All Things Empire Builder

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All Things Empire Builder

Postby Mark Meyer » Wed May 19, 2004 4:06 pm

A gentleman Amtrak marketing provided the following update on festivities for the 75th anniversary of the Empire Builder. Nothing specific, but evidently announcements should be made soon (and since it's less than a month off, I would hope so!):

Amtrak sponsored events (music, refreshments, speeches, balloons & buttons, media opportunities etc.) are being planned for:
Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, Minot, Havre, Shelby, Whitefish, Seattle, and Portland. Additionally various communities along the route have been contacted and will each be planning their own events that will include Amtrak providing signed J. Craig Thorpe posters to them. As I mentioned before Trains Magazine has done a reprint of the 2000, Joe Welsh article that will be given away for free on board the train and we are hoping to have a 75th Anniversary edition of Empire Builder Magazine out and on board. The National Park guides will be incorporating into their presentations some history of the train. I understand Mr. Gunn will be in Chicago and riding at least part way. Banners and posters are being shipped to stations all along the route. You probably saw the Builder was featured on the cover of the National timetable. We have not received any requests from private car owners to have their cars attached to the consist.

In addition, plan to see representatives of the Great Northern Railway Historical Society on hand June 11 at Portland, Seattle, and St. Paul, and members of the Washington Association of Railroad Passengers on hand the same day in Seattle.

--Mark Meyer
Mark Meyer

75th anniversary plans for Empire Builder; Recognition

Postby Guest » Sat Jun 05, 2004 12:12 am

Some news about the upcoming 75th anniversary of the Empire Builder:


06/03/04 - 75 Years of Essential Empire Builder Service

National Railroad Passenger Corporation
60 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E., Fourth Floor
Washington, D.C. 20002-4285

Contact: Media Relations
June 3, 2004

Amtrak & others celebrate northernmost U.S. transcontinental train
WASHINGTON – The Amtrak Empire Builder - one of the great trains in American history - will celebrate its 75th anniversary of service across seven states between Chicago and Seattle/Portland, beginning on June 11, 2004.
Events are scheduled to recognize the historic and vital transportation link at each of the three Empire Builder endpoints - Chicago, Seattle and Portland - and at the Milwaukee; St. Paul-Minneapolis; Edmonds, Everett, Wenatchee, Bingen (Wash.); Minot (N.Dak,); Havre and Whitefish (Mont.) stations. The events in North Dakota and Montana will be held on June 12, which is the day the westbound Empire Builder will arrive in those two states after departing Chicago on the 11th.
National, state and local officials will speak to the public and be available to the news media at each of the 12 designated stops. The events are scheduled to begin shortly before the scheduled departure of each train.
Passengers riding in either direction on Empire Builder trains originating on June 11th will receive a complimentary gift package commemorating the anniversary of the train. The westbound train will feature an Empire Builder history lecture between Chicago and Milwaukee by author Joe Welsh, along with lectures and autograph sessions by Empire Builder poster artist J. Craig Thorpe between Chicago and Seattle.

Both Welsh and Thorpe will speak in the only remaining dome car in Amtrak service, car number 10031, which is a former Great Northern Railway "Great Dome" car previously used on the Empire Builder. The car is usually used in charter service on the West Coast and rarely operates east of the Rocky Mountains.

At Seattle, rail historian John Strauss will speak at a King Street Station ceremony for the eastbound train on June 11th. Strauss worked for Great Northern Railway as an Empire Builder Traveling Passenger Representative in the 1950s and '60s, witnessing many of the changes in rail service on the Empire Builder during those years.

"The Empire Builder is an essential public transportation connection across the upper United States," said Amtrak President and CEO David L. Gunn. "We are the steward of three-quarters of a century of reliable passenger train service to an otherwise isolated area of the nation."

There are still coach class tickets available in most locations for the Empire Builder trains originating June 11, but some First class accommodations have sold out. So far this year, more than 230,000 passengers have ridden the Empire Builder, an increase of 7.6 percent. Last fiscal year (Oct. 2002-Sept. 2003), the Empire Builder carried 415,722, an increase of 12.9 percent.

Information booths and historical displays will be staffed by Great Northern Railway Historical Society members at Amtrak stations at St. Paul-Minneapolis; Havre, Shelby, East Glacier, West Glacier, Essex and Whitefish (Mont.), Seattle and Portland.

The James J. Hill Reference Library in St. Paul will host a luncheon on June 10th in honor of the Empire Builder. Guest speaker is Dr. James H. Larson, President of the Great Northern Railway Historical Society (GNRHS).

