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The Empire Builder
Empire Builder
is an Amtrak
Amtrak
passenger train that operates daily between Chicago
Chicago
and – via two sections west of Spokane – Seattle and Portland. The end-to-end travel time of the route is 45–46 hours for an average speed of about 50 mph (80 km/h), though the train travels as fast as 79 mph (127 km/h) over the majority of the route. It is Amtrak's busiest long-distance route.

Contents

1 History 2 Ridership 3 Route

3.1 Flooding 3.2 Freight train interference 3.3 Former stops

4 Equipment

4.1 Current equipment 4.2 Historical equipment

5 Notes 6 Footnotes 7 References 8 Further reading 9 External links

History[edit] See also: Great Northern Railway (U.S.)

Empire Builder
Empire Builder
on the Stone Arch Bridge, Minneapolis, c. 1929.

The train at Winona Junction, Wisconsin
Wisconsin
in 1958

On June 11, 1929, the Great Northern Railway inaugurated the Empire Builder in honor of the company's founder, James J. Hill. Known as "The Empire Builder," Hill had reorganized several failing railroads into a transcontinental railroad that reached the Pacific Northwest in the late 19th century.[2] Following World War II, Great Northern placed new streamlined and diesel-powered trains in service that cut the scheduled 2,211-mile-trip between Chicago
Chicago
and Seattle from 58.5 hours to 45 hours.[3] The schedule allowed riders views of the Cascade Mountains and Glacier National Park, a park established through the lobbying efforts of the Great Northern. Re-equipped with domes in 1955, the Empire Builder offered passengers sweeping views of the route through three dome coaches and one full-length Great Dome car
Dome car
for first class passengers.[4] In 1970, the Great Northern merged with other railroads to form the Burlington Northern
Burlington Northern
Railroad, which assumed operation of the Builder. One year later, Amtrak
Amtrak
assumed operation of the train and shifted the Chicago– St. Paul
St. Paul
leg to the Milwaukee Road
Milwaukee Road
route through Milwaukee along the route to St Paul.[5] Before 1971, the Chicago– St. Paul
St. Paul
leg used the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad's mainline along the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
through Wisconsin. The service also used to operate west from the Twin Cities before turning northwest in Willmar, Minnesota, to reach Fargo. Amtrak
Amtrak
added the Spokane–Portland section in 1981, restoring service to the line previously operated by the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway.[6] In 2005, Amtrak
Amtrak
upgraded service to include a wine and cheese tasting in the dining car for sleeping car passengers and free newspapers in the morning.[7] Amtrak's inspector general eliminated some of these services in 2013 as part of a cost-saving measure.[8] During summer months, on portions of the route, "Trails and Rails" volunteers in the lounge car comment on points of visual and historic interest that can be viewed from the train.[9] Ridership[edit] The Empire Builder
Empire Builder
is Amtrak's most popular long-distance train. Over fiscal years 2007–2016, Empire Builder
Empire Builder
annual ridership averaged 500,000, with a high of 554,266 in FY 2008. Revenue peaked in FY 2013 at $67,394,779.[a] About 65% of the cost of operating the train is covered by fare revenue, a rate among Amtrak's long-distance trains second only to the specialized East Coast Auto Train.[19]

100,000

200,000

300,000

400,000

500,000

600,000

10,000,000

20,000,000

30,000,000

40,000,000

50,000,000

60,000,000

70,000,000

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

  Annual ridership   Annual revenue

Route[edit]

The Portland section of the Empire Builder
Empire Builder
at Union Station in Portland, Oregon.

