Empire Builder schedule changed effective Monday, July 11th

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

jebr

Enthusiastic Transit Rider
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Jan 23, 2012
Messages
4,759
Location
"The Last Great City of the East," St. Paul, MN
It might take a few days for them to restore the garunteed connection into the system. I woudln’t worry for now.

There's been one report on the Empire Builder Facebook group where a connection to the Cardinal was rebooked by Amtrak onto the LSL. If they were actively working on restoring that connection, I don't think they would've rescheduled people who were booked on it already.
 

zephyr17

Engineer
Joined
Jul 23, 2009
Messages
6,023
Location
Washington State
There's been one report on the Empire Builder Facebook group where a connection to the Cardinal was rebooked by Amtrak onto the LSL. If they were actively working on restoring that connection, I don't think they would've rescheduled people who were booked on it already.
Agree, I saw that FB thread. The connection time dropped to 70 minutes, still over the 60 minute threshold, but that connection's history was dicey even at 120 minutes (37% miss rate since January 1st, according to ASMAD), so it makes sense they dropped a tighter one.

An observation, they do apparently take into account schedule history and don't blindly apply the 60 minute guideline, they dropped the 70 minute connection between 8 and 50, but when the Starlight's schedule change last year dropped the 11 to 2 connection to 49 minutes, they reinstated that connection. That one had had a pretty solid history.

Also, it appears the connection to Michigan Service 354 has been cut, too. It had dropped to 55 minutes by the schedule change. Now, "schedules", at least, only show the LSL and Toledo bus to Detroit, or (from Seattle), via the Starlight, CZ, and 354.
 
Last edited:

zephyr17

Engineer
Joined
Jul 23, 2009
Messages
6,023
Location
Washington State
Only briefly in 2014, the schedules were lengthened by about 3 hours on the western end. I believe arrivals in SEA/PDX were pushed later and departures were earlier. This also required a sixth trainset since same-day turns were no longer possible.

As for this upcoming change, I don't see any new issues with connections that don't already exist. Yes some connections in Chicago are tighter but all are still possible. Same on the west coast.

Any schedule change is done to solve known operational problems and recurring delays, and if done properly OTP should improve and missed connections should decrease. Its very likely these new slots will avoid known train congestion somewhere along the route. Could be in the CHI-MKE segment, or the SEA-SPK segment, or both. I am not familiar enough with traffic levels along the EB route to know for sure.
Yeah, I forgot about that schedule change, but remember it now you mention it.

As to choke points, the Stevens Pass line is at saturation, capacity limited by the Cascade Tunnel and the need to evacuate fumes from tunnel after each train, a process requiring 20 minutes. I am sure Amtrak worked closely with BNSF on reoptiminzing the schedule there. Also, between Spokane and Sandpoint, there is the "Sandpoint Funnel" where all traffic from/to both Seattle and Portland and from/to the High Line and the (soon to be ex) MRL are funneled into.
 

JP1822

Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 8, 2019
Messages
103
Of all the Western LD trains, this is not the one that I would have expected to have gotten any re-schedule. This train actually does pretty well all in all - if not confronted by a bad winter. This past winter was bad and a bit unprecedented (for Stevens Pass and even Marias Pass). And in looking at things, they added what - less than an hour to the schedule overall? So is it really worth it? Perhaps BNSF requested the change and not Amtrak. Empire Builder comes out pretty strong in OTP overall, when compared to the other Western Long Hauls (and even Eastern LD trains). Pushing the arrival to the 4 pm hour makes things VERY dicey. Eliminating any connections just reduces the utility of this train. Amtrak could have even "tightened up" the eastbound schedule from Whitefish to Havre. Westbound the Empire Builder does pretty well from Minot to Glacier as well. Westbound passengers now can't really see any of the mountain scenery from East Glacier to Whitefish, even in summer with longer days. Old schedule there was at least a partial chance on the east side. I don't know - be curious to understand what cause this change to take place.
 

zephyr17

Engineer
Joined
Jul 23, 2009
Messages
6,023
Location
Washington State
Probably the reason is the schedule renegotiation that the STB required between the host railroads and and Amtrak once the passenger delay metrics were known and published, under the rule implementing the metrics that became final in December 2020. Any enforcement action could not take place until the host railroads and Amtrak were running under schedules that were agreed to after the metrics that would measure passenger delay were known to all parties.