Inaugurated amid much fanfare by the Great Northern Railway (GN) in 1929, the Empire Builder has been providing vital transcontinental service since 10 p.m. Central Time, June 10, 1929, when the first Empire Builder train departed Chicago. The train carries the nickname of James J. Hill, a Canadian who was dubbed The Empire Builder for building the GN.

The train was originally operated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (later the Burlington Northern Railroad) from Chicago to St. Paul. Departing St. Paul (location of the GN corporate offices), the Empire Builder was operated entirely by the Great Northern, to Seattle and Portland via Glacier National Park

The first eastbound Empire Builder departed Seattle at 10 p.m. Pacific Time, June 11, 1929.

At the time, Great Northern advertising proudly declared the westbound Empire Builder would make the trip from Chicago to Seattle in only 63 hours. Today's Empire Builder, operated by Amtrak, connects the same cities in just 47 hours, boasting an above average on-time performance with the assistance of the two freight railroads that dispatch the train, the Canadian Pacific Railway between Chicago and St. Paul and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) between St. Paul and Seattle/Portland.
Locally known as the "High Line," the BNSF route is far from any freeway or expressway, with sparse air service and limited motorcoach options. A study carried out for the state of Montana found the Empire Builder has a total economic impact in that state of nearly $14 million, provides good-paying jobs, reduces highway maintenance and brings in at least $5 million tourist dollars a year.

The Empire Builder also draws customers from across the border in Canada, since passenger rail service in some of the western Canadian provinces operates far from the U.S. border.
Amtrak provides intercity passenger rail services to more than 500 destinations in 46 states on a 22,000-mile route system. For schedules, fares and information, passengers may call 800-USA-RAIL or visit


From the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune (June 4, 2004):

"The 75th anniversary of the Empire Builder, the historic railroad route between Chicago and Seattle via St. Paul, got a mention in Congress on Thursday, thanks to a resolution introduced by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn."

Recognizing the 75th anniversary of Amtrak's Empire Builder rail line. (Introduced in House)



2d Session

H. CON. RES. 442
Recognizing the 75th anniversary of Amtrak's Empire Builder rail line.


June 3, 2004
Ms. MCCOLLUM submitted the following concurrent resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure


Recognizing the 75th anniversary of Amtrak's Empire Builder rail line.

Whereas on June 11, 1929, the Great Northern Railroad's premier passenger train, the Empire Builder, began operating between Chicago, Illinois, and Seattle, Washington;

Whereas prominent Minnesotan and Great Northern's founder, James J. Hill, himself known as the Empire Builder, once said of his railroad `When we are all dead and gone, the sun will shine, the rain will fall, and the railroad will run as usual';

Whereas the Empire Builder, now operated by Amtrak, today travels between Seattle, Washington, or Portland, Oregon, and Chicago, Illinois, by way of Spokane, Washington, and St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota;

Whereas the Empire Builder serves 45 stations, including two in Illinois, six in Wisconsin, six in Minnesota, seven in North Dakota, twelve in Montana, one in Idaho, ten in Washington, and one in Oregon;

Whereas over 415,000 people rode the Empire Builder last year;

Whereas nearly 3,000 people work for Amtrak in Empire Builder States;

Whereas Amtrak expended over $103,000,000 in goods and services in Empire Builder States in fiscal year 2003;

Whereas the Empire Builder follows the trail of Lewis and Clark's historic expedition west through the Louisiana Territory;

Whereas the Empire Builder provides grand views of our country's natural heritage, such as the Mississippi River, the North Dakota plains, Big Sky country in Montana, the Columbia River gorge, the Cascade Mountains, and Puget Sound; and

Whereas the Empire Builder takes passengers to the Sears Tower, the Wisconsin Dells, the St. Paul Winter Carnival, the North Dakota State Fair, Glacier National Park, the Grand Coulee Dam, and Seattle's Space Needle: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That the Congress recognizes--

(1) the important economic, historic, and cultural contributions of Amtrak's Empire Builder to the 45 cities and 8 States which it visits; and

(2) Amtrak's Empire Builder rail line's 75th Anniversary.

75th anniversary Empire Builder today, and other comments

Postby RMadisonWI » Fri Jun 11, 2004 5:53 pm

I went down to Milwaukee's Amtrak station to meet the 75th anniversary Empire Builder.

