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Favorite Month for Empire Builder or?

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Joined
Jun 7, 2009
Messages
13
Location
West
I am curious to find others' opinions on which month/which train they most enjoy when taking a long distance train trip.

I was considering booking the Empire Builder for the New Years, but don't know if it will be overly crowded or short staffed at that time? Or if it puts it more at risk of a weather related cancellation, because of being in the dead of winter.

Appreciate any suggestions/opinions.
 

JayPea

Conductor
Joined
Sep 9, 2006
Messages
3,922
Location
Colfax, WA (CFX)
I am curious to find others' opinions on which month/which train they most enjoy when taking a long distance train trip.
I was considering booking the Empire Builder for the New Years, but don't know if it will be overly crowded or short staffed at that time? Or if it puts it more at risk of a weather related cancellation, because of being in the dead of winter.

Appreciate any suggestions/opinions.
I prefer travel in the summer months, simply because daylight is longer and you see more. Having said that, the last long-distance trips I took, this past March on the California Zephyr and in October 2007 on the Empire Builder were both beautiful in their own right, with the snows in the mountains this year and the fall colors in 2007. There is always the possibility of weather-related delays around New Year's but weather delays, from what I've seen, are much more rare than for airlines. I would think staffing would be the same, year-round, and I really don't know how crowded it would be. My guess, and it's purely a guess on my part, would be that those traveling over the holidays would be a bit more likely to travel between Christmas and New Year's and the crowds might be a bit less. But don't take my word on that. ;)
 

Ispolkom

Conductor
Joined
Nov 27, 2007
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3,058
Location
St. Paul, Minn.
Are you planning to travel the whole route of the Empire Builder? In coach or in sleeper? If you're in sleeper there's nothing to worry about. The train will certainly be less crowded than it is in the summer, and all of the services will be available.

If you're in coach, I'd expect that things will be pretty crowded right before and after Christmas, especially on the eastern part of the route, say Grand Forks to Chicago, in both directions. By New Years, I'd expect it wouldn't be so bad, but it depends on how the weather is, and also what time of the week the holiday is. I am often on the Empire Builder from St. Paul to Minot at Christmas time, and often when I'm in coach I wish I'd sprung for a roomette.

One thing to consider: as JayPea mentions, nights are very long on the Hi Line in December and January, and the much of the daylight you do have will be spent on the prairies of Eastern Montana and North Dakota. To my surprise, some people find stubble fields and snow to the horizon to be a bleak and depressing landscape. To me it has always meant that I'm almost home.

If I had to choose a month to take the Empire Builder, I'd probably go for late May. The prairie should still be green, and you'll have lots of snow in the mountains, and lots of daylight to see it all.

I think the weather-related delays are more common later in January and February, and with the floods in the spring, but that could just be my imagination.
 

GG-1

Conductor
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Aloha

I road the EB Seat from Seattle to Chicago in July once. It was beautiful, and Suprising Some Snow on the route at higher elevations.

As long as I wasn't tied to a tight schedule I would ride it anytime, any direction.

Eric
 

Bierboy

OBS Chief
Joined
Oct 14, 2008
Messages
550
Location
Fishers, Indiana
...If I had to choose a month to take the Empire Builder, I'd probably go for late May. The prairie should still be green, and you'll have lots of snow in the mountains, and lots of daylight to see it all...
We just completed a late May round trip on the EB from Chicago to Glacier National Park....and I agree...it was great. Even the flatlands of North Dakota and the eastern 2/3 of Montana were enjoyable viewing. I always take reading material with me, but hardly ever get to it. I just enjoy staring out the window as we travel....
 

GoldenSpike

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 18, 2009
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Rail-rider:

...I was considering booking the Empire Builder for the New Years...
If you mean New Year's Eve, I did that MSP-SEA several years ago. There weren't too many traveling.

It was a non-event. They shut down lounge service at 10 pm (~~yawn~~).

Somewhere between W. Glacier and Libby, fireworks work set off as we passed.
 
Joined
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Messages
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West
Thank you all so, so much. For some reason I thought there may well be a Happy New Years feel good crowd onboard. So I am glad to know it is a non-event ... I may have been disappointed.

I grabbed a sleeper at the end of March going Eastbound.

I would love to do May but have to work around a schedule that is yet to be released...May is normally busy for me. Once the schedule comes out (around November) I may try to change the trip to May, thanks to the wonderful suggestions on this forum.

I feel good about my trip now...thanks to all of you for your very generous and detailed help.

... but of course now I question if Eastbound or Westbound is best. I overthink things at times.
 

VentureForth

Conductor
Joined
Jan 23, 2007
Messages
5,867
Location
West Melbourne, FL
I think my favorite time to go would be the day before the time changes (in the Fall) or the day after time changes (in the Spring). Probably the Spring - it allows for the coolest weather (ie: most snow), with the latest daylight. Also, you'll probably wake up at 7 AM or so when it's still dark, so you can get breakfast out of the way without missing anything.
 

JayPea

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Colfax, WA (CFX)
... but of course now I question if Eastbound or Westbound is best. I overthink things at times.
I guess that depends, some, on where it is you live. That time of year, eastbound, you'll be sure to see the Glacier Park area during daylight hours. And if you are traveling from/to the Seattle area, you will see the Puget Sound, which I think is gorgeous, and at least part of the Cascades. And, if you're going that far, you'll see the Mississippi River area in the daylight. Westbound, you miss the Missisippi, and most if not all the Montana Rockies. On the other hand, you should see a great part of the Cascades and all of Puget Sound.

Since I live closest to Spokane, I'd opt for eastbound, if it were me.
 