The upshot of the passenger delay metrics is it doesn't count train OTP, but actual passenger delay. Any passenger arrival over 15 minutes at their destination station, regardless of station (be it Chicago or Wolf Point) is counted for STB purposes as delayed. Note this is a metric the host railroads fought very hard against (they wanted train arrival at terminals or at least specified intermediate points to be the metric) and the one the RPA fought for.

The Starlight, SW Chief, and Crescent had already had their schedules restrung under this (there may be others, probably are, but I didn't notice those). The hit to the Crescent was huge, the impact to the SW Chief and the Starlight were quite minor. The hit to the Builder is somewhere in between.

Note that three railroads had to be involved, BNSF, CP, and Metra. None want to be the subject of any passenger delay enforcement action by the STB, so the schedule renegotiation was probably pretty complicated between four parties.
 

WWW

No real RR Job
Joined
Nov 18, 2018
Messages
477
Location
MSP
IF ONLY EB #8 would run on time consistently ?


I am going to the ACE (Autumn Colors Express) event in October this year.
My plan to take the Empire Builder #8 MSP to CHI (leave 8:00 am "scheduled" arrival 3:55 pm)
#8 operates every day !
Connect to Cardinal #50 CHI - HUN (leave 5:45pm arrive 7:09 am next day)
#50 operates Tu Th & Sa

Looks like a good plan timing and all that - - -

"!" BUT "!"

#8 is rarely running on time into Chicago
So much for a 110 minute hassle stress free connection
A misconnect and #50 doesn't operate until two days later
Alternatives - reroute via NYC - and miss a days worth of the event

So the REAL Game Plan it to take the Empire Builder a day early -
hotel overnight in Chicago and take the Cardinal the next day.
Added expense but it eliminates the iffy delayed misconnection

No difference in fare - Amtrak fares are point to point
 

zephyr17

Engineer
Joined
Jul 23, 2009
Messages
6,023
Location
Washington State
IF ONLY EB #8 would run on time consistently ?


I am going to the ACE (Autumn Colors Express) event in October this year.
My plan to take the Empire Builder #8 MSP to CHI (leave 8:00 am "scheduled" arrival 3:55 pm)
#8 operates every day !
Connect to Cardinal #50 CHI - HUN (leave 5:45pm arrive 7:09 am next day)
#50 operates Tu Th & Sa

Looks like a good plan timing and all that - - -

"!" BUT "!"

#8 is rarely running on time into Chicago
So much for a 110 minute hassle stress free connection
A misconnect and #50 doesn't operate until two days later
Alternatives - reroute via NYC - and miss a days worth of the event

So the REAL Game Plan it to take the Empire Builder a day early -
hotel overnight in Chicago and take the Cardinal the next day.
Added expense but it eliminates the iffy delayed misconnection

No difference in fare - Amtrak fares are point to point
Well, as of now the 8-50 connection appears to be cut. The last day bookable (test case used was MSP to Charleston, WV) appears to be Tuesday, July 12, which would be on the last 8 on the old schedule, having left Seattle on July 10th. Any later date gives a "Something is wrong with our system. Please try again." message. That appears to be the message now for misconnecting trains (tried known and obvious miss, Orlando, FL to Rutland, VT to see if it gave the same message. It did).

Oddly, when I pulled up trip details, it showed the NEW Builder Schedule for July 12th (it'll still be on the old one at MSP on 7/12), but with a two hour Chicago layover 🤪

PS-trying to force it through Multi-City gives an "unable to price" error, so it isn't available there either.
 
Joined
Nov 6, 2016
Messages
887
Location
Brownsburg IN
Probably the reason is the schedule renegotiation that the STB required between the host railroads and and Amtrak once the passenger delay metrics were known and published, under the rule implementing the metrics that became final in December 2020. Any enforcement action could not take place until the host railroads and Amtrak were running under schedules that were agreed to after the metrics that would measure passenger delay were known to all parties.

The upshot of the passenger delay metrics is it doesn't count train OTP, but actual passenger delay. Any passenger arrival over 15 minutes at their destination station, regardless of station (be it Chicago or Wolf Point) is counted for STB purposes as delayed. Note this is a metric the host railroads fought very hard against (they wanted train arrival at terminals or at least specified intermediate points to be the metric) and the one the RPA fought for.

