Amtrak Empire Builder routing between Seattle and Spokane

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Cal

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I know that the EB used to go over Stampede Pass, I have three questions about it.

1. How did/does the scenery compare to Stevens Pass?
2. Why was it re-routed? Wouldn't it better to put it over Stampede Pass so a freight can go through the Cascade Tunnel instead of Amtrak?
3. How long did it take to traverse?
 

Cal

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And on another note, Idaho is really pretty from the train. It's a shame the EB goes through it overnight.

1619936840234.png
 

Palmetto

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I've been over both passes, going west. To be honest, after not sleeping very well west of Spokane, I don't remember a darn thing. I was too blurry-eyed!

To answer the question about running on Stampede Pass: the BNSF railroad uses that piece of their railroad for the directional, eastbound running of empty grain trains, for the most part, going back to the Upper Midwest to deliver more grain to the ports of Vancouver, Kalama and Longview in Washington. [The loaded trains run on the line further south, along the Columbia River.] This means that Amtrak westbound would be like a salmon swimming upstream against BNSF grain trains. Possible, but not efficient. I believe empty coal trains run the same way, coming down from Roberts Bank, BC.

There is precedent for doing it like that, though. The Union Pacific RR does pretty much the same thing in Missouri, between Jefferson City and KC. So Amtrak there runs against UP's eastbound trains there. I can't tell you what--if any--delays occur there, though.
 
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Siegmund

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Before Amtrak the builder always went over Stevens Pass.

In 1971 the decision was simply that they would serve more people going through Yakima than through Wenatchee, so they used GN east of Spokane and NP west (and in the early 70s, the Builder and NCH both went on the ex-NP route west of Spokane, sometimes combined, sometimes a few hours apart, sometimes on alternate days.)
In 1974 they started using both routes -- keeping the Builder on the NP and putting the NCH on GN, which never made much sense to me, but that's how it was, and I suppose it didn't really matter except to a history buff.
After the NCH went away in 1979 they again used the NP route, again presumably because of higher population.

The move back to the GN coincided with the addition of the Portland section in 1981. I am not sure how much of that was to do switching in Spokane rather than Pasco, how much was thinking they served more territory if the Portland section did Pasco, and how much it was pressure from BN to let them close Stampede Pass.

Stampede was out of service 1984-1997. During that time Amtrak had no choice.

I would not be shocked if someday Amtrak were put back on Stampede to make room for more freight through the Cascade Tunnel. If a second Seattle-Spokane frequency were ever added, I expect BNSF would insist upon it. (Stampede is mostly one-way, but "one-way except for one hour of the day when Amtrak goes the other way" is very possible when a route is not maxed out for capacity.)

Re timing - can only tell you that the ex-NP line was 70 miles longer and between an hour and an hour and a half slower from Spokane to Seattle; average trip speed wasn't so different, and Amtrak was scheduled to take about 2 1/2 hours for the 102 miles from Ellensburg to East Auburn - so the pace across the mountains roughly comparable to the Builder's.
 
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Siegmund

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..and yes, north Idaho and northwest Montana are beautiful. I've not been so lucky as to be on a 6-hours-late Builder to see it in daylight yet. But I have stayed up half the night watching the Kootenai River by moonlight more than once.

Cal's picture, for anyone who is curious, is between Bonner's Ferry and Moyie Springs, ID. The freight train is on the ex-Spokane International and is coming south/west from the interchange with whats left of CP's Crowsnest Pass / Kettle Valley line. The Builder runs on the ex-GN at the bottom of the canyon, about 11pm westbound and 330am eastbound if on time. This dramatic canyon view is only available for a short distance; the lines meet at Moyie Springs, and just a mile or so west of this, the canyon opens up into a broad valley and UP/SI descends to the valley floor.
 

oregon pioneer

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I've seen the whole of N Idaho to Spokane in daylight, on a very late EB, in 2018. Here are some of the N Idaho views, and the Seattle section pulling away in Spokane at 4:20pm!!! I watched them recouple a unit to the PDX section, and then I got back on for the ride to WIH.
westbound18q.jpg westbound18r.jpg westbound18x.jpg

I lived in WA during the time Stampede went out of service. It's my impression that the whole corridor through there has been logged, is not considered a scenic corridor, and does not have designated Wilderness in the viewshed. I hope they keep the EB on Stevens Pass.
 

Cal

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I've seen the whole of N Idaho to Spokane in daylight, on a very late EB, in 2018. Here are some of the N Idaho views, and the Seattle section pulling away in Spokane at 4:20pm!!! I watched them recouple a unit to the PDX section, and then I got back on for the ride to WIH.
View attachment 22121 View attachment 22122 View attachment 22120

I lived in WA during the time Stampede went out of service. It's my impression that the whole corridor through there has been logged, is not considered a scenic corridor, and does not have designated Wilderness in the viewshed. I hope they keep the EB on Stevens Pass.
Thank you for the pictures and images!