The train passes through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. It makes service stops in Spokane, Washington, Havre, Montana, Minot, North Dakota, and Saint Paul, Minnesota. Its other major stops include Vancouver, Washington, Whitefish, Montana, Fargo, North Dakota, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It uses BNSF Railway's northern route from Seattle to Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minnesota
Commercial from Minneapolis
Minneapolis
to St. Paul, the Canadian Pacific from St. Paul
St. Paul
to Rondout, Illinois, and Metra's Milwaukee District / North Line from Rondout to Chicago. The Seattle section uses the Cascade Tunnel
Cascade Tunnel
and Stevens Pass
Stevens Pass
as it traverses the Cascade Range
Cascade Range
to reach Spokane, while the Portland section runs along the north side of the Columbia River
Columbia River
Gorge. The cars from the two sections are combined at Spokane. The train continues into the mountains in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. The schedule is timed so that the train passes through the Rocky Mountains (and Glacier National Park) during daylight – an occurrence that is more likely on the eastbound train during summer. Passengers can see sweeping views as the train skirts the southern edge of the park, crossing the Continental Divide
Continental Divide
at Marias Pass. After three stops near Glacier National Park – Whitefish, Montana, West Glacier, Essex (a flag stop), and either East Glacier in the summer or Browning in the winter – the train crosses Marias Pass and enters the Northern Plains
Northern Plains
of eastern Montana
Montana
and North Dakota. The land changes from prairie to forest as it travels through Minnesota. From Saint Paul Union Depot, the train crosses the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
at Hastings, Minnesota
Minnesota
and passes through southeastern Minnesota
Minnesota
cities on or near Lake Pepin
Lake Pepin
before crossing the Mississippi again at La Crosse, Wisconsin. It passes through rural southern Wisconsin, turns south at Milwaukee, and ends at Chicago Union Station.

Amtrak
Amtrak
Empire Builder
Empire Builder
(interactive map)

Flooding[edit]

A GE Genesis
GE Genesis
in 40th-anniversary Phase I paint leads a stub Empire Builder out of St. Paul, Minnesota
Minnesota
after floods suspended service west. (2011)

The line has come under threat from flooding from the Missouri, Souris, Red, and Mississippi Rivers, and has occasionally had to suspend or alter service. Most service gets restored in days or weeks, but Devils Lake in North Dakota, which has no natural outlet, is a long-standing threat. The lowest top-of-rail elevation in the lake crossing is 1,455.7 ft (443.70 m).[20] In spring 2011, the lake reached 1,454.3 ft (443.27 m),[21] causing service interruptions on windy days when high waves threatened the tracks. BNSF, which owns the track, suspended freight operations through Devils Lake in 2009 and threatened to allow the rising waters to cover the line unless Amtrak
Amtrak
could provide $100 million to raise the track. In that case, the Empire Builder
Empire Builder
would have been rerouted to the south, ending service to Rugby, Devils Lake, and Grand Forks.[22] In June 2011 agreement was reached that Amtrak
Amtrak
and BNSF would each cover 1/3 of the cost with the rest to come from the federal and state governments.[23] In December 2011, North Dakota
North Dakota
was awarded a $10 million TIGER grant from the US Department of Transportation
US Department of Transportation
to assist with the state portion of the cost.[24] Work began in June 2012, and the track is being raised in two stages: 5 feet in 2012, and another 5 feet in 2013. Two bridges and their abutments are also being raised. When the track raise is complete, the top-of-rail elevation will be 1,466 ft (446.84 m).[25] This is 10 feet above the level at which the lake will naturally overflow and will thus be a permanent solution to the Devils Lake flooding. In the spring and summer of 2011 flooding of the Souris River near Minot, North Dakota
North Dakota
blocked the route in the latter part of June and for most of July. For some of that time the Empire Builder
Empire Builder
(with a typical consist of only four cars) ran from Chicago
Chicago
and terminated in Minneapolis/St Paul; to the west, the Empire Builder
Empire Builder
did not run east of Havre, Montana. (Other locations along the route also flooded, near Devils Lake, North Dakota and areas further west along the Missouri River.) Freight train interference[edit] An oil boom from the Bakken formation, combined with a robust fall 2013 harvest, led to a spike in the number of crude oil and grain trains using the BNSF tracks in Montana
Montana
and North Dakota. The resulting congestion led to terrible delays for the Empire Builder, with the train receiving a 44.5% on-time record for November 2013, the worst rating on the Amtrak
Amtrak
network. In some cases, the delays resulted in an imbalance of crew and equipment, forcing Amtrak
Amtrak
to cancel runs of the Empire Builder.[26] In May 2014, only 26% of Empire Builder trains had arrived within 30 minutes of their scheduled time, and delays averaged between 3 and 5 hours.[27] Due to the routine severe delays, Amtrak
Amtrak
changed the schedule for stations west of Minneapolis
Minneapolis
on April 15, 2014. Scheduled times for westbound trains from Minneapolis
Minneapolis
were made later, while eastbound, the train departed Seattle/Portland approximately three hours earlier. Operating hours for affected stations were also officially adjusted accordingly. The Amtrak
Amtrak
announcement also said that the BNSF Railway was working on adding track capacity, and it was anticipated that sometime in 2015 the Empire Builder
Empire Builder
could be returned to its former schedule. In January 2015, it was announced that the train would resume its normal schedule.[28] Former stops[edit]

