California Zephyr or Empire Builder next week?

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Joined
Apr 27, 2022
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New Jersey
Hi all,

I'm taking a cross country trip next week. Originally I'd been planning on taking the Pennsylvanian from NY to Pittsburgh, then the Capitol Limited to Chicago and then the California Zephyr the rest of the way. I just read online that now is not the best time of year for the Zephyr. Is that true? Is the Empire Builder any better?
 

pennyk

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Hi all,

I'm taking a cross country trip next week. Originally I'd been planning on taking the Pennsylvanian from NY to Pittsburgh, then the Capitol Limited to Chicago and then the California Zephyr the rest of the way. I just read online that now is not the best time of year for the Zephyr. Is that true? Is the Empire Builder any better?
I personally like the California Zephyr westbound any time of the year. I also think the the California Zephyr is better westbound and that the Empire Builder is better eastbound.
 

caravanman

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The Zephyr is certainly the best train for scenery, hands down, in America!
The views through the Rockies, and the canyons beside the rivers, are amazing.

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Last edited:

dadonatrain

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Others are spot on re scenery on the Zephyr. Issues I’ve read about at the moment (last couple weeks, etc) seem to involve short term severe weather such as snow, wind, and wildfires all causing much uncertainty on either route you‘re considering. No way to predict that well in advance of an “all aboard” call. Some, incl yours truly, might consider either route to be a crap shoot at the moment. But given the choice I’d ride the Zephyr!
 
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Like so many others the CZ is my favorite train... the Sierra Nevadas of CALI and the Colorado Rockies the next day... A double dose of the best scenery you can imagine... Beautiful!!!

I take it east departing from EUG and connect in Martinez to go east. Unfortunately when going in the other direction its late arrival in the West requires a lengthly wait and late late late nite departure north on the CS to get back up to EUG.

Am trying to figure out a way to take it to the West with decent connections to get me back home to EUG. With Amtrak's limitations it's a struggle. Any ideas from our well seasoned and expert AU'ers???
 

Cal

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Hi all,

I'm taking a cross country trip next week. Originally I'd been planning on taking the Pennsylvanian from NY to Pittsburgh, then the Capitol Limited to Chicago and then the California Zephyr the rest of the way. I just read online that now is not the best time of year for the Zephyr. Is that true? Is the Empire Builder any better?
I quite like your original plan. I would say, no matter the season, the Zephyr beats out the Builder
 

daybeers

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Jan 6, 2016
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NHV
Hi all,

I'm taking a cross country trip next week. Originally I'd been planning on taking the Pennsylvanian from NY to Pittsburgh, then the Capitol Limited to Chicago and then the California Zephyr the rest of the way. I just read online that now is not the best time of year for the Zephyr. Is that true? Is the Empire Builder any better?
Welcome to AU! I agree with the advice given so far, but also wanted to add that you might be better off catching the Lake Shore Limited from NY to Chicago or a Northeast Regional down to Washington and the full Capitol Limited to Chicago. It depends a little on if you'll be traveling in coach or a sleeper, but the overnight transfer in Pittsburgh is a little rough and the Capitol Limited can be late. The Pittsburgh station is pretty awful unfortunately.
 

Willbridge

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Like so many others the CZ is my favorite train... the Sierra Nevadas of CALI and the Colorado Rockies the next day... A double dose of the best scenery you can imagine... Beautiful!!!

I take it east departing from EUG and connect in Martinez to go east. Unfortunately when going in the other direction its late arrival in the West requires a lengthly wait and late late late nite departure north on the CS to get back up to EUG.

Am trying to figure out a way to take it to the West with decent connections to get me back home to EUG. With Amtrak's limitations it's a struggle. Any ideas from our well seasoned and expert AU'ers???
I'm not sure about the word 'decent' which may be defined in different ways. However, there's a Greyhound out of Sacramento at 7:25 p.m. that gets into the Lane Transit District's Springfield Transit Center at 6:10 a.m. The main problem vs. using Train 14 is not having the connection guaranteed.
 

Northwestern

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I have never taken the Zephyr all the way to Denver, just to Glenwood Springs. If so, I might well select the CZ as the most scenic train.