Joined
Jul 9, 2009
Messages
1
I am curious to find others' opinions on which month/which train they most enjoy when taking a long distance train trip.
I was considering booking the Empire Builder for the New Years, but don't know if it will be overly crowded or short staffed at that time? Or if it puts it more at risk of a weather related cancellation, because of being in the dead of winter.

Appreciate any suggestions/opinions.
I rode the Empire builder last (2009) year and had a great time, everyone was so nice. New Years Eve on a train is the best place to have a New Years Eve party, because you don't have anyone telling you what you did when you drank too much. Yes I drank too much, in about 4 hours I drank a liter of wine, this nice beautiful lady gave me and quite a few (5 or 6) small airplane bottles these 6 college kids gave me and the two bottles of wine I bought. I am over 50 white male, and I did not think that people on the train would be so out going, but they are. I didn't get a sleeper because I didn't want to sleep for the 45 hour trip from Seattle to Chicago, to much to see and as I found out to much to do to. There are a lot of things going on like an old time radio show, you just have to listen and enjoy the personalities of the people and enjoy the ride. I want to do it again this (2010) year, if I can. :D
 

jmbgeg

Conductor
Joined
Nov 15, 2008
Messages
2,148
Location
spokane
I am curious to find others' opinions on which month/which train they most enjoy when taking a long distance train trip.
I was considering booking the Empire Builder for the New Years, but don't know if it will be overly crowded or short staffed at that time? Or if it puts it more at risk of a weather related cancellation, because of being in the dead of winter.

Appreciate any suggestions/opinions.
You have not indicated where you would depart from and whether you would be eastbound or westbound on New Year's Eve.

You would have much more lattitude to consume alcohol in a sleeper than coach (if that matters to you).

Because a lot of people travel to see family or friends over the holidays, buying your ticket early would most likely yield a better fare. The exception can be if a cancellation occurs close to the travel date and the sleeper is put back in the system at a low bucket fare. I have seen that happen.

From first hand experience last December, be mindful of weather related cancellation risks of the Empire Builder in the dead of winter. Snow, ice, etc... If your outbound is cancelled, you face disappointment about a missed vacation. If your return train is cancelled, you face inconvenience and additional costs for a hotel, last minute airline tickets, etc. In the case of my trip (late December 2008), not only was the EB cancelled, but OHare Airport was closed. Thankfully, it was my outbound that was cancelled so I was not stuck in Chicago.

A risk associated with Spring EB travel is delays or cancellation due to flooding. Early Spring is not the most scenic time to travel on EB anyway. I prefer late spring or summer travel on the EB.

I have travelled in a sleeper on New Year's Eve before. Unlike another poster, I did not find that there was a party-like atmosphere on the train. I am sure that can vary.
 

the_traveler

Conductor
Joined
Nov 14, 2007
Messages
26,008
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Whatever siding I'm sitting on!
Personally, I would rather take the EB in the summer. I would rather step off at (the longer stops enroute) to walk around when it's 70º or 80º - than when it's 10º or below 0º! :eek: I'd also prefer eastbound for the Glacier Park portion in daylight or the westbound for the Columbia River Gorge portion in daylight.

Since I live closest to Spokane
I won't hold that against you! :lol:
 

anir dendroica

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 2, 2009
Messages
507
I am curious to find others' opinions on which month/which train they most enjoy when taking a long distance train trip.
I was considering booking the Empire Builder for the New Years, but don't know if it will be overly crowded or short staffed at that time? Or if it puts it more at risk of a weather related cancellation, because of being in the dead of winter.

Appreciate any suggestions/opinions.
Last year the EB had a service meltdown from about Dec. 14-Jan. 20, caused by a series of issues. It started with heavy snow in the Northwest that froze switches and even closed major BNSF lines for a few days. Then deep cold in Chicago froze Amtrak equipment, and two separate BNSF derailments in Montana added to the delays. From Dec. 28th onward, there were no major issues, but trains continued to run 3-12 hours late due to equipment failures (probably due to the previous incidents reducing turn-around time and preventing winter maintenance that would otherwise have been done). Just about when things got back to normal in early January, major floods hit western Washington, forcing the train to turn in Spokane for about a week and causing more delays.

I rode the train from MSP to PDX Jan. 2-4 and got in 7 hours late following delays due to 1) headlight replacement in ND, 2) dynamic brake failure in MT, 3) frozen switches and broken signals in heavy snow in western MT/ID, 4) failure of two of our three engines near Spokane, and 5) a frozen horn than forced us to slow down for grade crossings between SPK and Pasco (where Amtrak gave up and added a BNSF Dash 9). I was impressed at Amtrak's ability to keep us moving despite all of this, but the number of equipment failures definitely speaks to inadequate time for maintenance in the previous weeks.

I would still travel in the winter, and most winters are not nearly as bad as this last one, but definitely be prepared for weather-related interruptions.

Mark

Corvallis, OR

So...I would still travel in the winter, but weat
 

the_traveler

Conductor
Joined
Nov 14, 2007
Messages
26,008
Location
Whatever siding I'm sitting on!
Hey, now, there's nothing wrong with Spokane! :p I'd rather it be my nearest Amtrak stop than, say, Kingston, RI!!! :lol:
When was the last time an AE passed thru SPK at 142 MPH? :huh: (Or even passed thru SPK? :huh: )

There must be a reason they avoid SPK! :lol: SPK is so bad that every night, the EB laughs so hard that it breaks in two!

And don't say the AE speeds thru KIN to avoid it! It stopped once (an unscheduled stop) - and I was aboard! :p (I have connections! :lol: )
 

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