Empire Builder discussion

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Gary Behling

Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 28, 2019
Messages
106
I have taken both and my preference is the Portland Section because I absolutely love the ride up Columbia Gorge. Best if one has a seat or Roomette on the Right Hand Side of the train.

The Seattle section also has some good scenery along the Puget Sound between Seattle and Everett, but after that there is nothing like the Columbia Gorge. Just my taste in scenery I suppose..
Thank you. This is exactly what I wanted to know. Now I can make my plans
 

Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
AU Supporting Member
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
2,182
Location
Denver
Usually it is lack of enough funding to do everything on their todo list, and the prioritizing that they have done, is my guess. They have prioritized the coastal corridor upto 6x per day between Portland and Seattle. The inland route to be effective also needs a lot more work and hence requires a lot more funding to make it happen apparently, specially since there is a desire to use the Stampede Pass Route, which currently has no passenger facilities anywhere west of Pasco, rather than the Stevens Pass Route. Back when there was a North Coast Hiawatha, the Empire Builder used to run through the Stampede Pass while the NCH ran through the Stevens Pass route.

But I will ask my friends at AAWA and see if they can throw any more light on it.
When I-90 is functioning, it's faster than the historic schedule on any of the three SEA<>SPK routes, and the fastest route, as Jim Hamre would have pointed out were he with us, was the Milwaukee Road's line through Snoqualmie Pass. My guess is that WashDOT feels that not only would station costs be a factor, but also that no foreseeable amount of money would get this service an edge over driving. Of course, the public is thinking of the times when I-90 isn't functioning.
 

zephyr17

Engineer
Joined
Jul 23, 2009
Messages
7,122
Location
Washington State
When I-90 is functioning, it's faster than the historic schedule on any of the three SEA<>SPK routes, and the fastest route, as Jim Hamre would have pointed out were he with us, was the Milwaukee Road's line through Snoqualmie Pass. My guess is that WashDOT feels that not only would station costs be a factor, but also that no foreseeable amount of money would get this service an edge over driving. Of course, the public is thinking of the times when I-90 isn't functioning.
The route under consideration is the ex-NP over Stampede Pass. Stevens is saturated, pretty much no open slots with the Cascade Tunnel requiring 20/25 minutes to blow out after every train. Snoqualmie, the former Mikwaukee is the Cascades to Palouse Trail State Park and will not see reconstruction of a railroad.

Construction of a new dedicated passenger line isn't on the table.

While roundabout compared to the ex-GN Seattle-Spokane, it serves Ellensburg, Yakima and the Tri-Cities. There's more to Eastern Washington than Spokane.
 

Siegmund

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Nov 19, 2018
Messages
415
Location
northwestern Montana
I can tell you first hand what is done in that 3 hour window. The entire diner is stripped of everything. Food, Drinks, Plasticware, etc. It takes about 90 minutes to do all of this. So if the last person who wants breakfast walks in right as the announcement is made for last call That adds on time. So what could be 90 minutes could turn into 2 hours.

I appreciate the confirmation that there is no excuse for closing the diner until at least an hour later than they currently do.

Well, we all agree with you, but that only happens on the NEC (and not always there). They've been closing the cafe service at roughly the last stop prior to the terminus on long distance and most non-NEC corridors for pretty much forever.
Closing one stop prior sounds perfectly reasonable. Does any other train with a daytime arrival close as early as the Builder does, about 3½ hours before arrival by the timecard (which does sometimes turn into 3 or a bit less given the padding at the end)? The Portland lounge attendant closes around Wishram, about 2½ hours before Portland - and last time I rode that segment, she cheerfully bragged about much more customer-oriented the Portland crew was than the Seattle crew.

@Rasputin: I couldn't find your post to quote it. If you boarded at Whitefish, you boarded after PA announcements had already ended for the day. There at least should have been a PA when the dinner service ended earlier in the evening, telling passengers when breakfast would be. When I board in Whitefish I usually get told personally by the attendant "get up early if you want breakfast."
 

trimetbusfan

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Nov 27, 2021
Messages
258
Location
Portland
I appreciate the confirmation that there is no excuse for closing the diner until at least an hour later than they currently do.


