Posts Tagged ‘Empire Builder’

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.

Last Amtrak Dome Car Sold

August 19, 2020

Amtrak’s Ocean View is shown in Oakland, California, in the consist of a National Railway Historical Society excursion.

Amtrak’s last dome car has been acquired by a private operator who plans to return it to service in excursion service in 2021.

Paxrail said it bought full-length dome Ocean View, a 92-seat passenger car built by the Budd Company in 1955 for the Great Northern for use on its Empire Builder between Chicago and Seattle.

In recent years the car ran sporadically, most recently assigned to the Adirondack and Downeaster during the fall.

Amtrak retired the car in 2018 and offered it for sale last year. At the time the intercity passenger carrier said the car had become too expensive to maintain.

“We’re excited to now be a chapter in this wonderful car’s history,” said Paxrail President James Evenson.

“The Ocean View is a beautiful art-deco car offering a spectacular panorama for over 70 passengers in the dome. We’re looking forward to welcoming guests back aboard in 2021.”

Paxrail maintains a fleet of more than 20 historic passenger cars and provides the cars for excursions, day trips and corporate events.

Full-length domes, also known as great domes, also operated on the Santa Fe and Milwaukee Road.

At one time Amtrak owned all six full-length domes once used by the Empire Builder. Those cars were replaced in 1979 by Superliner equipment.

A few of the cars operated on Amtrak’s Auto Train in the 1980s and 1990s.

Empire Builder Derails in Montana on July 29

June 8, 2020

One passenger and three crew members were treated at a hospital and several others suffered minors injured in a May 29 derailment of Amtrak’s westbound Empire near Bainville, Montana.

The derailment occurred after the train struck a tractor at a rural crossing. The driver of the tractor was killed.

The collision caused a fire in the lead P42DC. The trailing unit and most of the eight cars left the rails but did not overturn.

No. 7/27 was traveling an estimated 75 miles per hour at the time of the collision, which closed the BNSF mainline for several hours.

Empire Builder in Portland

April 28, 2020

The Empire Builder is well known as a Chicago-Seattle train, but it also has a section that splits at Spokane, Washington, and operates to Portland, Oregon.

In the photo above Train No. 27 has arrived at Portland Union Station and discharged its passengers.

The equipment will be turned, cleaned and restocked before going out later today as Train No. 28.

P42DC No. 1 not only led No. 27 into Portland but it also will lead No. 28 out. At Spokane, No. 1 will become the lead unit for the combined Empire Builder all the way to Chicago.

Momentous Month

April 26, 2019

There have been times during the nearly 48 years of Amtrak’s existence when significant changes occurred. October 1979 was one of them.

The tenor of those times is shown by the covers of two timetables Amtrak issued that month.

Early in the month Amtrak discontinued several trains and routes, including the National Limited, Floridian, North Coast Hiawatha, Lone Star, Hilltopper, and Champion.

Discontinuance of those six trains had been in the works for some time.

Although the trains in question were to begin their last trips on Sept. 30 a few trains continued to operate for several days in early October under court orders before being discontinued.

Later that month, Amtrak assigned new Superliner equipment to the Empire Builder and instituted a new train between Los Angeles and Ogden, Utah, known as the Desert Wind; and created a Houston leg of the Inter-American.

The timetables featured muted colors printed on newsprint. No four-color glossy covers and slick paper as had been the practice for much of the 1970s.

This subdued style had been the practice in the previous couple of years, probably a reflection of the period of austerity that Amtrak was in.

As massive as the train discontinuances of 1979 were, they could have been worse. A U.S. Department of Transportation report issued in January 1979 called for ending even more trains, but they were saved due to political wrangling in Congress.

The late 1970s were also a time of transition between the streamliner era equipment that Amtrak inherited when it was formed in 1971 and new equipment that began service in the middle of the decade.

That transition is reflected on the cover of the Oct. 28 timetable in which Amtrak tries to establish a continuous onward march of progress dating back to the introduction of the Metroliners by Penn Central.

By contrast, the cover of the timetable issued on Oct. 1 took a more pragmatic approach of announcing changes without giving much, if any, indication of how widespread they were.

Amtrak was using a traditional public relations strategy of seeking to put a positive face on a situation many viewed as adverse.

The bottom text refers to the fact that some routes or portions of routes were being saved through state funding. This affected the San Joquin in California and a portion of the National Limited route in Missouri.

Contrary to the impression created by the late October timetable, Superliner equipment was not being introduced that month.

Superliner coaches had gone into service early in the year on some Midwest corridor trains on a temporary basis.

The Empire Builder would be the first train to permanently get the equipment.

Dome to Operate on 2 Amtrak Routes This Fall

July 18, 2018

Amtrak will assign a dome car to two eastern routes this fall.

The car, Great Dome No. 10031, is a former Great Northern dome that was built by Budd in 1955 for use on the Empire Builder.

It is now the last dome car on the Amtrak roster.

The car will operate on the Downeaster between Brunswick, Maine, and Boston between Aug. 11 and Sept. 23, and on the Adirondack between Montreal and Albany, New York, between Sept. 27 and Nov. 2.

Seats are unreserved and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Amtrak is encouraging passengers to rotate in and out of the dome to allow more people to experience the view.

More information is available at https://www.amtrak.com/fall-travel-on-the-great-dome-car

Amtrak Committed to Long-Distance Trains For Now, But Not Necessarily Forever

May 21, 2018

Amtrak has indicated to lawmakers and the Rail Passengers Association that it is not planning additional actions that would have the effect of changing its long-distance routes in ways to favor shorter distance travel.

