All Things Empire Builder

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Re: Empire Builder - Williston Station Booming

Postby Jeff Smith » Sat Aug 11, 2012 1:40 pm

Go west young man! It's like a new gold rush.

If they added a second frequency over a shorter haul, do they have the yards/facilities/bases to service?
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Re: Empire Builder - Williston Station Booming

Postby vermontanan » Sat Aug 11, 2012 8:29 pm

mtuandrew wrote:Should a permanent reroute of the Builder to the Surrey Cutoff be announced, I also would expect North Dakota to push for a Fargo - Grand Forks - Winnipeg train for partial compensation (and to continue to serve the third-largest city in the state.)

.

A reroute of the Empire Builder to the Surrey cutoff will not happen. The money has been appropriated to build new bridges and raise the track at Churchs Ferry and between there and Devils Lake. The upgrade of the line is in process, but will not be completed until next year. With the dry winter and spring, the lake isn't rising, so the threat that the line would be closed before the bridge work is completed is minimal.
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Re: Empire Builder - Williston Station Booming

Postby vermontanan » Sat Aug 11, 2012 8:37 pm

Expansion of Amtrak service through Williston is an economic issue. I wrote this letter to the Montana and North Dakota governors. No response from the North Dakota governor (Republican); Friendly response from the Montana governor (Democrat), but he can't run again, so "you'll just have to see what happens with the election" type answer.

Dear Governor Dalrymple and Governor Schweitzer,

The oil boom in the Williston area has created a nearly unprecedented situation with every facet of life in Western North Dakota and Eastern Montana. While stories of abundant jobs, housing shortages, and the huge amount of truck traffic are frequently documented in the media, another aspect of the phenomenon is not as readily reported: the transportation of people in and out of the area.

Much focus on the highways in the area has generally pertained to increasing capacity to handle the huge increase in truck traffic, but there has been less acknowledgement of the affect of this boom on automobiles transporting local people, as well as those from outside the area to assume their new jobs.
The reality is that highway accidents have increased dramatically in the area. Recently, the Adventure Cycling Association which documents bicycling routes across the United States, recently changed the route through North Dakota from the previous trek along the Lewis and Clark trail, including North Dakota Highway 1804, due to safety concerns with all the truck traffic.

Intercity bus service to Williston and Minot is limited with the only carrier being Jefferson Lines which operates a once-per-day service between Minneapolis and Glendive, Montana. Obviously, this service operates over the same congested highways as do the aforementioned trucks.

The burgeoning use of the airports in Minot and Williston with the oil boom have also been frequently newsworthy. For instance, boardings at Minot increased over 60 percent in 2011 versus 2010, and so far in 2012, similar gains are expected. While air service has expanded out of these airports with the oil boom, they tend to only be available to hub cities. From Williston, one can fly only to Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul (with one of the MSP flights stopping at Jamestown, ND, but only to fulfill one of the two daily flights to Jamestown required as part of the Essential Air Service system). Service out of Minot, while more frequent with larger aircraft, is limited to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Denver, and with Allegiant airlines, less-than-daily service to Mesa, AZ and Las Vegas, NV.

Air service to and from Western and Central North Dakota is well-suited to long distance travel; but that’s what makes it very inadequate. There is no common carrier air service from Williston or Minot to, for instance, Grand Forks or Fargo, home of North Dakota’s two major universities, or to anywhere like Western Montana, which is a major source of the workforce fueling the boom (or it is very circuitous and expensive; a one-month advance purchase ticket from Minot to Kalispell, Montana is nearly $400 one way!). Fargo Jet, a charter service offering regular service from Fargo to Minot and Williston charges $675 and $875 one way respectively from Fargo to Minot and Williston.

Little remarked upon with regard to its relationship with the Williston area oil boom is the mode of transport that could very well serve the area the most efficiently and safely: Passenger trains.

Williston, Stanley, and Minot are stops along Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which operates daily between Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Seattle/Portland. Empire Builder ridership has grown along as the oil boom is progressing. It’s not unusual for each of the two trains per day (one each way) to see 50 to 100 people entraining at Williston alone. At Whitefish, Montana, for example, a typical eastbound Empire Builder will see 20-30 people destined for Williston board. This confirms the utility of the train in relationship to the oil boom across Northern Montana into North Dakota, because the train provides the best service to destinations of moderate distance – those where it is undesirable to drive, but not far enough (or too expensive) to fly.

