Advice for planning an Empire Builder trip

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I'm looking at planning a trip on the Empire Builder in a few months. I'll be going in a sleeper, almost certainly a Roomette, but I'll try my luck at a bidup to a bedroom, and see if I get lucky. I've never taken the EB before - though I have done the length of the Coast Starlight, as well as portions of the Southwest Chief and California Zephyr. I plan to do the full route, between Chicago and Seattle.

I've got a few questions (though any advice is welcome):

1) Thoughts on Eastbound vs Westbound? With either one, I'll be flying into the origin city, and home from the destination city.

2) There are two windows I'm debating between - the last week of Feb, or the 2nd half of March. I'd like to travel through as much "winter scenery" as possible - how much will I miss out on in March vs Feb?

3) I plan on getting into whichever origin city I choose the night before. Upon arriving in the destination, I'd *like* to fly home the same night. I have enough airline status to change my flight schedule without much problem - but would you be hesitant (given train delays) to book a flight home say 6-7 hours after the planned arrival time to the destination?
 

Maglev

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1) Eastbound is generally regarded as having better scenery in the Rocky Mountains (Glacier National Park) as well as along the Mississippi River.

2) I've ridden in the middle of January both with and without snow. I think in February and March, there is always a chance of a storm which might disrupt travel.

3) The Empire Builder is scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 4:45 PM. I would not book flights that same day.

The best hotel to stay at for trains in Seattle is the Embassy Suites right outside the door of King Street Station, but it can be extremely expensive (especially if there is an event at one of the nearby stadiums). Better prices are found at airport hotels, which are an easy light rail ride to King Street Station. I like Cedarbrook Lodge--it has a nice restaurant and is on 19 acres of woodland. Here's the view from my room:


IMG_0142.jpeg
 
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Thanks for the recommendations, @Maglev .

I'll check out both the Embassy Suites, as well as the Cedarbrook lodge. Usually when I'm in SEA, I stay at the Hotel Theodore, near Pike Place, but am always open to trying something new (especially unique, like the Cedarbrook Lodge).

The advice about the EB being a bit more scenic is noted - that's a big part of the reason for the trip, so that'll influence my decision.

It's somewhat tough for me to spend too long away from home, so in addition to two nights on the train, I'm *hoping * spend only one additional night at either end. So, if I do the EB, as you say, getting in at a planned 4:45 doesn't leave much room for error if I want to fly home that night. So if I did EB, I might fly up to SEA morning of departure, and plan a hotel night at the Chicago end.
 

oregon pioneer

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The Empire Builder PDX section is my home train, and I always travel between November and February, so, yes, it's winter. I agree that the eastbound direction has better scenery in the Rockies/Glacier NP. On the westbound trip, you get to the mountains in late afternoon. There's a tantalizing glimpse of the distant peaks in the slanting sunlight, and then -- it gets dark before you get there. Eastbound, the later the train is, the more mountain scenery you get! You'll want to be awake at first light to appreciate the scenery (in January, breakfast starts just as you can see what's outside your window).

I also think your plan to use your hotel night at the Chicago end is a good one. I have arrived in CHI as late as 5am the morning after the train was due, but that's an outlier. The train has been early to on-time almost as often as it has been late.

It sounds like you've been to Seattle previously, and have probably seen the Washington Cascades. That's the only mountain scenery that would have better daylight on the westbound trip.

I know you'll have a great trip, and I hope you'll return here to write a trip report and let us know how it went. Here are a couple of photos from my last solo trip on the EB:
breakfast along the Kootenay River
near Whitefish
coming up to the prairie near Browning
1_trip7.jpg 1_trip10.jpg 1_trip12.jpg
 
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@oregon pioneer Thanks very much for the additional info. For no particularly strong reason, I had been leaning towards taking it Westbound, but based on Maglev's advice, as well as your reasoning, I think it's clear Eastbound is the way to go.