In the cab of the Empire Builder, 1974. Photo by Charles O'Rear.

In 1970 the flooding of Lake Koocanusa
Lake Koocanusa
necessitated the realignment of 60 miles of track and the construction of Flathead Tunnel
Flathead Tunnel
forcing the Empire Builder
Empire Builder
to drop service to Eureka, Montana. The Empire Builder also served Troy, Montana
Montana
until February 15, 1973. On October 1, 1979, Amtrak
Amtrak
moved the Empire Builder
Empire Builder
to operate over the North Coast Hiawatha's old route between Minneapolis
Minneapolis
and Fargo, North Dakota. With this alignment change, the Empire Builder
Empire Builder
dropped Willmar, Minnesota, Morris, Minnesota, and Breckenridge, Minnesota, while adding St. Cloud, Minnesota, Staples, Minnesota, and Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. Another alignment change came on October 25, 1981, when the Seattle section moved from the old Northern Pacific
Northern Pacific
(which had also become part of the BN Railroad in 1970) to the Burlington Northern
Burlington Northern
Railroad's line through the Cascade Tunnel
Cascade Tunnel
over Stevens Pass. This change eliminated service to Yakima, Washington, Ellensburg, Washington, and Auburn, Washington.[29] This change also introduced the Portland section, which returned service to the former Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railroad line (which became part of BN in 1970) along the Washington shore of the Columbia River. The route kept Pasco, but added Wishram, Bingen-White Salmon, and Vancouver (all in Washington) to the route. From Vancouver, the Builder followed the same route as the Coast Starlight
Coast Starlight
and Cascades trains to Portland Union Station. It is proposed that the Empire Builder
Empire Builder
and Hiawatha Service
Hiawatha Service
trains would shift one stop north to North Glenview in Glenview, Illinois. This move would eliminate stops which block traffic on Glenview Road. The North Glenview station
Glenview station
would have to be modified to handle additional traffic, and the move depends on commitments from Glenview, the Illinois
Illinois
General Assembly and Metra.[30] In Minnesota, the Builder returned to Saint Paul Union Depot
Saint Paul Union Depot
on May 7, 2014, 43 years after it last served the station the day before the start of Amtrak. Renovation of the 1917 Beaux Arts terminal was undertaken in 2011, continuing through 2013, resulting in a multi-mode terminal used by Jefferson Bus Lines, Greyhound Bus lines, commuter bus and most recently light rail to and from Minneapolis.[31] The station replaced Midway Station which opened in 1978 after the initial abandonment of Saint Paul Union Depot in 1971 and the demolition of Minneapolis
Minneapolis
Great Northern Depot in 1978. Equipment[edit]