The Starlight, SW Chief, and Crescent had already had their schedules restrung under this (there may be others, probably are, but I didn't notice those). The hit to the Crescent was huge, the impact to the SW Chief and the Starlight were quite minor. The hit to the Builder is somewhere in between.

Note that three railroads had to be involved, BNSF, CP, and Metra. None want to be the subject of any passenger delay enforcement action by the STB, so the schedule renegotiation was probably pretty complicated between four parties.
That all sounds good in theory, But so far has proven to be an abject failure. The schedules keep getting worse for passengers, along with the on-time performance. Haven’t seen a single reprimand/fine to a freight railroad yet…
 

zephyr17

Engineer
Joined
Jul 23, 2009
Messages
6,023
Location
Washington State
That all sounds good in theory, But so far has proven to be an abject failure. The schedules keep getting worse for passengers, along with the on-time performance. Haven’t seen a single reprimand/fine to a freight railroad yet…
It remains the most likely reason for the change in any case.

They just recently got to the point where enforcement actions could possibly take place only in the last few months. There were a lot of waiting periods involved.

Being able to take it to a regulator over regulator published metrics in a rule beats having to convince the DOJ to file suit, which was the only possible relief Amtrak has had until the December 2020 rule. That only happened once. Amtrak itself (no DOJ involvement necessary) now has a right to bring complaints to directly to the STB where passenger delay does not meet an 80% standard, that is an avenue for relief they have never before had. Creating passenger delay metrics that the STB and FRA can take enforcement actions on were part of the PRIIA Act in 2008. The railroads fought it tooth and nail for twelve years. It went to the Supreme Court twice. They continued the fight to convince the STB to adopt looser, more host railroad friendly standards once they had lost multiple times in court and passenger delay standards became inevitable. The host railroads lost on all counts. The fact that the host railroads have fought it so far makes me think it may well ultimately prove effective leverage.

It hasn't been in place long enough at this point to be judged a success or failure. It will be several years before it really can be. Plus the STB recently has proven itself more than willing and capable to take actions against the railroads, including recently demanding regularly reporting from them on shipping delays, then demanding more detailed information when the railroads only submitted pro forma reports. That is basically directed right at PSR, the heart of all recent problems for both shippers, the railroads' actual customers, and passengers. They also issued a directed service order to UP for one of their shippers that UP was badly failing, over UP's very vociferous objections. Finally I have heard reports that Amtrak is seeking to revise their contracts with some hosts what would allow Amtrak to take over dispatching on routes where the 80% metric isn't met for several quarters under STB authority.

Let's give it chance, shall we? They finally have a hammer, let's give them a chance to swing it.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Nov 6, 2016
Messages
887
Location
Brownsburg IN
I’ll believe it when I see it. The Gulf Coast situation seems to be a pretty clear case of freight railroads just stalling and being unreasonable. But so far, they’ve managed to completely continue their delaying tactics with no end in sight. And if things don’t go the way they want, they’ll just sue - finding a business friendly venue. There are plenty of them out there.

Our government is completely broken, and that certainly includes any regulations affecting the freight railroads.

I’d like to give it a chance – but I’m highly, highly skeptical.
 

zephyr17

Engineer
Joined
Jul 23, 2009
Messages
6,023
Location
Washington State
The STB appears to be taking a fairly hard, but fair, line on the Gulf issue, and appears to be siding with Amtrak on further delaying tactics by the railroads, such as allowing mediation but not staying the proceedings for it. As part of that ruling they also required that the railroads release the modeling data they used to Amtrak that they had refused to, so Amtrak can do it's own modeling.

The passenger delay rules are largely beyond litigation, having been in it for twelve years during which it went to the Supreme Court twice. The courts are done with it, it is decided with no further avenue of appeal. A decision under those rules could be taken to court, but a court is unlikely to stay an action by a regulator acting within its purview while it decides the case.

The STB at this point appears to be quite Amtrak and shipper friendly and pretty skeptical of the railroads.

I am guardedly optimistic. The big question in my mind is whether Amtrak takes advantage of its new ability to take passenger delay complaints to the STB under the rules, and if it picks the strongest possible case as the first one. Under the current STB I am optimistic that a complaint will get a timely and fair hearing with some sanction of the host railroad involved should the facts justify it. I am less concerned with the courts because, while the railroad will likely appeal an adverse STB ruling to the courts, a court will likely not stay an STB ruling pending its proceedings.
 
Top