For the past 8 consecutive years, well before the Williston oil boom, the Empire Builder has been the single most-ridden passenger train in North America. Often providing the only public transportation to numerous cities and towns in North Dakota and Montana, as well as direct service to Montana’s incomparable Glacier National Park, it’s easy to understand why the train is well-patronized. However, Amtrak over its 41-year existence has been chronically underfunded and has not been able to expand its route structure or add cars to trains currently operated. During the peak summer months in years past, it’s not unusual to see the Empire Builder in a “sold out” situation along much of its route. Amtrak has no additional rolling stock with which to supplement capacity on the train. As demand for rail passenger service increases with the ongoing influx of people into Western North Dakota, more and more people will be turned away from this vital, yet comfortable and safe method of travel. Some predict heightened oil exploration to expand west from Eastern Montana to the Rocky Mountain Front in Northern and Central Montana. Again, the Empire Builder will be called upon to handle new workers as well as provide essential transportation as it has always done. But will it be able to?

On March 17 of this year, I attended the Northwest Region meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers in Whitefish, Montana. One of the speakers was Doug McBroom, of the Montana Department of Transportation. I asked him what plans the state of Montana had to support and expand existing Amtrak service in the state (i.e. some actual funding for additional cars, upgrading stations, or providing connecting bus service as many other states have provided). His response, paraphrasing, was “We’re not set up to do that.” I suspect it’s much the same scenario in North Dakota.

In 2009, numerous states, such as Washington, Vermont, Iowa, and North Carolina, received stimulus money to upgrade infrastructure associated with rail passenger service. Montana, which had requested a study by Amtrak as to the cost of reinstating the North Coast Hiawatha train (across southern Montana and North Dakota) received funding in direct proportion to that which it has invested in its own passenger train infrastructure since the inception of Amtrak 41 years ago: Zero. Not a surprise.

With the increased and looking forward to the increasing demand for service provided by the Empire Builder across Montana and North Dakota, I believe it’s time for your states to create a funding mechanism to supplement the capacity of the current Amtrak route to handle the demand, much in the same way states supplement federal funding with regard to creating airport and highway infrastructure. Expansion of US85 between Belfield and Williston is ongoing, and Minot is studying expansion of its airport threefold. Meanwhile, the Amtrak station in Minot (8th busiest along the Empire Builder route) is not even able to offer checked baggage service to patrons because Amtrak, with limited resources, is not able to reconstruct the platform or repair the station severely damaged in the 500-year Souris River flood of 2011. One city touted by Amtrak Vice-President Joe McHugh (also a speaker at the Whitefish NARP meeting) as epitomizing community involvement in enhancing its local Amtrak stop was Cut Bank, Montana when the community (in 2010) secured the local funds to repaint the exterior of the station, dramatically improving its appearance and elongating the life of the structure. This coupled with a new ADA-compliant platform built in 2011 (with federal stimulus money), the Cut Bank station looks better than it has in years. The community wants to do even more, such as purchasing the station to facilitate interior and road access upgrades. Clearly in both cases (Minot and Cut Bank), a modicum of help from the state would likely go a long way to enhance the transportation facility that is so very important to the community.

Montana and North Dakota participation in funding enhancements to its own rail passenger service is not only fair, but could provide big dividends at relatively little cost. For instance, one of the reasons Amtrak has a shortage of equipment is its inability to repair damaged cars. Repairing these cars is relatively inexpensive, compared to building new equipment. Looking long term, North Dakota and Montana could also reap the benefits of additional federal funds for service enhancements with a state program in place.

In recent years, Amtrak has been conducting studies on its various long distance trains. These “Performance Improvement Plans” began with their lowest-performing services and are to be completed this year with their best-performing trains, including, of course, the Empire Builder. I can see no better catalyst for ongoing improvement of this service than establishing state support, even if modest in nature, by all eight states along its route.

Illinois, Washington, and Oregon already have state programs to provide supplemental financial support to passenger rail services within their state. Minnesota is studying additional Amtrak service between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago, as well as a new route between the Twin Cities and Duluth.
Working with these states which have already planning additional service could be an easy segue into enhancing infrastructure and perhaps even adding trains (be it additional cars or another train altogether) all along the route. I believe a mindset exists that such participation by states such as Montana and North Dakota is unconventional due to the states’ relatively low population. However, such an argument is offset by the mere fact that the Empire Builder traverses this relatively-sparsely populated area but still handles a proportionately greater number of passengers than elsewhere in the nation. With the increasing demand for transportation in North Dakota and Montana due to the oil boom, your states owe it to your people to exploit opportunities to create additional safe, comfortable, and moderately-priced transportation alternatives for its residents.

