars. Given that these cars are new Viewliner equipment that went into service in the past few years, it is likely that Amtrak trains will continue to carry baggage cars and offer checked baggage for the foreseeable future.

But rapidly vanishing at intermediate stations is the practice of the local station agent wheeling a baggage cart out to the platform to load and unload bags on the train’s baggage car.

Shown is an Amtrak agent at Minot, North Dakota, loading a box aboard the westbound Empire Builder in May 2014.

As Amtrak tells the story, it has pulled its agents from many stations because most passengers are buying their tickets online. Many passengers are using their smart phones for their tickets rather than using paper.

So, the story goes, there is less need to have agents at stations that sell few tickets. With the disappearance of agents have also come the end of check baggage at those stations.

In some instances, an Amtrak conductor can check items, such as bicycles. But in most towns served by Amtrak, checked luggage has become another relic of history.

Staying Cool in the Sightseer Lounge

May 5, 2017

Outside the temperature is going to be an unseasonably 90 plus degrees in North Dakota. But inside the Sightseer Lounge of Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder, the passengers are staying cool.

There is hardly a seat to be found as the train rolls west of Minot.  When this image was made in May 2014, the oil boom was at its peak and BNSF was laying new tracks as fast as it could.

Oil is still pumped here, but the amount of it moving by rail has fallen off.

13 Hours Later No. 8 Freed from Snow Bank

March 9, 2017

It took four tries, but an eastbound Empire Builder finally managed to work its way out of a snow drift that had marooned the train and its 111 passengers for nearly 13 hours in North Dakota.

The 25-foot high snow bank stopped No. 8 dead in its tracks five miles west of Rugby at about 7 a.m. on Wednesday.

Westbound No. 7 was delayed 35 miles to the east with 96 passengers aboard.

No. 8 was finally on the move again after BNSF personnel inspected it and determined that it had not suffered any damage.

Railroad personnel used snowplows, skid-steer loaders and freight train engines trying to pull out the Amtrak train from behind. But none of those methods worked.

Thirty workers then dug the train out by hand, removing snow from beneath and between the Superliner cars.

A passenger aboard the stranded train, Miranda Fenner, said the train had power and the cafe and lounge were open so food was available. But many passengers spent the time sleeping.

No. 8 was already running seven hours late due to the weather had left Minot, North Dakota at 6 a.m. Wednesday rather than the scheduled 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Rugby Station Gets New Old Looking Signs

December 14, 2016

Amtrak tends to place its own city identification signs on its stations, but in Rugby, North Dakota, the new signs recently affixed to the depot resemble the original signs they replaced.

Amtrak 4The depot, used by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder, was built in 1907 by the Great Northern Railway.

One existing GN sign remains at the station, but two others have been replaced.

The signs have black lettering on a white background.

“Amtrak has been very good about trying to maintain the historical appearance of the building,” said Dale Niewoehner, the coordinator of this project.

Amtrak paid for the sign renovation program, which also included cleaning and refurbishing the sign brackets.

Amtrak Plans to Renovate Fargo, N.D., Station, Says it Will Build Station to Serve Marks, Miss.

October 28, 2016

Amtrak plans to renovate the station it uses in Fargo, North Dakota by adding motorized doors, a ramp and a clear pedestrian walk ways.

Amtrak 4The renovations are designed to make the station more accessible for those in wheelchairs or who may be physically challenged.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Amtrak spokesman Derrick James. “Americans have all sorts of different abilities, and people age.”

The improvements will also include aides to help those with hearing and visual impairments. The restrooms will also be modernized.

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

In other station news, after talking about it for years, Amtrak has said it will be building a station in Marks, Mississippi.

The station is expected to cost $1.2 million and open in 2017.

Marks is located on the route of the Chicago-New Orleans City of New Orleans between Memphis, Tennessee, and Jackson, Mississippi.

Empire Builder OT Performance Improves After BNSF Congestion Hurt Train’s Route in October

October 26, 2016

Amtrak’s Empire Builder is running more smoothly of late after suffering some severe delays due to congestion on its BNSF route through North Dakota and Montana.

Amtrak Empire BuilderAn analysis by Trains magazine found that Nos. 7 and 8 experienced delays not seen since the summer of 2014.

On at least eight occasions, No. 8 was delayed for at least seven hours while twice No. 7 was more than six hours late arriving in Seattle and Portland.

On Oct. 15, No. 7 was terminated at Spokane, Washington, and its passengers sent by bus to their destinations because the train was running nine hours late.

The equipment coming into Seattle and Portland makes a same-day turn to head back east to Chicago.

The magazine said BNSF attributed the congestion to weather-related interruptions and an increase in grain traffic to the Pacific Northwest.

The bulk of the delays occurred between Minot, North Dakota, and Whitefish, Montana.

On some days the Empire Builder arrived so late in Chicago that passengers missed their connections.

The string of delays was finally broken  on Oct. 20 when No. 8 reached Chicago ahead of schedule for the first time since Oct. 6.

Trains reported that a good on-time record had helped the Empire Builder post a 4.8-percent ridership gain in September and 3.7 percent for the 2016 fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

A BNSF spokeswoman said the railroad is mitigating the freight congestion by rerouting some trains and recalling 60 furloughed employees to help relieve crew shortages.

Fargo Station to be Renovated in 2016

November 7, 2015

Work is expected to get underway next February or March on modernizing the Amtrak station in Fargo, North Dakota.

The project will bring station into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Fargo is served by the daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Amtrak said it will spend $1.3 million to upgrade the station’s platform, doorways, bathrooms, water fountain and other areas. The parking lot will be redone and the ticket counter lowered so that wheelchair users can see over it.

Amtrak officials are also looking at remodeling the station in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, to bring it into ADA compliance.

Empire Builder Suffering from Late Running Again

July 7, 2015

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.