The Empire Builder is a passenger train route operated by Amtrak in the Midwestern and Northwestern United States. Before Amtrak, the Empire Builder was operated by the Great Northern Railway. The train was Great Northern's flagship. The current route runs from Chicago, Illinois to the Pacific Northwest. The line splits in Spokane, Washington, terminating at Seattle, Washington's King Street Station (2,206 miles, or 3,550km from Chicago) in the north or Portland, Oregon's Union Station (2,257 miles, or 3,632 km from Chicago) in the south.
The train passes through the states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. Layovers (train service stops) are made in Saint Paul, Minot, Havre, and Spokane. Other major stops on the route are Milwaukee; Fargo; Whitefish, Montana; and Vancouver, Washington. Host railways include BNSF Railway's northern route from Seattle to Minneapolis, Canadian Pacific from Minneapolis to Glenview, and Metra from Glenview to Chicago.
One train passes in each direction daily. The schedule is timed so the train will pass through the scenic Rocky Mountains (especially Glacier National Park) during daylight, but this is more likely in summer and on eastbound trains. It normally takes 45 to 46 hours to travel the entire route, barring delays. This averages including stops
Like all Amtrak long-distance trains, smoking is prohibited. Many smoke breaks are scheduled, however. Some are 5 minute pauses at a platform, but the train stops for longer at Minneapolis/St.Paul, Minot, Havre, Whitefish, and Spokane. Longer breaks are typically 20 minutes, so finding food or drink off the Empire Builder is difficult. Snacks and beverages are available aboard. Sit-down meals are available in the dining car.
The Empire Builder has a feature not found on other long-distance Amtrak trains: on the second day in mid-afternoon there is a wine and cheese tasting in the dining car for sleeping-car passengers. This includes not only information about the wines served but some questions; correct answers win passengers bottles of wine to take with them.
The schedule of the route was optimized to allow riders views of the passing Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountain landscapes of Glacier National Park, a park that was established through the decisive lobbying efforts of the Great Northern. After it was re-equipped in the 1950s passengers viewed the route through its three dome coaches and one full-length "Great Dome" car for first class passengers. The train was named in honor of railroad tycoon James J. Hill, who reorganized several failing railroads into the Great Northern Railway and extended the line to the Pacific Northwest in the late 19th century.
Since its inception service has run from Chicago to Spokane, and split into Seattle and Portland sections (except during the Amtrak era between 1971 and 1981, when there was no Portland section). Prior to 1971, the Chicago to St. Paul leg of the train's route was operated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad via its mainline along the Mississippi River through Wisconsin. The Spokane-Portland section of the train was historically operated by the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway.
After 1971 Amtrak assumed operation of the train and shifted the Chicago to St. Paul leg to the Milwaukee Road mainline route through Milwaukee.
In fiscal year 2007, the Empire Builder carried over a half million passengers, maintaining its status as the most popular long-distance train in Amtrak's national system. Through the first six months of fiscal year 2008, the train is nearly 9 percent ahead of its ridership from the previous year.
In 1947, each train consisted of:
A 1962 consist:
Car ownership on this train was by-and-large split between the Great Northern and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q), though a couple of cars in the original consists were owned by the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway (SP&S). In this consist, one of the 48-seat "chair" cars and one of the 4-section sleepers were used for the connection to Portland, while the rest of the consist connected to Seattle.
This is one of the last two Amtrak routes to feature dining car food that is actually prepared in the kitchen on the lower level of the dining car (The other being Auto Train). Food on all other Amtrak routes is prepared prior to departure and is heated in convection ovens onboard.
RESURGENT RAILS; Even though the Empire Builder has more riders than ever, its future is uncertain because of a longstanding debate over its federal subsidy.(NEWS)
Oct 29, 2006; Byline: Kevin Giles; Staff Writer As the eastbound train glides into the emerging sunlight south of St. Paul, John Stopa aims his...
Rail Blazing ; The Empire Builder has run from Chicago to the Pacific Coast; for more than 70 years, but its days may be numbered
Feb 17, 2002; A national treasure rolls through Spokane two times a day. Yet most of Spokane is oblivious to it, because of an unfortunate...