Over the past 50 years in America, passenger trains have been largely ignored for the transportation resource they are. Today in many areas of the country, they are enjoying a renaissance, and steady Amtrak ridership increases over the past decade are indicative of this trend. I urge you to allow the popular Empire Builder to be the catalyst for enhancing service in your states. Attached is a document outlining my suggestions for improvements along the Empire Builder route, from additional station stops to logical connecting bus services, to even more trains. It is my hope that you will take the necessary steps to pursue some of these suggestions and establish a department or positions within your department of transportation responsible for their implementation.

Not unlike oil, your Amtrak service is a resource that needs to be exploited and developed in your state. And similarly, doing so will very much benefit your residents and the economy. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
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Re: All Things Empire Builder

Postby Jeff Smith » Wed Aug 15, 2012 11:43 am

Here's a nice trip report.

http://www.northcentralpa.com/article/a ... ald-eagles

So here’s the final tally:

Three elk, a wild turkey, four bald eagles, a grizzly bear, a prairie dog, a turtle, two dozen great blue herons and enough other waterfowl to make me wish I’d brought a bird book.

No, that’s not the quarry from some felony-level hunting expedition -- nor were these creatures spotted while hiking.

Rather, I saw them from Amtrak’s Empire Builder, a 46-hour train ride between Chicago and Seattle.

And the wildlife is only part of the story.


P.s. a massive topic merge is coming!
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Re: All Things Empire Builder

Postby Jeff Smith » Wed Aug 15, 2012 12:02 pm

By the way, when I do a merge like this, it's not meant to deter new topics on the Builder, or any other train I may have combined topics on. It's more to get a historical perspective. Also, it could prove to be an interesting read.

Also, a single topic, while it looks long, may provide an easier search by limiting your search for keywords to one single topic.

So by all means, start a new topic if the question is specific. I can always merge it in later.
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Re: All Things Empire Builder

Postby vermontanan » Sat Aug 25, 2012 5:30 pm

Amtrak Long Distance Ridership: June 2012
Rank Train June 2012 Ridership / Percentage change from June 2011
1 Empire Builder 51,111 +115.5
2 Coast Starlight 42,853 +0.6
3 Lake Shore Limited 38,011 +9.2
4 Silver Star 37,332 +0.2
5 California Zephyr 36,428 +19.6
6 Silver Meteor 35,053 +3.8
7 Southwest Chief 34,369 -0.6
8 Texas Eagle 32,568 +5.5
9 Crescent 27,033 -3.8
10 Auto Train 24,059 +0.3
11 City of New Orleans 22,823 +4.1
12 Capitol Limited 22,356 +5.9
13 Palmetto 19,347 +1.8
14 Cardinal 10,889 +5.8
15 Sunset Limited 9,421 -4.4
Total Long Distance 443,653 +10.3
Total Amtrak 2,757,929 +3.2

The large increases for the Empire Builder and California Zephyr are due to service interruptions in 2011.
Ridership on the Empire Builder is up 4.3 percent over June 2008, the year of record ridership.

Source: Amtrak
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Re: All Things Empire Builder

Postby David Benton » Sun Aug 26, 2012 4:40 am

interesting numbers lsl vs capitol ltd . wonder if the pennsy connection would change that .
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Re: All Things Empire Builder

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Sun Aug 26, 2012 9:35 am

viewtopic.php?f=177&t=90085&p=1066860#p1066860

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/25/opini ... -duck.html

Pertinent brief passage:

    I was waiting for a plane at a tiny airport in North Dakota, listening to a group of oil rig workers ..
All told, tales of the sophisticated New Yorker's visit to the Oil Patch. Gee, I could have taken The Builder (if either my Travel Desk or I knew it existed).
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Re: All Things Empire Builder

Postby Jeff Smith » Mon Aug 27, 2012 11:03 am

A nice letter in support of Amtrak (and freight) on the EB. Note how gorgeous that photo is.