Sample consist

July 4, 1963

Train Eastbound

A-B-B-A set of EMD F7
EMD F7
diesel units Railway Post Office #37 Storage-Mail Car #276 Dormitory #1200 Flat top coach #1212 Dome coach #1330 Dome coach #1320 Ranch car #1241, Running Crane Lake (Coffee-shop dinette lounge) Flat top coach #1224 Flat top coach #1221 Dome coach #1331 Sleeper #1376, Hart Pass (6-roomette, 5-double bedroom, 2-compartment) Sleeper #1380, Suiattle Pass (ditto) Diner #1251, Lake Wenatchee "Great Dome" lounge #1394, Prairie
Prairie
View (the only car in the consist with six wheel trucks) Sleeper #1260, Skykomish River (4-section, 7-duplex roomette, 3-double bedroom, 1-compartment) Sleeper #1374, Park Creek Pass (6-roomette, 5-double bedroom, 2-compartment) Sleeper lounge #1192, Corral Coulee (6-roomette, 4-double bedroom, 1 compartment observation-lounge)

[32]

The train along the Columbia River
Columbia River
circa 1947.

The train skirting Glacier National Park before the introduction of domed cars.

Current equipment[edit] Like all long-distance trains west of the Mississippi River, the Empire Builder
Empire Builder
uses Amtrak's double-deck Superliner equipment. The Empire Builder
Empire Builder
was the first train to be fully equipped with Superliners, with the first run occurring on October 28, 1979.[33] In Summer, 2005 the train was "re-launched" with newly refurbished equipment. A typical Empire Builder
Empire Builder
consists of the following equipment (with the assigned section west of Spokane shown in parentheses):

Two GE Genesis
GE Genesis
P42 Locomotives

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
Chicago
- St Paul) - This car is train number 807/808.

In Spokane, the westbound train is split: the locomotives, baggage car, and first six passenger cars (including the diner) continue on to Seattle, while a single locomotive from Spokane is used to take the rearmost four cars (including the lounge/cafe) to Portland. Eastbound the sections are combined in a reverse fashion. To add capacity during peak travel periods, an additional coach is added to the rear of the train between Chicago
Chicago
and St. Paul. It is left at St. Paul
St. Paul
for the next day's return trip to pick up. This car is designated train 807/808, while the cars in the Portland section are designated train 27/28 and the Seattle section is designated train 7/8. This adds capacity during especially busy times in the year. Historical equipment[edit] Car ownership on this train was by-and-large split between the Great Northern and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad
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
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. The Great Northern coaches eventually found their way into state-subsidized commuter service for the Central Railroad of New Jersey after the Burlington Northern
Burlington Northern
merger and remained until 1987 when NJ Transit
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
New Jersey
and is stored near Interstate 78
Interstate 78
wearing tattered Amtrak
Amtrak
colors. Notes[edit]

^ Compiled from Amtrak's annual ridership and revenue reports.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18]

Footnotes[edit]

