Posts Tagged ‘Empire Builder’

Minnesota Trial Rail Service Proposed

March 20, 2017

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed a $3 million trial rail passenger service between the Twin Cities and St. Cloud, Minnesota.

The service was part of his supplemental budget proposal submitted last week to the state legislature.

The rail service would operate for six months for the purpose of assessing whether existing service would be expanded to St. Cloud from downtown Minneapolis.

If the trial service become permanent, it would mean that the Northstar commuter rail service would serve St. Cloud.

At present, the service operates between Target Field in Minneapolis to Big Lake, Minnesota.

The trial service would involve one trip from St. Cloud to Target Field in the morning and a return trip in the evening. Passengers could connect at the Target Field station to the Green and Blue light-rail lines.

Amtrak is expected to provide the St. Cloud service. The national rail passenger carrier currently operates on the route with its daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The tracks on the line are owned by BNSF.

In a statement, Amtrak thanked Dayton “for recognizing the importance of passenger rail, and exploring how Amtrak can further connect St. Cloud with the Twin Cities.”

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the trial commuter service would not affect the Empire Builder.

The Northstar system was originally intended to serve St. Cloud. But the service now ends at Big Lake because of a lack of federal funding to help pay to develop the Big Leg-St. Cloud segment.

Since Northstar service began in 2009, Big Lake and St. Cloud have been connected by bus service.

Dayton’s budget proposal also includes $850,000 for an engineering study to update a 2010 study of engineering costs and projected ridership between Big Lake and St. Cloud.

The Northstar service would end in St. Cloud at the existing Amtrak station.

Amtrak Pausing The Empire Builder

March 10, 2017

After seeing its Empire Builder stuck in a snow bank for nearly 13 hours this week, Amtrak has said it will not operate two trips of Nos. 7 and 8 this week.

Buses will be substitute for the Empire Builder through Saturday between Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota.

East No. 8 became stuck in 25-foot snow bank about five miles west of Rugby, North Dakota, on Tuesday night.

It arrived in Chicago on Thursday 21 hours late. The westbound No. 7 that left Chicago on Tuesday was stuck east of Rugby at Leeds, North Dakota.

Amtrak trains also have been delayed this week by mudslides north of Seattle and freight train congestion.

No alternative transportation is being provided west of St. Paul on Friday or Saturday.

In the meantime, Amtrak needs time to get equipment and operating crews into position before it resumes full operation of Nos. 7 and 8.

St. Cloud Station Rehab Gets Underway

February 21, 2017

Work has begun to rehabilitate the Amtrak station in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

The $1.3 million project will include updated restroom facilities, improved wheelchair accessibility and signs that comply with the standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Amtrak 4Also included in the project are a new roof for the depot, a reconfigured parking lot and boarding platforms improvements.

St. Cloud is served by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder, which handled 11,457 passengers there in 2016 compared with 9,950 in 2015.

Overall 2016 ridership of Nos. 7-27 and 8-28 for 2016 was 146,689, an increase of 5.8 percent over 2015.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the Builder’s operating performance has improved after a period of time when high oil train traffic on host railroad BNSF resulted in severe delays and cancellations.

Amtrak Back on Track in the Northwest

February 11, 2017

Amtrak is expecting to restore service today in Washington State that was disrupted by landslides.

Amtrak logoBNSF, which hosts Amtrak trains serving Seattle and Portland, Oregon, had declared a 48-hour moratorium on rail traffic after the landslides occurred on Thursday.

Affected with the Cascades trains, the Empire Builder and the Coast Starlight.

The Cascades were canceled between Seattle and Portland, but operated north of Everett, Washington, and south of Portland.

Amtrak was providing alternative transportation between Seattle and Everett, but not between Seattle and Portland.

In a related development, BNSF has reopened its Hi Line used by the Empire Builder through Glacier National Park in Montana. That route was closed by avalanches twice this past week.

The line was initially closed on Sunday at Marias Pass, but reopened on Tuesday. Two days later the route was closed again due to avalanches blocking the tracks near Essex, Montana.

Amtrak to Close Columbus WI Ticket Office

February 11, 2017

Citing the usual reasons, Amtrak is poised to close its ticket office at Columbus, Wisconsin.

Amtrak 4Amtrak has pointed to an increased number of passengers buying tickets online as well as Congressional demands for more efficient operations. The office will close on May 1.

Columbus is served by the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.  Other tickets offices on the train’s route that have closed in the two years include Winona, Minnesota; Grand Forks, North Dakota; Glenview, Illinois; and Rugby, North Dakota.

