# 28 or #8 ?

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Northwestern

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This summer, I will be taking the Portland, OR leg (#28) of the Empire Builder on my way to Spokane & Whitefish, MT. I did consider (#8) the Seattle to Spokane leg to Whitefish . I chose #28 as Portland is closer to me, here in Northern Calif. I have taken both # 28 and #8 in the past.

For each leg, what are the advantages and disadvantages?

If anyone hasn't been up to the Northwest, I would definitely recommend Portland to Spokane for the chance to see the Columbia River Gorge. I thought the terrain changes, along the way, very interesting. A good stopover might be Hood River, which is near the Bingen-White Salmon Amtrak stop. Hood River is a fun town and a good town for just walking around. Also the Mount Hood Railroad excursion, although I've read some negative reviews of the Mt. Hood Railroad. I was in Hood River a few years ago as part of a boat trip down the Columbia River. A negative.... train #28 doesn't have a dining car. I hope the cold plate or flex meal is better than the last time I took #28.

I think, however, there are interesting sights along #8 from Seattle to Spokane. Sultan and Gold Bar are picturesque. Dittos for Sunset Falls, Canyon Falls, and Eagle Falls. For a stopover, the "bavarian village" of Leavenworth. The train doesn't stop in dowtown Leavenworth...the Icicle station is a mile outside Leavenworth There is a shuttle service to take you into town. I've never been to Leavenworth, but I hope to get there some day. Amtrak #8 does have a dining car.

Your thoughts.

Leavenworth, WA



Richard
 
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We've done both and they each have their own merits. Pretty mountain scenery and the Cascade Tunnel on #8 and #7. Of course, as you mentioned, the Columbia River Gorge. We did 28 in early October and lost a lot of daylight - longer days would be advantageous on either route.
 
The ride up the Columbia River on the Baby Builder, lit up by the setting sun behind you, is nothing short of amazing. Take that flex meal to the lounge and plan to spend the evening. Unforgettable.
When I was working on developing this, I took Amtrak people from DC through the Gorge a couple of times. It was a nice fringe benefit of working for ODOT, getting paid to go places like this...

1976 094.jpg

One of the things that was an obstacle to getting this set up is that there were people in DC who just looked at the Portland metro population and failed to understand that this connected with California. The eventual combination of the right people at the right time was so coincidental that I'm still amazed that we can enjoy this experience. One can only imagine how well it would do with adequate capacity and reliable enough schedule adherence for the Los Angeles<>Chicago through sleeper that we discussed back then.

P1030952.JPG
 
We've done both and they each have their own merits. Pretty mountain scenery and the Cascade Tunnel on #8 and #7. Of course, as you mentioned, the Columbia River Gorge. We did 28 in early October and lost a lot of daylight - longer days would be advantageous on either route.
After 15 minutes in the Cascade Tunnel, most people learn that it's just a big bore ;) .
 
What is the history of the Portland section of the Empire Builder under Amtrak? Was this section discontinued when Amtrak took over on May 1, 1971? When was it restored?
Thanks.
 
What is the history of the Portland section of the Empire Builder under Amtrak? Was this section discontinued when Amtrak took over on May 1, 1971? When was it restored?
Thanks.
On A-Day there was no Portland section.

The Portland section was added to the Empire Builder about two years after the North Coast Hiawatha was discontinued. This was partly to maintain service to Pasco when the Empire Builder was moved from the Stampede Pass Route to the Stevens Pass Route which before then the North Coast Hiawatha served. Additionally of course it added service to Portland and to do so it did not require any additional rolling stock other than a loconotive. They literally took a part of the then Empire Builder and sent it off as the Portland section.

There was then this period when there was an Amtrak train serving each back of the Columbia River through the Gorge - Pioneer on the south shore and the Empire Builder on the north shore.
 
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I think one of the great losses was the demise of the Pioneer. I think there is a substantial need for an Amtrak train from Salt Lake City to Portland. No Zephyr connection with the terrible arrival times, for the Zephyr, into Salt Lake City. I think it would be better to have a separate train, SLC to PDX, unless the Zephyr timetable changes.

For me, the 15 min. ride through the Cascade Tunnel gets a little spooky.

There has been discussion about a new eastern route for one of the Cascade trains, along the Stampede pass from Seattle to Spokane. So far, enthusiasm but nothing more concrete. If they can get a good ridership, it could provide a reasonable time into Spokane compared to the Builder.

Yes, I think both #8 and #28 are best to take during peak summer months, with a late sunset. As far as scenery is concerned, I also like the early morning arrival into Whitefish and East Glacier, just beautiful.
I guess that is why many feel, for scenery, the eastbound Empire Builder is better than the westbound.. It will be dark, during winter months, when you get to East Glacier. However, during the peak summer, you can get daylight all the way to West Glacier. Also, the approach to West Glacier Park is amazing. From the east, the terrain jumps from high plains to huge mountains very quickly...no gradual change.

Richard
 
The ride up the Columbia River on the Baby Builder, lit up by the setting sun behind you, is nothing short of amazing. Take that flex meal to the lounge and plan to spend the evening. Unforgettable.
And don't forget the railfan window if you are in a sleeper! We were very delayed a few years ago, and I got to catch Spokane to Essex in the daylight. Spent a lot of time back there.
 
On A-Day there was no Portland section.

The Portland section was added to the Empire Builder about two years after the North Coast Hiawatha was discontinued. This was partly to maintain service to Pasco when the Empire Builder was moved from the Stampede Pass Route to the Stevens Pass Route which before then the North Coast Hiawatha served. Additionally, of course it added service to Portland and to do so it did not require any additional rolling stock other than a locomotive. They literally took a part of the then Empire Builder and sent it off as the Portland section.

There was then this period when there was an Amtrak train serving each back of the Columbia River through the Gorge - Pioneer on the south shore and the Empire Builder on the north shore.
One of the reasons that there was continued interest in getting the Portland/California connection set up was the sudden drop on A-Day. BN was still running the two Portland<>Spokane trains carried over from the SP&S and there was even a bit of the UP service left.

This anguish was compounded by the decision to run Seattle service via the Stampede Pass line. Passengers going east from Portland would spend all day riding around the state of Washington. The North Coast Hiawatha provided an alternative, but only tri-weekly.

During planning for the Spokane World's Fair we discussed a PDX<>SPK coach train pooled at Portland via the North Bank line or run through from Seattle via the UP. It would have required one train-set of the same equipment then in use on the PDX<>SEA service. Instead, Amtrak added a SEA<>SPK daylight train for the fair, which required two train-sets and did not provide the two-way California connections we had suggested. Yes, there was a PDX<>SPK weekly special run by the UP for shippers and money people for the duration.

Connections at Seattle for Portland<>East were made worse when Amtrak tried flipping the SEA<>CHI times to depart Seattle in the morning and arrive Seattle in the evening. That broke all connections in Seattle.

In 1976 I did a study for ODOT of a PSC<>PDX section of the Empire Builder. It indicated that the revenue would exceed the operating costs. (Keep in mind that we had statistics from 1970 and that Amtrak was still reporting statistics to the ICC, which made it easier to do projections.) I left for Canada after that.

The report was kicking around and eventually the right person in DC got a copy of it and also had the right attitude -- when cutbacks are being made, try to look for opportunities instead of just hacking away at things.

I've always wondered what would have happened if two or three Amtrak people in DC had not been looking for ways to improve the network. I believe they all lost their jobs when the head of marketing was dumped in the subsequent downsizing.
 
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