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Empire Builder

Empire Builder

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

Route description

The modern westbound (Amtrak) Empire Builder departs Chicago's Union Station in early afternoon, and travels north to Milwaukee. After leaving Milwaukee, it passes through the rural landscape of Wisconsin, crossing the Upper Mississippi River at La Crosse. The train travels through southeastern Minnesota, crosses the Mississippi again, and stops in Saint Paul. After Saint Paul, the land changes from forest to prairie, becoming less populous and relatively barren. Westbound passengers will see only the occasional mercury-vapor light of farmsteads in the distance at night. As the Empire Builder passes through North Dakota, near-ghost towns can be seen. Eventually, the train gets past the prairies of North Dakota and Eastern Montana with three short stops near Glacier National Park (East Glacier Park (summer only), Essex, and West Glacier Park) followed by a longer stop in Whitefish, Montana (not too far from Glacier National Park). Depending on time of year and weather, mountain vistas can be seen from the train as it skirts the edge of the park. As darkness descends again, the train continues through the mountains, including Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington. In Spokane, the train splits, with half going down the Columbia River valley to Portland, Oregon and the other half through the Cascades Range to Seattle.

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.

History

The original Empire Builder was inaugurated by the Great Northern on June 11, 1929. The service was altered to carry additional passengers during World War II. After the war, new streamlined, diesel-powered trains were placed into service. This postwar service began on February 23, 1947. The train was fully re-equipped again in 1951.

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.

Historical equipment used

A 1929 consist:

  • S-1 or S-2 class 4-8-4 steam locomotive
  • Baggage Mail Express 52
  • Dormitory-coach 648 (the only car in the consist with 4-wheel trucks)
  • First class coach 945
  • First class coach 949
  • Tourist sleeper 4585
  • Tourist sleeper 4286
  • Tourist sleeper 4288
  • Diner New York
  • 12-section, 1-drawing room sleeper Superior
  • 6-section, 6-double bedroom sleeper Alexander Griggs
  • 8-section, 2-compartment, 1-drawing room sleeper Alexander Ramsey
  • 8-section, 2-compartment, 1-drawing room sleeper General Sheridan
  • 8-section, 2-compartment, 1-drawing room sleeper John Jacob Astor
  • Lounge Observation with Barber Shop James J. Hill

In 1947, each train consisted of:

  • A-A Set of EMD E-7 diesel units
  • Baggage-Railway Post Office car
  • 60-seat “Chair” car / Coach
  • 48-seat “Chair” car / Coach
  • 48-seat “Chair” car / Coach
  • 48-seat “Chair” car / Coach
  • Dormitory-Lunch Counter-Lounge
  • 36-seat Diner
  • 4-section, 8-duplex roomette, 4-double bedroom Pass-series sleeper
  • 16-duplex roomette, 4-double bedroom Glacier-series sleeper
  • 16-duplex roomette, 4-double bedroom Glacier-series sleeper
  • 4-section, 8-duplex roomette, 4-double bedroom Pass-series sleeper
  • 2-double bedroom, 1 drawing room River-series sleeper-buffet-lounge-observation

A 1962 consist:

  • A-B-B-B-A Set of EMD F-7 diesel units
  • Baggage
  • Railway Post Office
  • Baggage
  • Baggage-dormitory
  • Dome coach
  • Coach
  • Dome coach
  • ‘Ranch’ Coffee-shop dinette lounge
  • Coach
  • Dome coach
  • Coach
  • Dome coach
  • 4-section, 7-duplex roomette, 3-double bedroom, 1-compartment River-series sleeper
  • 6-roomette, 5-double bedroom, 2-compartment Pass-series sleeper
  • 4-section, 7-duplex roomette, 3-double bedroom, 1-compartment River-series sleeper
  • Diner
  • ‘Great Dome’ lounge (the only car in the consist with 6-wheel trucks)
  • 16-duplex roomette, 4-double bedroom Glacier-series sleeper
  • 4-section, 7-duplex roomette, 3-double bedroom, 1-compartment River-series sleeper
  • 6-roomette, 5-double bedroom, 2-compartment Pass-series sleeper
  • 6-roomette, 4-double bedroom, 1 compartment Coulee-series lounge-observation

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.

Additional information on cars used

The Great Northern coaches eventually found their way into state-subsidized commuter service for the Central Railroad of New Jersey after the Burlington Northern merger and remained until 1987 when NJ Transit retired its last E8A locomotive. Some of these cars remain in New Jersey. Some coaches were acquired from the Union Pacific; these also went to New Jersey. One of the 28 seat coach-dinette cars also remains in New Jersey and is stored near Interstate 78 wearing tattered Amtrak colors.

Current equipment used

The present-day Empire Builder uses Amtrak's double-deck Superliner equipment. The Empire Builder was the first train to receive this equipment in 1979. In Summer, 2005 the train was "re-launched" with newly-refurbished equipment. A typical 2005 train consist would be (destination noted after the Spokane split):

  • Baggage car (Seattle)
  • Transitional Crew Sleeper (Seattle)
  • Sleeper (Seattle)
  • Sleeper (Seattle)
  • Diner (Seattle)
  • Coach (Seattle)
  • Coach (Seattle)
  • Sightseer Lounge/Café (Portland)
  • Coach/Baggage (Portland)
  • Coach (Portland)
  • Sleeper (Portland)
  • Coach (Chicago - St Paul) - Summer only (this car is train "807")

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.

Gallery

References

  • Wayner, Robert J., ed. (1972), Car Names, Numbers and Consists, Wayner Publications, New York, NY
  • Yenne, Bill (2005). Great Northern Empire Builder (Great Passenger Trains). Motorbooks International (MBI). ISBN 0-7603-1847-6.

External links

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