Writing on the RPA website, RPA President Jim Mathews said that “Amtrak is taking steps to commit publicly to a robust nationwide rail service with a national footprint.”

He said those assurances have been made by the passenger carrier in conversations with the RPA and congressional staff, and during congressional testimony.

Matthews cited the example of reports that the Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder would be made into a tri-weekly train as part of a strategy to focus on short-haul corridors.

Many passenger advocates have been alarmed by some recent Amtrak changes, including removing full-serving dining service with fresh meals prepared on board from the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited effective June 1.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said during an April 19 California Rail Summit that the future of Amtrak lies with 300- to 400- or 500-mile corridors.

RPA has also learned that Amtrak management has begun discussing the long-term future of the carrier’s long-distance routes and that some Amtrak executives are discussing the possibility of allocating more resources to short-distance state corridors. It is not clear how far those discussions have advanced.

Matthews said Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) asked Amtrak Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner point-blank whether there were plans to reduce the Builde.

“We do not plan to institute tri-weekly service on the Empire Builder,” Gardner replied during a committee hearing on May 16. “Obviously we’re operating under the FAST Act authorization in which Congress authorized our network, any conversations about the broad future of our network is best placed in our authorization context as we approach our next authorization. Amtrak is operating all of our long distance routes, we intend to do that and we will consider any future changes collectively between the Congress, the Administration, and Amtrak as we look at the network ahead.”

Matthews noted that he visited with Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia earlier this year and received similar assurances.

Coscia said during that meeting that Amtrak has a “mission” beyond the balance sheet, and pledged that top management is “committed to the mission.”

He also said that Amtrak has a responsibility as a recipient of federal funds to make sure that its long-range plans serve the maximum number of Americans possible, especially those who need mobility and have fewer options such as the elderly, the disabled and rural residents.

However, Coscia said that demographic shifts that are leading more people to live in dense mega-regions may result in a time when the “legacy national network routes no longer meet the mission, but looking at the map today I can’t identify any that don’t.”

Coscia said Amtrak sees “corridors hanging off the legacy national network routes like a necklace.”

He cited as examples such corridors as Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Minneapolis as having strong growth potential.

During his April appearance in California, Anderson said “there is a place for the long-distance, ‘experiential’ train.”

Anderson said Amtrak has “a responsibility to figure out how to keep that experiential piece of the pie in place” while simultaneously “figuring out how we discharge our mission under PRIIA”—the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008—“to serve the short-haul markets.”

Amtrak Liable for Assault on Passenger by Employee

April 17, 2018

Amtrak can be held liable for damages caused by the rape of a sleeping car passenger by an Amtrak employee, a federal magistrate judge has ruled.

The assault occurred in Montana aboard the Empire Builder. The woman who was assaulted is from North Carolina.

Charles Henry Pinner, of Detroit was later convicted of the attack and is serving a 60-year prison sentence.

Amtrak had sought to escape liability by saying that Pinner’s actions were outside the scope of his work.

However, Judge John Johnston decided that because Amtrak is a common carrier it has a duty under state law to “use the utmost care and diligence” in providing safe travel and is responsible for employees hired to meet that duty.

Johnston’s recommendations must be approved by U.S. District Judge Brian Morris.

Court records indicate a settlement conference was held in late March pertaining to the North Carolina woman’s lawsuit against Amtrak.

NB Coast Starlight Schedule Change to Affect Connections with EB Empire Builder in Portland

September 30, 2017

A later schedule for the northbound Los Angeles to Seattle Coast Starlight will affect that train’s connections to the eastbound Empire Builder.

Track work being performed by Union Pacific will have Train No. 14 operating an hour later between Oct. 1 and 8.

In a service advisory, Amtrak said that No. 14 will depart Los Angeles and operate as scheduled through its arrival at Klamath Falls, Oregon, at 8:07 a.m. the following day.

No. 14 will sit in Klamath Falls for up to two hours, departing at 10:17 a.m., operating two hours later at all remaining stations on the route.

The schedule change affects Train 14 that originates in Los Angeles on Sept. 30 through Oct. 7 and arrives in Klamath Falls between Oct. 1 and Oct. 8.

To accommodate the later schedule, service adjustments have been made for passengers connecting to Empire Builder No. Train 28 at Portland, Oregon:

  • October 1 through October 6: Passengers on Train 14 who are connecting to Train 28 at Portland will detrain at Klamath Falls where bus service will be provided to Pasco, Washington. At Pasco, passengers will board eastbound Train 28.
  • October 7 and 8: Connections at Portland from Train 14 to Train 28 will not be available on Saturday and Sunday, October 7 and 8.
  • October Customers boarding at Eugene, Albany or Salem who are connecting to Train 28 from Train 14 will, instead, take Amtrak Cascades Thruway Bus 5528 to Portland and transfer to Train 28.

Chicago-Twin Cities Expansion Hearings Planned for September

July 21, 2017

The Minnesota Department of Transportation said this week that it has completed a “purpose and need” statement for a proposed expansion of rail passenger service between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

MnDOT is studying the addition of a second roundtrip Amtrak train between the two metropolitan regions to supplement the daily Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder.

The next step in the review will be a series of public hearings on Sept. 6 at St. Paul Union Depot in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and on Sept. 7 at the La Crosse County Administrative Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Those hearings are part of a process of evaluating alternatives for the project and the needed infrastructure upgrades.

The Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois departments of transportation are working with the Federal Railroad Administration, Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission and La Crosse Area Planning Committee on the initial planning effort for the proposed TCMC project.