It's a shame the best parts of the EB route are usually passed by night. Unfortunately a schedule change is never happening
 

railiner

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After the NCH went away in 1979 they again used the NP route, again presumably because of higher population.
If higher population was the deciding factor, it makes you wonder why they didn't use the NP route all the way from Fargo, instead of the GN route, when the NCH was cut...
 
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JayPea

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For a time, the Portland half of the EB used directional running between Spokane and Pasco. The westbound trains ran to Pasco on the NP route and the eastbounds on the SP&S. This lasted until 1987, when BN, in a move they now regret, abandoned the SP&S line.

I've never seen the entirety of the EB route east of Spokane into Idaho and Montana in daylight, though a few years ago, I was on an EB that left Spokane an hour and a half late, and it was fully daylight by the time we got to Bonners Ferry in northern Idaho. Westbound I've seen both the EB routes in full daylight out of Spokane and in both cases the scenery isn't much to write home to Mother about until you reach the Columbia River. Whoever named Washington the Evergreen State must not have seen Eastern Washington.😉

I feel fortunate to live where I do, an hour from Spokane and two hours from Sandpoint. I can take in the sights of Northern Idaho and Northwestern Montana anytime in daylight without depending on an hours late
 

saxman

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I never knew Sandpoint, Idaho was so scenic until I was on a 12 hour late westbound EB. I could definitely live in the area. Last year, I drove along US from Seattle area to Stevens Pass and on to Leavenworth and Wenatchee. Before the tunnel was built there were a series of switchbacks up much higher for the GN. I happened upon this area and realized you could hike the old rail ROW and see many of the old tunnels. So I got in a good six mile hike unexpectedly that day. It was fairly easy as the grade is not steep. I was hard to imagine trains use to be up there. On my way back to Seattle, I went on I-90 and could easily see much the of NP's Stampede pass. Didn't see a single train on that one though.

IMG_1422.jpegIMG_1414.jpeg
The bluish line is the original GN line along with the original Cascade Tunnel. You can hike this. You can still see where there were still switch backs. The right below it is the current Cascade Tunnel in gray/black. The red is US Highway 2. Check it out if you end up driving out there.
 
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Cal

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I never knew Sandpoint, Idaho was so scenic until I was on a 12 hour late westbound EB. I could definitely live in the area. Last year, I drove along US from Seattle area to Stevens Pass and on to Leavenworth and Wenatchee. Before the tunnel was built there were a series of switchbacks up much higher for the GN. I happened upon this area and realized you could hike the old rail ROW and see many of the old tunnels. So I got in a good six mile hike unexpectedly that day. It was fairly easy as the grade is not steep. I was hard to imagine trains use to be up there. On my way back to Seattle, I went on I-90 and could easily see much the of NP's Stampede pass. Didn't see a single train on that one though.

View attachment 22131View attachment 22132
The bluish line is the original GN line along with the original Cascade Tunnel. You can hike this. You can still see where there were still switch backs. The right below it is the current Cascade Tunnel in gray/black. The red is US Highway 2. Check it out if you end up driving out there.
Now I'm trying to find the tunnel and route on Google Maps! I love going back into old stations and routes.
 

jiml

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Now I'm trying to find the tunnel and route on Google Maps! I love going back into old stations and routes.
This is a real pastime in the UK. There are several YouTube people who do it regularly including Geoff Marshall and Paul and Rebecca Whitewick. Although there have been some efforts this side of the ocean, I wish it was done more frequently and in better detail. Geoff has just completed an updated series on London's Lost Railways - fascinating stuff, and he has significant followers in North America, suggesting there's a market. If I were 20 years younger and had more disposable income... ;)
 

Siegmund

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If higher population was the deciding factor, it makes you wonder why they didn't use the NP route all the way from Fargo, instead of the GN route, when the NCH was cut...
I think the logic here is that I-90 and I-94 parallel the entire NCH route Missoula to St. Paul, while neither Wenatchee and Ephrata, nor Yakima and Pasco, are on I-90 between Seattle and Spokane. (Ellensburg is.) But there are many people who think the NCH was the more logical route to keep. And who think it had the more scenic route across Montana.

saxman said:
On my way back to Seattle, I went on I-90 and could easily see much the of NP's Stampede pass. Didn't see a single train on that one though.
I-90 goes over Snoqualmie Pass (ex-Milwaukee Road, rails lifted.) Most of Stampede is inaccessible except by logging roads and the service road to the Hanson Reservoir.
 

Siegmund

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How was the scenery?
In WA it's something of a wash - one Cascade crossing each, and then a bunch of high desert with the occasional climb up a coulee. But in MT, the NCH followed rivers all the way from Sandpoint to Glendive, except for when it crossed Homestake Pass and Bozeman Pass (and for about 40 miles of open farmland west of Bozeman.) In western ND, the NCH goes through badlands. The Builder has the Kootenai River and Glacier Park... after that, a tumbleweed turned loose in Cut Bank can pretty much roll all the way to the Minnesota border without hitting anything.