^ " Amtrak
Amtrak
Ridership Rolls Up Best-Ever Records" (PDF). Amtrak. 13 October 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2012.  ^ Hidy et al. 2004, p. 180 ^ Hidy et al. 2004, p. 244 ^ Hidy et al. 2004, p. 272 ^ " Empire Builder
Empire Builder
Timeline". Great Northern Timeline. Great Northern Railway Historical Society. Retrieved 2016-03-07.  ^ "Through Your Car Window - Westbound - On the Streamlined Empire Builder, Western Star and other Great Northern Trains". Great Northern Railway Page. Great Northern Railway. June 1953. Retrieved 2010-02-08.  ^ " Amtrak
Amtrak
Empire Builder
Empire Builder
Relaunch". Amtrak
Amtrak
Empire Builder. trainweb.com. August 1, 2009. Retrieved 2010-02-14.  ^ "To See Why Amtrak's Losses Mount, Hop on the Empire Builder
Empire Builder
Train". msn.com. Retrieved 2016-03-07.  ^ "Trails & Rails". National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2010-02-09. Retrieved 2010-02-09.  ^ "2016 ridership" (PDF) (PDF). Amtrak. Retrieved 2016-11-06.  ^ "2015 ridership" (PDF) (PDF). Amtrak. Retrieved 2016-03-04.  ^ "2014 ridership" (PDF) (PDF). Amtrak. Retrieved 2016-03-04.  ^ "2013 ridership" (PDF) (PDF). Amtrak. Retrieved 2016-03-04.  ^ "2012 ridership" (PDF) (PDF). Amtrak. Retrieved 2016-03-04.  ^ "2011 ridership" (PDF) (PDF). Amtrak. Retrieved 2016-03-04.  ^ "2010 ridership" (PDF) (PDF). Amtrak. Retrieved 2016-03-04.  ^ "2006-2009 ridership" (PDF) (PDF). Amtrak. Retrieved 2016-03-04.  ^ "2007-2008 Revenue" (PDF) (PDF). Amtrak. Retrieved 2016-03-07.  ^ " North Coast Hiawatha
North Coast Hiawatha
Passenger Rail Study" (PDF). Amtrak. October 16, 2009. Retrieved 2010-02-02.  ^ "Railroad Grade Raise Planning and Feasibility Study" (PDF). April 8, 2011. Retrieved 2012-05-22.  ^ "Devils Lake Gauge at Creel Bay". Retrieved 2012-05-22.  ^ "Devils Lake threatens Empire Builder". KFGO. April 23, 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-30. [permanent dead link] ^ " Amtrak
Amtrak
Service To Continue". WDAZ. June 15, 2011. Archived from the original on September 17, 2012. Retrieved 2012-05-22.  ^ "ND Leaders Review Strategy to Raise DL Rail Line". February 15, 2012. Archived from the original on September 15, 2012. Retrieved 2012-05-22.  ^ Bonham, Kevin. "Railroad raising underway in Devils Lake area". Grand Forks Herald. Bakken Today. Archived from the original on 19 October 2015. Retrieved 14 January 2013.  ^ Tate, Curtis (December 23, 2013). "Freight trains force repeated delays on popular Amtrak
Amtrak
route". Seattle Times. Archived from the original on 29 July 2014. Retrieved 31 August 2014.  ^ McCartney, Scott (June 18, 2014). " Amtrak
Amtrak
Sees Delays Increase". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 16, 2014.  ^ "Amtrak's Empire Builder
Empire Builder
back on schedule". Great Falls Tribune. January 13, 2015. Retrieved 22 January 2014.  ^ Sanders 2006, pp. 163–172 ^ " Amtrak
Amtrak
eyes moving Ill. station". Railway Track & Structures. November 11, 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-08.  ^ Black, Sam (December 10, 2009). "Mortenson team picked for $150M St. Paul Union Depot transit hub". Minneapolis
Minneapolis
/ St. Paul
St. Paul
Business Journal. Retrieved 16 December 2009.  ^ Dubin, Arthur, D (1964). Some Classic Trains. Milwaukee: Kalmbach. p. 309.  ^ "Superliners Go Into Service On Empire Builder
Empire Builder
Route". Amtrak
Amtrak
NEWS. 6 (12): 1. November 1979. 

References[edit]

Hidy, Ralph W.; et al. (2004) [1988]. The Great Northern Railway: A History. Minneapolis: Minnesota
Minnesota
University Press. ISBN 978-0-816-64429-2. OCLC 54885353.  Sanders, Craig (2006). Amtrak
Amtrak
in the Heartland. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-34705-3.  Wayner, Robert J., ed. (1972). Car Names, Numbers and Consists. New York: Wayner Publications. OCLC 8848690.  Yenne, Bill (2005). Great Northern Empire Builder. Great Passenger Trains. MBI. ISBN 0-7603-1847-6. OCLC 57142776. 