With the track improvements necessary for high-speed rail from the Twin Cities to Chicago, this route will significantly increase freight capacity, which will grow our economy, make passenger rail a viable alternative to cars and planes, and increase safety by improving or eliminating at-grade crossings.


http://www.startribune.com/opinion/lett ... 83895.html

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Re: All Things Empire Builder

Postby vermontanan » Mon Sep 10, 2012 8:58 pm

Amtrak Long Distance Ridership: July 2012
Rank Train July 2012 Ridership Percentage change from July 2011
1 Empire Builder 52,699 +55.2
2 Coast Starlight 48,897 +11.4
3 California Zephyr 39,090 +8.3
4 Lake Shore Limited 38,685 +3.0
5 Silver Star 37,391 -8.0
6 Silver Meteor 36,339 -2.3
7 Southwest Chief 35,547 +2.0
8 Texas Eagle 33,555 +8.3
9 Crescent 29,311 -3.4
10 Auto Train 26,067 +5.4
11 City of New Orleans 23,726 -0.7
12 Capitol Limited 21,638 -0.8
13 Palmetto 19,576 -0.7
14 Sunset Limited 9,833 +3.0
15 Cardinal 9,387 +2.9
Total Long Distance 461,941 +6.7
Total Amtrak 2.775,173 +0.8
Source: Amtrak

The large increase for the Empire Builder is due to service interruptions in 2011.
Ridership on the Empire Builder was down 7 percent over July 2008, the year of record ridership. This is attributable to the train’s abysmal ontime performance (13.2 percent) causing truncations of service (terminations of the westbound train at Spokane, before the sixth set of equipment was created), and limiting available space when the train became very late.


Amtrak News Release September 10, 2012:
Surging Amtrak Ridership Sets 11 Consecutive Monthly Records.
Best September ever also expected.

WASHINGTON – Amtrak ridership is surging this year with 11 consecutive monthly ridership records. In each month of the current fiscal year, Amtrak has posted the highest ridership total ever for that particular month (i.e. the best October ever, the best November ever, etc.) with the final month of September also expected to be a new record. In addition, July was the single best ridership month in the history of Amtrak.
“All across America the demand to travel by Amtrak is strong, growing, and undeniable,” said President and CEO Joe Boardman. “Amtrak continues to deliver on its mission to fulfill a vital transportation need and does so with improved management and financial health.”
Through 11 months of FY2012 (October 2011-August 2012), total Amtrak ridership is up 3.4 percent as compared to the same period last year. When the current fiscal year ends on September 30, Amtrak expects a new annual ridership record will be set, surpassing the current record of 30.2 million passengers established in FY2011.
From FY 2002 to FY 2011, Amtrak ridership increased 44 percent and set new annual records in 8 of those 9 years. This long-term growth is occurring across the Amtrak national network and on all Amtrak business lines, including the Northeast Corridor, state-supported and other short-distance routes, and long-distance routes.
Source: Amtrak


Amtrak Long Distance on-time performance: July 2012:
Rank Train July 2012
on-time performance
(percentage) Percentage change from
July 2012
1 City of New Orleans 91.9 -1.6
2 Auto Train 91.7 +6.2
3 Crescent 69.4 +11.3
4 Coast Starlight 67.7 -6.5
5 Capitol Limited 64.5 -9.7
5 Southwest Chief 64.5 +21.0
7 Sunset Limited 63.0 -14.8
8 Palmetto 53.2 -16.1
9 California Zephyr 50.0 +50.0
9 Silver Meteor 50.0 -4.8
9 Silver Star 50.0 -8.1
12 Lake Shore Limited 46.8 +18.0
13 Cardinal 38.5 -2.3
14 Texas Eagle 24.2 -1.5
15 Empire Builder 13.2 -39.5
Total Long Distance 62.3 +2.3
Total Amtrak 74.5 +2.5

Source: Amtrak
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Re: All Things Empire Builder

Postby jstolberg » Thu Oct 18, 2012 8:06 pm

Amtrak today announced state-by-state results and listed the boardings/alightings at the top 5 stations in each state.
http://www.amtrak.com/ccurl/96/644/Top- ... 12-097.pdf

The results for portions of the Empire Builder are truly astounding.

Idaho (Sandpoint being the only Amtrak station) 8815, +66%
North Dakota 154864, +41%
Montana 149813, +16%

Some individual stations:

Williston, ND 54324, +82%
Stanley, ND 10234, +68%
Minot, ND 37169, +27%
Fargo, ND 20304, +20%
Grand Forks, ND, 20271, +18%

Wolf Point, MT 6059, +32%
East Glacier Park, MT 14886, +24%
Shelby, MT 15501, +16%
Whitefish, MT 66614, +15%

Staples, MN 7931, +33%
St. Cloud, MN, 13740, +29%
Red Wing, MN 10289, +15%

Spokane, WA 62773, +34%
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Re: All Things Empire Builder