Consist was AMTK 7*, AMTK 31*, baggage, Portland sleeper, two Portland coaches, Portland sightseer lounge, two Seattle coaches, Seattle diner, two Seattle sleepers, Seattle transition sleeper, the 10031 great dome car, and the 10001 Beech Grove car. The consist was reversed (Seattle and Portland sections swapped) to accommodate the dome and business car.

The train arrived at 3:38 (2 minutes early), and left at 3:53 (3 minutes late). Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari was the "master of ceremonies" for the event, having ridden up on the Hiawatha earlier today. He got things started before the train arrived, so that they could get the speeches out of the way quickly, and not delay the train too much. He then boarded the Empire Builder afterwards.

Amtrak president David Gunn and Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle stepped off the train in Milwaukee, and they each made a speech of about two to three minutes (Gunn first).

Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers had a large group of people there, and had literature available for distribution.

Prior to the train's arrival, somebody (whose name and position I didn't know) gave a "tour" of the station (there's not much to tour), and described the renovation plans which are due to start sometime in the near future, which will make the station actually look good (the current station is the epitome of mid-20th century "design") and also make it a multimodal facility.

I was able to shake David Gunn's hand before he left.

After the Empire Builder left, I spoke with an Amtrak conductor that had spoken with David Gunn on the train. He told me two interesting bits of information about equipment:

1) David Gunn hates the Viewliners
2) David Gunn believes that he will be able to order RDCs (Rail Diesel Cars) very soon, to put on the short-haul service from Chicago-Milwaukee, and New Haven-Springfield. He (the conductor with whom I spoke) didn't know when the RDCs would be put into service.

*P42 #7 was intentionall put in front (obviously) because of Amtrak train #7. I believe that #31 was also intentional, because that engine normally runs in Michigan (I believe 29-32 are equipped for the 90mph running in Michigan) and the Empire Builder also used to be train 31.

Postby RMadisonWI » Fri Jun 11, 2004 7:47 pm

A few photos have been added, please see

Postby hsr_fan » Fri Jun 11, 2004 7:57 pm

I wonder why he hates the Viewliners. Amtrak certainly needs to order some new single level sleepers, diners, and if possible, lounges, be they Viewliners or something else!

Postby RMadisonWI » Fri Jun 11, 2004 8:03 pm

hsr_fan wrote:I wonder why he hates the Viewliners. Amtrak certainly needs to order some new single level sleepers, diners, and if possible, lounges, be they Viewliners or something else!

Apparently he doesn't like the design. Something about the toilet being right inside the room. I guess for a single person, that might be okay (after all, that's how the 10/6s were), but for two people, that can be a bit of an inconvenience.

If Amtrak should ever get the funding to order new sleepers, hopefully they will know what works, what doesn't, etc., and design something from there.

I've never been in a Viewliner, so I'll reserve judgment on that until I actually travel in one.

Postby hsr_fan » Fri Jun 11, 2004 8:09 pm

I always liked that about the Viewliner standard compartments. If you're traveling alone, the private toilet is very convenient. If you're with someone, well, nobody says you have to use it. You can always use a communal toilet.

Just noticed in your photos that P42 #7 has some front end damage. Man, I never knew how often Amtrak trains hit things until I started noticing dents on the P42's in so many photos!

Postby RMadisonWI » Fri Jun 11, 2004 8:42 pm

hsr_fan wrote:You can always use a communal toilet.

That would require walking through a few cars.

Postby hsr_fan » Fri Jun 11, 2004 8:58 pm

RMadisonWI wrote:That would require walking through a few cars.

Oh, so there isn't one in the Viewliners? I didn't know that. I know there's a communal shower, but I guess you're right.

video of anniversary train

Postby meh » Sat Jun 12, 2004 10:33 pm

I have posted video and photos of the 75th anniversary Empire Builder as it passed through suburban Chicago on Friday.

The photos are fairly low resolution since they were captured from video.
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Mixed Empire Builder Trip

Postby updrumcorpsguy » Wed Dec 22, 2004 10:23 am

I began my holiday train trip on Sunday, December 19, on the Empire Builder from Seattle to Chicago. The trip got off to something of a bad start: We were supposed to leave at 4:45pm, and ended up leaving around 9:30pm. There was something wrong with a coach that belonged to the Portland segment, but ended up in the Seattle segment for some reason (I’m guessing Portland didn’t have a coach, and those people were bussed to Spokane, but I don’t know for sure).