The flip side of that, of course, is that the Builder route is a faster and flatter railroad.
 

oregon pioneer

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I-90 goes over Snoqualmie Pass (ex-Milwaukee Road, rails lifted.) Most of Stampede is inaccessible except by logging roads and the service road to the Hanson Reservoir.
Here's an actual map of the Stampede Pass Rail route. As you can see, it is well south of the I-90 route until just east of the Cascade crest. Back in the old days (1970s), I drove up to the town of Lester which was as far as you could go at the time. All the roads past there went on logging company land, and smart people know not to drive through open gates because they might be closed (and locked) when you come back, or you might get run over by a loaded log truck on a roll down the hill.

The rail route you can see on the south side of I-90, west of Snoqualmie Pass, is long defunct. It is now a rail-trail: John Wayne Pioneer Trail/Iron Horse State Park. It is part of the Palouse-to-Cascades trail and the Cross-Washington Mountain Bike Route.
 

TC_NYC

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So rail advocates in Washington state are currently pushing for a new East-West rail corridor that would run on the Stampede pass and offer a daytime Spokane-Pasco-Yakima-Ellensburg-Auburn-Seattle routing. Unfortunately it looks like the route through the Yakima river valley is extremely slow, is mainly single track. Back when Amtrak used the line in 1980 the Seattle-Pasco segment took 6 hours. This is a 3 1/2 hour drive with no traffic, 4 1/2 with bad traffic on Snoqualmie pass with frequent flight service between the two cities that only takes an hour, ~2 hours when giving time for security. Amtrak would need to get the Pasco-Seattle segment down to 5 hours to be competitive with the drive and would need to heavily market the service to college students going to college at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, which would be a great market for students coming from the East side and West side of washington.
 

Cal

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Would it be any faster if they used the current PDX routing of the EB?
 

Cal

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You mean Spokane-Portland-Seattle? That would be tough since it would require a backup move at PDX and would be right around the 7 hour mark, so longer.
Ah okay. I assume Steven's Pass is out of the question due to Cascade Tunnel as well, right?
 

TC_NYC

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Ah okay. I assume Steven's Pass is out of the question due to Cascade Tunnel as well, right?
Yeah as well as the fact that it misses most of the major population centers in Eastern/Central Washington. The current Stevens pass route stops in Ephrata (pop ~32k when combined with Moses Lake), Wenatchee (pop ~34k) and Leavenworth (pop ~2k, but is a big tourist destination). Going the Stampe pass route you get access to the Tri-Cities/Pasco (pop ~281k), Yakima (pop ~93k), Ellensburg (pop 21k, with an extra 15k enrolled in Central Washingtion University).

Having extra daytime train service over the cascades would be a big boost to the east side of the state and help relieve the horrible traffic in the summer time on I-90 through Snoqualime pass and the bad delays in the winter time when they require chains to be on your tires when driving over the pass.
 

Palmetto

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Would it be any faster if they used the current PDX routing of the EB?
I suppose not, and that would defeat the purpose of the new service, I think. To serve Central Washington.
 
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Willbridge

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You mean Spokane-Portland-Seattle? That would be tough since it would require a backup move at PDX and would be right around the 7 hour mark, so longer.
When the Railpax plan was being proposed, all of the passenger service in Oregon was proposed to be discontinued. Portland had four east-west trains in 1970. The Oregon PUC proposed that the northern transcontinental run via Vancouver, Washington with a bus connection to Portland. An alternative was to run on the UP between (Pasco) Villard Junction and Portland. Either alternative would have added time, but so did running via Grand Forks rather than the cut-off.

As I've reported before, heavy-duty politics were involved. One of the Amtrak board members was the former Republican congresswoman from Yakima. Washington's two Democratic (majority) very senior senators had more influence than Oregon's very junior Republican (minority) senators. An Oregonian reporter was coincidentally in the room when Senator Warren Magnuson, long-time member of the Commerce committee, took a call from the former congresswoman clearing the route selection with him.

In 1973 a daylight train between Seattle and Spokane was proposed for the fair in the latter city. Oregon DOT suggested that by interlining it with one of the Seattle-Portland trains and running it on the UP to Spokane it would only require one set of equipment and it would have connected in both directions with Trains 11/14. Instead, at Senator Magnuson's request it ran over Stevens Pass, requiring two sets of equipment and overnights in Seattle for California tourism. A Spokane-Portland train did run weekly during the fair - a UP special for VIP's only.

The Yakima route was particularly obnoxious to Oregonians because of spending all day riding around Washington state and then getting back to the Columbia again at Pasco, which had formerly been a four-hour ride. Therefore, I worked out proposals for ODOT to Amtrak for a Portland<>Pasco section of the Empire Builder running on the UP. This didn't get much traction till the closure of Stampede Pass loomed and then a Spokane - Portland train with California connections eased the relocation of Trains 7/8 to Stevens Pass. The BN North Bank line would have worked better with the Los Angeles<>Chicago through sleeper switched in Portland, but that last piece never came about, likely due to delays on Train 14.
 
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