Postby Station Aficionado » Thu Oct 18, 2012 9:12 pm

Part of the increase, of course, is simply that EB actually ran most days in FY '12 (although often with big delays) vs. 2011, with its many cancellation. But, as Mr. Stolberg suggest, these numbers really stand out, particularly if you compare ridership to local population. The EB really does serve a transportation role for lots of places on the high line.
Metro is experiencing a delay . . .
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Re: All Things Empire Builder

Postby vermontanan » Thu Oct 18, 2012 10:47 pm

For the ninth consecutive year, the Empire Builder is Amtrak’s most-ridden long distance train, carrying over one-half million passengers. The train posted its second-highest ridership as an Amtrak train, but some 11,000 less than the record year of 2008. The train probably failed to reach a record due to maintenance of way service disruptions during the summer of 2012, and that its eighth-busiest stop, Minot, was still out of service for a month and a half in FY2012.

Amtrak Long Distance Ridership: FY2012
Rank Train FY2012 ridership Percent change from FY 2011
1 Empire Builder 543,072 +15.8
2 Coast Starlight 454,443 +6.5
3 Silver Star 425,794 +0.3
4 Lake Shore Limited 403,700 +4.3
5 California Zephyr 376,459 +5.9
6 Silver Meteor 375,164 +0.4
7 Southwest Chief 355,316 +0.1
8 Texas Eagle 337,393 +12.8
9 Crescent 304,266 +0.1
10 Auto Train 264,096 +1.6
11 City of New Orleans 253,170 +8.5
12 Capitol Limited 226,884 +0.1
13 Palmetto 198,260 +0.8
14 Cardinal 116,373 +4.9
15 Sunset Limited 101,217 +1.5
Total Long Distance 4,736,187 +4.7
Total Amtrak 31,240,585+3.5
Source: Amtrak
*
Amtrak Long Distance Ridership, FY2007 to FY2012:
Rank
2012 Train FY2012 FY2011 FY2010 FY2009 FY2008 FY2007
1 Empire Builder 543,072 469,167 533,493 515,444 554,266 504,977
2 Coast Starlight 454,443 426,584 444,205 432,565 353,657 343,542
3 Silver Star 425,794 424,394 393,586 371,235 367,139 329,132
4 Lake Shore Limited 403,700 387,043 464,460 334,456 345,632 312,643
5 California Zephyr 376,459 355,324 377,876 345,558 352,563 329,840
6 Silver Meteor 375,164 373,576 352,286 330,734 319,773 291,735
7 Southwest Chief 355,316 354,912 342,403 318,025 331,143 316,668
8 Crescent 337,393 304,086 298,688 288,576 291,222 263,138
9 Texas Eagle 304,266 299,508 287,164 260,467 251,518 218,321
10 Auto Train 264,096 259,944 244,252 232,955 234,839 217,822
11 City of New Orleans 253,170 233,318 229,270 196,659 197,394 180,473
12 Capitol Limited 226,884 266,597 218,956 215,371 216,350 193,748
13 Palmetto 198,260 196,743 189,468 171,316 173,949 156,998
14 Cardinal 116,373 110,923 107,053 108,614 109,195 96,896
15 Sunset Limited 101,217 99,714 91,684 78,775 71,719 63,336
.


The table structure isn't maintained, so figures may appear run together - they represent the train, and the ridership for each year 2012 to 2007 inclusive
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Re: All Things Empire Builder

Postby mtuandrew » Fri Oct 19, 2012 3:07 am

Hey folks, I had a question from the Hoosier State thread that you might be better able to answer here. When Amtrak adds CHI-MSP cars to the Builder as 807 and 808, are they simply on Amtrak's own account now, or are they state-funded? When the PRIIA changes come about, will Amtrak continue to add these cars free of charge (if it does so now?) I got the impression that some Indianans were comparing 850/851 to 807/808, stub versions of a LD, and thought it should be provided free of charge as part of the National System.
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Re: All Things Empire Builder

Postby vermontanan » Sat Oct 20, 2012 11:31 am

mtuandrew wrote:Hey folks, I had a question from the Hoosier State thread that you might be better able to answer here. When Amtrak adds CHI-MSP cars to the Builder as 807 and 808, are they simply on Amtrak's own account now, or are they state-funded? When the PRIIA changes come about, will Amtrak continue to add these cars free of charge (if it does so now?) I got the impression that some Indianans were comparing 850/851 to 807/808, stub versions of a LD, and thought it should be provided free of charge as part of the National System.


Neither the Empire Builder of Hoosier State are state-funded, and don't know what affect the PRIIA would have on either.
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