The on-board staff did an admirable job trying to make up for it. They brought the train to King Street in time for the first dinner service, and the passengers enjoyed the first dinner seating while the train was still at the station. This was in marked difference from a few years back when the train was late in leaving Seattle, and they just kept us waiting in King Street. When the errant coach was fixed, it was brought to the station by a switch engine and joined there.

I must say that, if it weren’t for the absence of a late east coast connecting train (after the departure of the Three Rivers) and doubtless other operational things I’m not aware of, the 9pm departure is quite nice. I woke up the next morning east of Spokane, and that left me with the entire morning to enjoy the approach to Whitefish, and the afternoon to enjoy the Rockies. Usually, you’d just see about half a morning full of scenery before descending to the plains.

The sleeper that I was in, (32063) has been somewhat renovated: New blue upholstery and floor carpet, but the same 70’s countertops and wall carpet. It looked pretty nice. The attendant, (Delles?) was very conscientious and professional: One of the best I’ve encountered. And the Dining Car was under the capable hands of Rose, whom I have had the pleasure of traveling with before.

The rest of the trip was uneventful - we never did make up the lost time, but we didn't lose anymore. There was some sort of problem with the power between Winona and La Crosse (i.e. we didn't have any) but they were able to fix that. We finally pulled into Chicago at 9:45 or thereabouts.

All in all, it wasn't a bad trip, with a remarkably low rate of complaining.

Now I get on the Zephyr to go to Omaha.

Postby AmtrakFan » Wed Dec 22, 2004 12:33 pm

At least UP didn't do it :-D Where are all the extra cars in SEA? Shouldn't their be a spare Coach and Sleeper. When are you leaving for OMA? At least the Crew made up for it.


The Connection

Postby jp1822 » Wed Dec 22, 2004 12:50 pm

And I wonder what happened to the passengers who ended up missing their East Coast connections (via Lake Shore or Capital Limited)? When travelling coast to coast on an eastward journey in the past 2 years, I always booked a sleeper on the Three Rivers (if available), to ensure my connection was preserved. But now the sleeper option on the Three Rivers is no more, and after March, not even the coaches will be venturing that far West on the Three Rivers. This is just one of many examples of missed connections in Chicago, that I am sure happen at least once a week, if not more. They used to hold the Capitol Limited for inbound trains from the West, but some recent journeys through Chicago, I noticed the Capitol Limited getting released for an on-time

Sounds like you had a pretty good trip! My last trip on the Empire Builder, in July 2004, was an excellent one. I departed from Portland and got one of the completely renovated sleepers. I've seen pictures of the sleeper rebuilds that started emerging a month or so after my trip, and the Portland sleeper I was on was very similar, only some very minor details were lacking (i.e. wood panelling deco). So this still has me a little puzzled. Had all new carpets, bathrooms, sink hardware, cushions, bedding, paneling, etc. I was very impressed. Ranked my sleeping car attendant as one of the top 3 I had ever encountered. Very informative, conscientious and pleasant person. We had an ontime arrival into Chicacgo.
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Postby RMadisonWI » Wed Dec 22, 2004 3:41 pm

Not mentioned in this report, but this train 8(19) had a problem with the local coach MSP-CHI. Namely, it was not staffed with an attendant.

In October, when M&E went away, Amtrak laid off all mechanical staff in MSP, forgetting that they still had an occasional local coach on that line. The result was that the car wasn't serviced, the seats weren't turned, everything inside was filthy, etc. Many complaints were made about that trip, and Amtrak's management pointed fingers in a circle regarding who was to blame. The only response they gave was "there's supposed to be a coach attendant for that car."

Now, the car is back for the holiday season, and once again, Amtrak (rather, the incompetent, bumbling fool management) forgot to staff the car. Once again, the seats weren't turned, the car wasn't cleaned, and many passengers had a miserable time and said "never again" (this from a conductor that worked on the ill-fated train in October, and again yesterday). It sure would be nice if there was some competence and accountability in Amtrak management.

Postby AmtrakFan » Wed Dec 22, 2004 3:45 pm

RMadisonWI wrote:Not mentioned in this report, but this train 8(19) had a problem with the local coach MSP-CHI. Namely, it was not staffed with an attendant.

Now, the car is back for the holiday season, and once again, Amtrak (rather, the incompetent, bumbling fool management) forgot to staff the car. Once again, the seats weren't turned, the car wasn't cleaned, and many passengers had a miserable time and said "never again" (this from a conductor that worked on the ill-fated train in October, and again yesterday). It sure would be nice if there was some competence and accountability in Amtrak management.

As I said earlier if they can't staff it with someone run it to Seattle. Or Don't run it



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