Further reading[edit]

Morgan, David P. (2016). "The Clean-Window Train". In McGonigal, Robert S. Great Trains West. Waukesha, WI: Kalmbach Publishing. pp. 96–107. ISBN 978-1-62700-435-0.  Welsh, Joe (December 2000). "The Empire Builder: Seven decades of service". Trains. 60 (12): 72–80. ISSN 0041-0934. 

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Empire Builder.

Empire Builder
Empire Builder
travel guide from Wikivoyage Amtrak
Amtrak
— Empire Builder Empire Builder
Empire Builder
75th Anniversary page Brochures and History of GN's Empire Builder Information and photos of GN's Empire Builder
Empire Builder
equipment

v t e

Amtrak
Amtrak
routes

Long distance

West

California Zephyr Coast Starlight Empire Builder Southwest Chief Sunset Limited Texas Eagle

East

Auto Train Capitol Limited Cardinal City of New Orleans Crescent Lake Shore Limited

Silver Service

Silver Meteor Silver Star

Corridor

West

Amtrak
Amtrak
Cascades Heartland Flyer

Amtrak
Amtrak
California

Capitol Corridor Pacific Surfliner San Joaquin

Mid- west

Hiawatha Service Hoosier State Missouri River Runner

Illinois
Illinois
Service

Black Hawk (planned) Carl Sandburg Illini Illinois
Illinois
Zephyr Lincoln Service Saluki Quad Cities (planned)

Michigan Services

Blue Water Pere Marquette Wolverine

East

Adirondack Downeaster Empire Service Ethan Allen Express Keystone Service Maple Leaf (shared with VIA Rail Canada) Pennsylvanian Vermonter

Atlantic Coast Service

Carolinian Palmetto Piedmont

Northeast Corridor

Acela Express Keystone Service New Haven–Springfield Shuttle Northeast Regional

Former

Abraham Lincoln Ann Rutledge Arrowhead Atlantic City Express Badger Bankers Bay State Beacon Hill Betsy Ross Black Hawk Blue Ridge Blue Water Limited Broadway Limited Calumet Campus Cape Codder Capitols Champion Chesapeake Chief City of San Francisco Clamdigger Clocker Coast Daylight Colonial Congress Connecticut Connector Connecticut Valley Service Connecticut Yankee Denver Zephyr Desert Wind Duquesne Eagle Empire State Express Encore Expo '74 Fast Mail Federal Florida Special Floridian Fort Pitt George Washington Gotham Limited Gulf Breeze Gulf Coast Limited Hilltopper Indiana Connection Inter-American International International Limited James Whitcomb Riley James River Kansas City Mule Kentucky Cardinal Keystone Lake Cities Lake Country Limited Lake Shore Las Vegas Limited LaSalle Limited Lone Star Loop Manhattan Manhattan Turbo Marquette Merchants Limited Metroliner Miamian Michigan Executive Montrealer Mount Baker International Mount Rainier Mountaineer National Limited New Yorker Niagara Rainbow Nicollet Night Owl North Coast Hiawatha North Star Northwest Talgo Old Dominion Orange County Commuter Pacific International Pacific Northwest Corridor Panama Limited Patriot Pioneer Potomac Special Potomac Turbo Prairie
Prairie
Marksman Prairie
Prairie
State Puget Sound Radisson River Cities San Diegan San Francisco Zephyr Senator Shawnee Shenandoah Silver Palm Silverliner Service South Wind Southern Crescent Southwest Limited Spirit of California Spirit of St. Louis St. Clair St. Louis Mule State House Super Chief Super Chief-El Capitan Texas Chief Three Rivers Tidewater Turboliner Twilight Limited Twilight Shoreliner Twin Cities Hiawatha Vacationer Valley Forge Virginian West Virginian Washingtonian Weekend Metroliner Willamette Valley Yankee Clipper

v t e

Named trains of the Great Northern Railway

Badger Cascadian Empire Builder Gopher Glacier Park Limited International Oriental Limited Red River Limited Western Star Winn

.