Closing one stop prior sounds perfectly reasonable. Does any other train with a daytime arrival close as early as the Builder does, about 3½ hours before arrival by the timecard (which does sometimes turn into 3 or a bit less given the padding at the end)? The Portland lounge attendant closes around Wishram, about 2½ hours before Portland - and last time I rode that segment, she cheerfully bragged about much more customer-oriented the Portland crew was than the Seattle crew.

@Rasputin: I couldn't find your post to quote it. If you boarded at Whitefish, you boarded after PA announcements had already ended for the day. There at least should have been a PA when the dinner service ended earlier in the evening, telling passengers when breakfast would be. When I board in Whitefish I usually get told personally by the attendant "get up early if you want breakfast."
The last 2 times I rode the builder 27 they closed the Cafe at Bingen-White Salmon. Then they closed the SSL entirely upon departing Vancouver (which makes sense).
 

Siegmund

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Nov 19, 2018
Messages
415
Location
northwestern Montana
The last 2 times I rode the builder 27 they closed the Cafe at Bingen-White Salmon. Then they closed the SSL entirely upon departing Vancouver (which makes sense).
That's an improvement over making the closure announcement approaching Wishram (though some sleeper folks still did get handed their breakfasts halfway to Bingen-White Salmon as the attendant gathered her stuff up.)
 

trimetbusfan

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Nov 27, 2021
Messages
258
Location
Portland
I appreciate the confirmation that there is no excuse for closing the diner until at least an hour later than they currently do.


Closing one stop prior sounds perfectly reasonable. Does any other train with a daytime arrival close as early as the Builder does, about 3½ hours before arrival by the timecard (which does sometimes turn into 3 or a bit less given the padding at the end)? The Portland lounge attendant closes around Wishram, about 2½ hours before Portland - and last time I rode that segment, she cheerfully bragged about much more customer-oriented the Portland crew was than the Seattle crew.

@Rasputin: I couldn't find your post to quote it. If you boarded at Whitefish, you boarded after PA announcements had already ended for the day. There at least should have been a PA when the dinner service ended earlier in the evening, telling passengers when breakfast would be. When I board in Whitefish I usually get told personally by the attendant "get up early if you want breakfast."
Also have to say that based on my experience on the builder (2 trips in each direction) I have found the Seattle crew on the train 7/8 to be better.

One time the LSA in the dining car was playing some casual music from his bluetooth speaker during dinner time. Nice touch!
 

zephyr17

Engineer
Joined
Jul 23, 2009
Messages
7,122
Location
Washington State
Closing one stop prior sounds perfectly reasonable. Does any other train with a daytime arrival close as early as the Builder does, about 3½ hours before arrival by the timecard (which does sometimes turn into 3 or a bit less given the padding at the end)? The Portland lounge attendant closes around Wishram, about 2½ hours before Portland - and last time I rode that segment, she cheerfully bragged about much more customer-oriented the Portland crew was than the Seattle crew.
The diner stops seating at the west portal of the Cascade Tunnel.

The cafe stays open until the departure from Everett, second to the last stop, timetabled at 96 minutes westbound, but there is quite a bit pad. The actual running time is about 60 minutes or a tad less.

My experience is the Seattle based OBS crew is much more customer oriented on the Seattle section than the Chicago based OBS crew on the Portland section.

Portland does not have an OBS crew base.

The SW Chief diner stops serving breakfast at Riverside, 115 minutes timetabled away from LA, although running time is about 80 minutes. Cafe closes around Fullerton, timetabled at 66 minutes, but running time is 35.

The Builder is one of my "home" trains, and I have a lot of experience with it.
 
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mackinaw chief

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 15, 2023
Messages
31
Location
Cheboygan
To me if they cut out a few fresh air stops or shaved the SPK split that SEA section could make it to connect to the coast starlight. Even if it's 29 minutes like in EMY for the starlight connection to the Zephyr. It's doable. Why force passengers to connect in Portland or be forced to overnight in Seattle or take the cascade to Portland and overnight there eh?
 