Avalanches Halt Empire Builder Again

February 10, 2017

Shortly after it was reopened, the route of Amtrak’s Empire Builder was closed again.

BNSF said that avalanches in Glacier National park closed its Hi Line near Essex.

Amtrak Empire BuilderThe closure came less than 48 hours after the railroad had reopened the line following avalanches that blocks the tracks at Marias Pass.

Railroad officials said warmer temperatures were a factor in causing avalanches because they were creating layers of unstable snow.

Thursday’s westbound Empire Builder was held overnight at St. Paul Union Depot and passengers bound for points between St. Paul and Minot, North Dakota, were taken to their destination buy bus.

Passengers going beyond Minot were to remain on the train. Amtrak said those passengers will be given a refund and taken back to Chicago on Friday.

Two other sections of the Chicago-Seattle/Portland train were to spend the night Thursday in Montana. This includes an eastbound and a westbound section.

Landslides in Washington State resulted in the cancellation of Amtrak’s Cascades service between Seattle and Portland until Saturday.

Also canceled is the Seattle-Los Angeles Coast Starlight.

Empire Builder to Resume Full Operation

February 8, 2017

Amtrak’s Empire Builder has resumed operating the length of its route between Chicago and Seattle/Portland after BNSF crews cleared an avalanche blocking Marias Pass in Montana.

Amtrak Empire BuilderThe pass was reopened on Tuesday night after being closed on Sunday.

Some sections of the Empire Builder had been turned back and the train was canceled west of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Nos. 7 and 8 had continued to operate between Chicago and St. Paul.

The avalanche that halted rail traffic came during a blizzard that dumped 51 inches of snow at East Glacier National Park. The area has been called “Avalanche Alley” by railroaders.

Minnesota Rail Advocates Seek Funds to Pay for Planning of 2nd Chicago-Twin Cities Train

February 4, 2017

Minnesota passenger rail proponents are asking the state to provide funding to complete planning for a second Chicago-Twin Cities passenger train.

MinnesotaThe planning process is being lead by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which is studying what infrastructure improvements are needed for the additional service as well as what capital costs are necessary.

At the present time, Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder is the only passenger train between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

At its last meeting, the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission unanimously approved a resolution in favor of a $23 million general obligation bonding request for passenger rail service across the state.

A second Chicago-Twin Cities train was identified in the 2015 MnDOT State Rail Plan.

“Amtrak’s passenger rail ridership is increasing, we had positive results from our feasibility study, and we hear from many of our constituents that a second train should be added immediately,” said Janice Rettman, chair of the MNHSR Commission and a Ramsey County commissioner. “Many local partners have already come forward to fund the current phase of work, but we need state funds to start the next phase and qualify these projects for possible federal funding.”

State matching funds would be necessary for Minnesota to qualify for those federal funds.

The rail commission is also backing a $1 million state funding request for rail improvements in St. Paul. The money would be spent to create a grade separation near a railroad yard to ease freight congestion.

That would benefit Amtrak by providing more fluid operations at St. Paul Union Depot.

Night Visit to Winona

January 28, 2017

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Winona, Minnesota, is one of many typical stations served by Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder. And yet it isn’t because it is a crew change point.

The crew that boards to go eastbound always goes on duty in the daylight because No. 8 is scheduled into Winona in late morning.

Depending on the time of year, the crew that boards No. 7 to take it further westward, may or may not see daylight.

In this series of images, it is May 2014 and the new operating crew is getting on in darkness.

At the invitation of my sleeping car attendant, I decided to step off in Winona and make a few images to capture a nighttime station stop.

Harsh Weather Hinders Amtrak in the West

January 26, 2017

Adverse weather conditions in California has made travel a challenge on Amtrak’s California Zephyr.

Amtrak logoTrains magazine reported that heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains have resulted in Nos. 5 and 6 operating hours late.

No. 5 that departed Chicago last Friday arrived on Tuesday in Emeryville, California, nearly 12 hours late. It took nearly six hours to travel between Truckee and Roseville, a trip that normally takes 3 hours, 20 minutes.

Consequently, No. 6 was more than five hours departing on Wednesday as workers cleaned and stocked the train with food, beverages and supplies.

Last Monday, No. 6 was eight hours late departing from Emeryville and arrived in Truckee 10 1/2 hours late.

Bad weather has also affected the route of Amtrak’s Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

Falling rocks and mud prompted BNSF to close its Fallbridge Subdivision in Washington state, which is used by the Portland section of the Empire Builder. It instead continued on to Seattle with Portland passengers being placed on buses or Amtrak Cascade trains.