However, I still would choose the Empire Builder. Eastbound out of Portland, the Columbia River Gorge and a sight of Mt. Hood . Eastbound out of Seattle, the small towns of Sultan, Gold Bar, and Leavenworth. Even westbound on the Builder is scenic , at least during the peak summer months, with daylight through Glacier Park. Best of all, the early morning arrival of the eastbound Builder into Whitefish.
 

Cal

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I have never taken the Zephyr all the way to Denver, just to Glenwood Springs. If so, I might well select the CZ as the most scenic train.

However, I still would choose the Empire Builder. Eastbound out of Portland, the Columbia River Gorge and a sight of Mt. Hood . Eastbound out of Seattle, the small towns of Sultan, Gold Bar, and Leavenworth. Even westbound on the Builder is scenic , at least during the peak summer months, with daylight through Glacier Park. Best of all, the early morning arrival of the eastbound Builder into Whitefish.
Personally, one morning of scenery doesn't beat the nearly full-day of scenery on the CZ plus the day through the Sierras. Plus the fact that Glacier might be passed in the dark.
 

zephyr17

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Okay, let's try this again.

The Zephyr has the Builder beat hands down. The Zephyr spends all of day 2 in mountains and canyons while the Builder spends most of the day in hammered manure eastern Montana (aka West Dakota).

Marias Pass is nice, but eastbound it is out of the mountains by 10 am. Westbound, for much of the year it will be after dark, and even in the summer if the train is significantly late it will still be after dark.
 

Northwestern

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Personally, one morning of scenery doesn't beat the nearly full-day of scenery on the CZ plus the day through the Sierras. Plus the fact that Glacier might be passed in the dark.

********************************
Yes, but not during the peak summer months. You should be able to get to or near Whitefish, on the westbound Starlight, by sunset.
 

pennyk

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Thank you all for your help! The winning journey is the Northwest Regional down from NY to Washington, then the Capitol Limited through to Chicago, and then the California Zephyr the rest of the way. Looking forward to this inaugural trip!
Enjoy your trip and be safe and happy.
 

drdumont

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I have been trying to book a bedroom on the Zephyr for a week. The website is almost unusable, pick a date - nope - back up a page - new date - nope - back up a page, rinse and repeat. That is irritating enough, but I can't find availability either way up until September.
Same thing on the Empire Builder and the Eagle. Can this be true?
 

Shanson

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Yes, it's the peak summer travel season. Single coach passengers are being told to keep the "empty" seat next to them clear, there will be a full train. Rooms are full. In an ideal world, they would just add cars to increase capacity, but that would require available trained on board services staff to be available as well. Yes, there's limited capacity.

Amtrak start selling seats and rooms 11 months in advance. People who decide to go at the last minute are often disappointed during the summer travel months.
 

fdaley

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Welcome to AU! I agree with the advice given so far, but also wanted to add that you might be better off catching the Lake Shore Limited from NY to Chicago or a Northeast Regional down to Washington and the full Capitol Limited to Chicago. It depends a little on if you'll be traveling in coach or a sleeper, but the overnight transfer in Pittsburgh is a little rough and the Capitol Limited can be late. The Pittsburgh station is pretty awful unfortunately.
I agree that the Pittsburgh station is a bit sad, and my wife still groans about a holiday trip in 2009 that found us waiting there till nearly 2 a.m. for the westbound Capitol to show up.

But in this era of flex meals and dining cars that are closed to coach passengers, one advantage to taking the Pennsylvanian and transferring there is that there's usually plenty of time to get a real dinner in Pittsburgh. I did this on a solo trip in early 2020, right before the pandemic: Took the Pennsylvanian around the Horseshoe Curve, had an excellent restaurant dinner a few blocks from the PGH station, and also found a bedroom on the Capitol for significantly less than the price of a roomette on the Lake Shore. And the Capitol arrived early into PGH.
 

zephyr17

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I have been trying to book a bedroom on the Zephyr for a week. The website is almost unusable, pick a date - nope - back up a page - new date - nope - back up a page, rinse and repeat. That is irritating enough, but I can't find availability either way up until September.
Same thing on the Empire Builder and the Eagle. Can this be true?
Yep. Short on sleeping cars. People that have had bookings for months on the Builder have been having their reservations cancelled with no reaccommodation because the car they were booked in was withdrawn and the remaining sleeper was fully booked.

So, yeah.
 
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