AmtrakBlue

Engineer
Gathering Team Member
Joined
May 6, 2011
Messages
14,585
Location
Delaware
To me if they cut out a few fresh air stops or shaved the SPK split that SEA section could make it to connect to the coast starlight. Even if it's 29 minutes like in EMY for the starlight connection to the Zephyr. It's doable. Why force passengers to connect in Portland or be forced to overnight in Seattle or take the cascade to Portland and overnight there eh?
Nobody is forcing passengers to do anything. They choose what works best for them with what is available.
 

zephyr17

Engineer
Joined
Jul 23, 2009
Messages
7,122
Location
Washington State
To me if they cut out a few fresh air stops or shaved the SPK split that SEA section could make it to connect to the coast starlight. Even if it's 29 minutes like in EMY for the starlight connection to the Zephyr. It's doable. Why force passengers to connect in Portland or be forced to overnight in Seattle or take the cascade to Portland and overnight there eh?
Most of the fresh air stops are not fresh air stops for their own sakes. They are working stops that require more time than stop and scoot, where the T&E crews change, some also have other work, like fueling, watering, required mechanical inspections, etc. Some, like Minot, also include "recovery time" (aka "pad") so as to better keep to the schedule in case of moderately late running.

In these times, it does not pay to string a schedule too tightly. Also, the railroads now can be held accountable for not keeping to the schedule under the new Passenger Delay STB/FRA metrics and rules. In fact the Builder's schedule was recently restrung this summer adding time, probably due to the new Passenger Delay rules. The new schedule also made the Starlight miss wider. On the previous schedule, a Builder leaving Edmonds on time would frequently arrive shortly before the Starlight left (it was not a bookable connection and it was foolhardy to force). Now that pretty much cannot happen.

Having a connection in Portland seems like little hardship, and it is guaranteed.
 

Siegmund

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Nov 19, 2018
Messages
415
Location
northwestern Montana
To me if they cut out a few fresh air stops or shaved the SPK split that SEA section could make it to connect to the coast starlight. Even if it's 29 minutes like in EMY for the starlight connection to the Zephyr. It's doable.

It was more doable when the Starlight's running time was shorter.

40 years ago, before there was a Portland section of the Builder, it was part of the regular schedule -- but at that time the Builder ran a couple hours earlier than it does now. Grabbing the summer 1979 timetable at random, I see #7 departing Chicago 1130am, arriving Seattle 905am (it ran over Stampede Pass then, and needed 9 hours rather than 8 Spokane-Seattle), and #11 departing Seattle 1105am, arriving Los Angeles 655pm.

The Starlight also had an advertised same-day connection from Vancouver back then.
 

mackinaw chief

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 15, 2023
Messages
31
Location
Cheboygan
It was more doable when the Starlight's running time was shorter.

40 years ago, before there was a Portland section of the Builder, it was part of the regular schedule -- but at that time the Builder ran a couple hours earlier than it does now. Grabbing the summer 1979 timetable at random, I see #7 departing Chicago 1130am, arriving Seattle 905am (it ran over Stampede Pass then, and needed 9 hours rather than 8 Spokane-Seattle), and #11 departing Seattle 1105am, arriving Los Angeles 655pm.

The Starlight also had an advertised same-day connection from Vancouver back then.
So it is doable. Amtrak could even leave at 1230 PM and make Seattle before 10 am leaving about a hour before the coast starlight leaves. Either keep things same don't charge extra segment on rail pass due to Amtrak system faults OR change the time. Simple. Goes for LAX connection and NOL connection too.
 

Bonser

Lead Service Attendant
AU Supporting Member
Joined
Jul 5, 2019
Messages
411
Location
Jersey City
To me if they cut out a few fresh air stops or shaved the SPK split that SEA section could make it to connect to the coast starlight. Even if it's 29 minutes like in EMY for the starlight connection to the Zephyr. It's doable. Why force passengers to connect in Portland or be forced to overnight in Seattle or take the cascade to Portland and overnight there eh?
What's the problem of connecting in Portland? That would seem to be a fairly easy switch instead of booking to Seattle. What's the downside to connecting in Portland?
 