There's tons of AM flight options from home to Seattle, so arriving in Seattle morning of departure, and heading East, seems like the way to go.

Also, thanks for the insight on the "on-time" performance of the Empire Builder - I didn't know that before, and yes.. it seems like using my "one night" in Chicago would be the logical way to go.

Love the photos.. can't wait.
 
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I suggest that you check the sunrise/sunset times for various locations along the route for the days that you intend to travel.

I am concerned that if you travel westbound in February or March you have a high risk of missing out on the mountain scenery between East and West Glacier. I am familiar with the route and I would not want to do that. Unless something unexpected happens you are almost guaranteed to see this scenery eastbound.

Whichever you choose, I hope you have a great trip and will post a report.
 

zephyr17

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I suggest that you check the sunrise/sunset times for various locations along the route for the days that you intend to travel.

I am concerned that if you travel westbound in February or March you have a high risk of missing out on the mountain scenery between East and West Glacier. I am familiar with the route and I would not want to do that. Unless something unexpected happens you are almost guaranteed to see this scenery eastbound.

Whichever you choose, I hope you have a great trip and will post a report.
No need to check sunset times, in February or March, the Rockies will unquestionably be after dark on 7's current schedule. It is not scheduled into West Glacier until 9:27 pm.
 
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@TrackWalker Thanks very much for the great read. I hope I don't end up with a scowling passenger in the neighboring roomette, or a baby imitating a train horn.

@Rasputin and @zephyr17 Thanks as well - it hadn't occurred to me to consider where the train would be during daylight hours, and I'm glad it was pointed out. Seeing scenery, especially winter scenery, is the main goal of the trip, so I think your input has pretty much cemented that I book a Eastbound trip.

@Willbridge That's not a bad idea. I'm hoping my work/work travel schedule allows me to do the entire length, but ending in MSP would make for a very easy trip home, and one day less away if push comes to shove.
 
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MccfamschoolMom

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Any suggestions for hotels at the Chicago end? My husband and I plan to ride the California Zephyr roundtrip next year, westbound first, than eastbound. Home is just an hour or two's ride away at the Chicago end via the Lincoln Service, but if the eastbound CZ is delayed enough that we miss the last Lincoln Service train that day, we'll need a hotel room to rest in until the first Lincoln Service train the next day. Chicago hotel recommendations near Union Station would also be helpful to travelers on the eastbound EB, as well as those on other routes with Chicago as the endpoint city.
 
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@TrackWalker Thanks very much for the great read. I hope I don't end up with a scowling passenger in the neighboring roomette, or a baby imitating a train horn.

@Rasputin and @zephyr17 Thanks as well - it hadn't occurred to me to consider where the train would be during daylight hours, and I'm glad it was pointed out. Seeing scenery, especially winter scenery, is the main goal of the trip, so I think your input has pretty much cemented that I book a westbound trip.

@Willbridge That's not a bad idea. I'm hoping my work/work travel schedule allows me to do the entire length, but ending in MSP would make for a very easy trip home, and one day less away if push comes to shove.
I think you have misinterpreted our comments.

I was urging you to take the Empire Builder eastbound for the maximum amount of daylight mountain scenery in February and March.
 
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I think you have misinterpreted our comments.

I was urging you to take the Empire Builder eastbound for the maximum amount of daylight mountain scenery in February and March.
I read it correctly, but made a typo in the comment you quoted. Corrected to say "cemented that I book an *Eastbound* trip".
 

oregon pioneer

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... if the eastbound CZ is delayed enough that we miss the last Lincoln Service train that day, we'll need a hotel room to rest in...

That time we arrived at 5am, we were booked on the last Lincoln Service of the evening and (of course) missed it. We received an automatic rebooking for the SAME Lincoln the next day, and they wanted to put us up in a hotel at no charge (out by the airport, shuttle provided) when we arrived at 5am. We had, however, had a restful night in our roomette, and we had a conference starting at noon at our destination, so I declined the hotel and re-booked us on the first Lincoln out in the morning, with no arguments from customer relations.

