Empire Builder trip eventful

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Empire Builder trip eventful

Postby CLamb » Mon Aug 15, 2011 6:53 pm

On August 11th I boarded a thruway bus in Vancouver with the eventual destination New York. Thus began a very eventful trip which I am presently waiting in Chicago to complete. The bus trip was smooth with only about 1/2 hour waiting for U.S. Customs. At Seattle there was an announcement that the Empire Builder passengers would be bused to Spokane. I boarded the bus and discovered Amtrak had provided a box lunch from Subway consisting of a sandwich, a bottle of water, and a bag of chips. I thought this was a thoughtful touch. After an uneventful trip the bus arrived at the Spokane station circa 9:30pm. After about 15 minutes of waiting we were allowed on board. I was surprised to see that only the Seattle section of the train was in the Spokane station so I inquired with one of the crew members as to why.

It turned out the previous westbound trip was intended to be terminated in Spokane due to the train being 12 hours late because of slow orders due to previous track flooding. The bus company had promised sufficient buses to convey the passengers between Spokane and Seattle and Spokane and Portland while the train was serviced and turned at Spokane. Later, the bus company discovered it was only able to supply three buses. It was therefore decided to have the Portland section continue on to Portland. When I arrived in Spokane on the bus the Portland section had not yet returned. It did not arrive in time for the 1:30am departure but some eight hours later.

OK, so we were finally on our way. The 8-hour delay provided a well appreciated opportunity to see mountain scenery which the train would otherwise have passed in the darkness of the night. A passenger who was to detrain in Libby, who had already missed the wedding in which she was to be a bridesmaid, somehow missed getting off. The train crew says she could not be found. She claims she was standing at the door of the couch but there was no crew member around to open it. It was decided she would get off at the following station, Whitefish, instead. Her ride waiting at Libby was informed and agreed to drive to Whitefish.

Not too long thereafter an announcement was made that a "doctor or nurse" was requested in the diner. I had no idea what the medical emergency was. Before reaching Whitefish it was announced that the train was making an unscheduled stop. Although not stated, I assumed this was because of the medical emergency. The train was met at trackside by a USFS emergency vechicle, followed by an ambulance from Eureka, followed by a Lincoln County Sheriff's vehicle. A woman was taken away by the ambulance. I later was told by another passenger that the attendant in her car had apparently suffered a TIA.

Aside from losing a few more hours due to slow orders everything went find for quite a while. Amtrak even provided a single dish complementary meal in the diner for all passengers. Upon reaching LaCrosse, Wisconsin it was announced that the train was being held in the station until police finished their work on a "trespasser incident with a freight train" on the tracks ahead. I was told later by another passenger that the incident was a suicide. It took about two hours for the police to allow traffic to resume once again.

The Empire Builder finally arrived about 5am on the 15th at CUS. Throughout the trip the service and operating crew maintained a excellent attitude. I compliment them on this. At CUS there were four customer service agents waiting to process those passengers who required assistance because of missed connections. Even with the extra staff it took a few hours to process everyone. I was amazed at how complex the bureaucratic process was. I received a voucher for a hotel room, and a cash voucher for meal compensation and the taxi ride. Both of these had to be filled out by hand. The agent handling me had to step away twice to obtain information form another agent as to how to do this. To redeem the cash voucher I then had to stand in line again for a ticket agent to process the voucher and dispense the cash. Surprisingly, the ticket agent could not issue a replacement ticket for the missed connection at that time but I was told I'd have to come back a few hours before departure and wait in line again to have a replacement ticket issued.

I cannot fault Amtrak for the delay. They seemed the handle it as best they could. Nor can I fault the operating railroads for the poor track due to weather. I noticed a few times that freight trains were in the hole waiting for us to pass. I can fault Amtrak for the delay while the bureaucratic wheels turned at the end of the trip.
CLamb
 
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Joined: Fri Nov 18, 2005 11:29 pm
Location: Scotch Plains, NJ

Re: Empire Builder trip eventful

Postby EricL » Mon Aug 15, 2011 11:17 pm

I think the failure of the Spokane turn was handled poorly. What would make more sense from an operational standpoint - sticking with plan A and short-turning the train for a reasonably OT departure - or doing what they actually did, ultimately resulting in a VERY late eastbound? (And consequently, a very late W/B dp. from CHI the next day?) Could accomodations not be made in Spokane for the westbound Portland section passengers, until other alternate transporation (or the next day's train) could come along? Instead, the next day's passengers along the entire route east of SPK were left holding the bag, and Amtrak had to foot the bill for a whole bunch of "on time buses" MSP-CHI to protect the "short" connections - along with reaccomodating all the late "long" passengers upon the 13hr late arrival into Chicago. A train running that late tends to present some interesting crew rest questions, too.

For all intents and purposes, we COULD have went down as far as east end of Bangor siding (located in the small town of Rockland, WI) before stopping to wait. But the conductor asked the dispatcher if it would be okay to just wait at La Crosse instead - less than fifteen minutes away - so at least the train would be standing in a station, rather than in the middle of nowhere. The station agent at LSE even stuck around a bit longer than he was obligated to, just in case. The CP certainly ran us once we got moving. It happened that the third trick dispatcher was a rookie, and he handled everything pretty well. In fact, we really had no enroute delays from LSE to MKE.

Were you the fellow I overheard on the cell phone at the LSE platform, talking about how we're being delayed again, and it's been like this for the past three days, etc. etc.? :-)
hey there guy
EricL
 
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Re: Empire Builder trip eventful

Postby CLamb » Wed Aug 17, 2011 12:48 pm

Nope, that wasn't me on the platform. I stayed in my seat and tried to get some sleep.
CLamb
 
Posts: 181
Joined: Fri Nov 18, 2005 11:29 pm
Location: Scotch Plains, NJ


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