AmtrakBlue

Engineer
Gathering Team Member
Joined
May 6, 2011
Messages
14,585
Location
Delaware
To me if they cut out a few fresh air stops or shaved the SPK split that SEA section could make it to connect to the coast starlight. Even if it's 29 minutes like in EMY for the starlight connection to the Zephyr. It's doable. Why force passengers to connect in Portland or be forced to overnight in Seattle or take the cascade to Portland and overnight there eh?
Does Amtrak allow a southbound CS to CZ connection in Emeryville? It only shows a Sacramento connection on the website
 

John Santos

Lead Service Attendant
AU Supporting Member
Joined
Jun 24, 2018
Messages
311
So, they should work after their shift is over. Nice. The staff is off-duty when the train stops at it's terminus.
Who says Amtrak gets to stop paying their employees the instant the train arrives at its destination? Amtrak. They should pay the crew for whatever reasonable amount of time it takes to finish up their duties after arrival. It sounds like the dining car crew should be paid for another hour and a half, if that's what it takes.
 

fritz

Train Attendant
Joined
Apr 8, 2013
Messages
20
#8 of Jan 18 Showing service disruption at Ephrata overnight...#28 made it through to Spokane, no other info on status maps. Anybody know more? I'm on #8 Friday, hoping its not a long-lasting problem.
 

AmtrakBlue

Engineer
Gathering Team Member
Joined
May 6, 2011
Messages
14,585
Location
Delaware
#8 of Jan 18 Showing service disruption at Ephrata overnight...#28 made it through to Spokane, no other info on status maps. Anybody know more? I'm on #8 Friday, hoping its not a long-lasting problem.
Did you check Amtrak's alerts on Twitter? No need for a twitter account to see them. They've been posting about the EB's issue. There's a link to the alerts on the tracker (asm.transitdocs.com)

BTW, it has to do with a freight train, as usual.
 
Joined
Oct 16, 2018
Messages
2,903
Location
12 miles from Walt Disney World
Did you check Amtrak's alerts on Twitter? No need for a twitter account to see them. They've been posting about the EB's issue. There's a link to the alerts on the tracker (asm.transitdocs.com)

BTW, it has to do with a freight train, as usual.
The alerts are also replicated on the Amtrak website here, under @AmtrakAlerts, and you can display older ones by repeatedly hitting Load More.
 

TC_NYC

Service Attendant
AU Supporting Member
Joined
Nov 1, 2015
Messages
139
Location
Tri-Cities, Washington
Usually it is lack of enough funding to do everything on their todo list, and the prioritizing that they have done, is my guess. They have prioritized the coastal corridor upto 6x per day between Portland and Seattle. The inland route to be effective also needs a lot more work and hence requires a lot more funding to make it happen apparently, specially since there is a desire to use the Stampede Pass Route, which currently has no passenger facilities anywhere west of Pasco, rather than the Stevens Pass Route. Back when there was a North Coast Hiawatha, the Empire Builder used to run through the Stampede Pass while the NCH ran through the Stevens Pass route.

But I will ask my friends at AAWA and see if they can throw any more light on it.
Eastern Washington resident here located about 20 minutes from the Amtrak depot in Pasco. I'd be the first one on an inaugural Pasco-Spokane or Pasco-Seattle route. The problem is lack of awareness of train service out here, most people don't know we have a train to/from Portland but every time I've boarded the train to Portland, it's been packed. Amtrak doesn't have the equipment to handle more passengers (and honestly shouldn't want to be losing out on a Portland-Chicago passenger just because someone wants to make the 4 hour trip from Portland-Pasco).

The answer is getting more of the interest of the local politicans and getting support from residents of the Yakima and Kittas valley who are currently in a transit desert. Until this changes, the state DOT and politicians will only focus on the Portland-Seattle-Vancouver corridor which still hasn't recovered from the retirement of the Talgo's and the annulment of it's pre-covid service levels.
 

mackinaw chief

Train Attendant
Joined
Jan 15, 2023
Messages
31
Location
Cheboygan
What's the problem of connecting in Portland? That would seem to be a fairly easy switch instead of booking to Seattle. What's the downside to connecting in Portland?
For one. Choice. Why can't we connect in Seattle? Nothing wrong with Portland . my preference is to board train at the first station instead of downline stations. I like that little cafe store at Portland. Good sandwich and chili. The builder is my favorite train.
 
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