I recommend just making sure you have a guaranteed connection on the Lincoln, and letting the chips fall where they may (unless you want to spend the night in CHI).
 
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Any suggestions for hotels at the Chicago end? My husband and I plan to ride the California Zephyr roundtrip next year, westbound first, than eastbound. Home is just an hour or two's ride away at the Chicago end via the Lincoln Service, but if the eastbound CZ is delayed enough that we miss the last Lincoln Service train that day, we'll need a hotel room to rest in until the first Lincoln Service train the next day. Chicago hotel recommendations near Union Station would also be helpful to travelers on the eastbound EB, as well as those on other routes with Chicago as the endpoint city.
Just recently returned this past Wednesday from an Amtrak trip to Chicago . We stayed at the Fairfield Inn Chicago River North on Illinois Street. Very nice place and friendly staff. About a mile from the Union Station and we actually walked to the hotel along Wacker Drive.
 

Bob Dylan

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Chicago has many Hotels in the Loop Area, ( not many Close to Union Station but Transportation is not that expensive in Chicago)and depending on the Time of Year, ( Summer is usually very Busy and Expensive)Events in the Windy City that are occurring,and when you book your Room, Prices can range from a Great Deal to Second Mortgage Territory.

All of the Major Chains are present, and you can Google up info on the Many Web Sites to help you pick the one best for your needs.

Disclaimer: I usually stay in the Hostel International on Congress, close to Michigan Avenue, which has shared Dorms and Private Rooms for very Reasonable Prices, Breakfast included.Recommended!
 
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Just a quick followup - thanks to the advice above. Ended up booking at Eastbond trip on EB 8, leaving Seattle towards the end of Feb. Hoping to catch some good winter weather scenery. Would have liked to go a bit earlier, but couldn't swing it in my schedule.

Flying up to SEA day of departure, planning to spend a night in Chicago before flying home next day (also as buffer against train running late).

One quick question - I'm not savvy enough to figure it out from other threads. I'm in a roomette in Car 830. Is that likely to be a relatively "stable" reservation, or is that one of the cars that's prone to being cancelled out?

Thanks again.
 

zephyr17

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Just a quick followup - thanks to the advice above. Ended up booking at Eastbond trip on EB 8, leaving Seattle towards the end of Feb. Hoping to catch some good winter weather scenery. Would have liked to go a bit earlier, but couldn't swing it in my schedule.

Flying up to SEA day of departure, planning to spend a night in Chicago before flying home next day (also as buffer against train running late).

One quick question - I'm not savvy enough to figure it out from other threads. I'm in a roomette in Car 830. Is that likely to be a relatively "stable" reservation, or is that one of the cars that's prone to being cancelled out?

Thanks again.
30 is the "base" sleeper car line. If they cut that, there won't be any sleepers.

30 car is safe on the Builder.
 

oregon pioneer

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Late February should be fine, if this coming warm spell doesn't last for weeks and melt all the snow. Normally I'd say we have plenty of snow. I'm in the mountains east of the Oregon Cascades. We have a Continental climate, and if we have snow, Montana always has more of it. This year has been so weird. The cold and snow came in abruptly at the end of October, and we haven't had a real warmup since then. Normally, we'd have at least a few days of good thawing after Thanksgiving.

Now the weather is supposed to swing back the other way around Saturday upcoming, and stay very warm and very wet through mid-January. We'll just see what that does to the snowpack, and the rivers too! This is pretty much what the next 3-4 weeks look like:
weather1.jpg

Could be some interesting times where the tracks run along a river or under a steep, snow-covered slope. It should all settle down within a couple weeks, but the aftermath is totally unpredictable. At least with the hi-line, BNSF will be committed to getting it open again quickly.
 
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