CHICAGO — The journey from the Pacific Northwest to Chicago is about to get three hours longer, on paper at least. Amtrak will modify the schedule of both the westbound and eastbound Chicago-Seattle/Portland Empire Builder west of St. Paul, Minn., effective April 15.
The change will account “for the freight train congestion and the condition of BNSF-owned infrastructure,” according to Jim Brzezinski, the train’s route director. “We will assess the ability of BNSF to dispatch the Empire Builder with better reliability on this schedule, with further schedule changes possible in June.”
Schedules between Chicago and the Twin Cities remain unchanged, though times are expected to be adjusted slightly when the train begins using St. Paul Union Depot “on a date to be announced.”
Eastbound train No. 8 from Seattle and train No. 28 from Portland will now leave those cities 3 hours earlier and maintain that schedule all the way to Stanley, N.D. Then an hour and 20 minutes of recovery time is added before the Empire Builder is scheduled to arrive in Minot, N.D. Another hour and 10 minutes lengthens the schedule from Grand Forks to Fargo, N.D., and the final 30 minutes of padding occurs between the crew change point of St. Cloud, Minn., and St. Paul.
The schedule change of westbound train Nos. 7 and 27 adds up to an hour and a half, split between Rugby, N.D., and Minot (35 minutes); Wolf Point and Glasgow, Mont., (20 minutes); and Havre to Shelby, Mont., (35 minutes). The changes reflect the pattern of minimum operating delays that Trains News Wire has been tracking since mid-December. A major drawback of the new schedule is that the eastbound train departs Whitefish, Mont., at 4:46 a.m., and the train will pass through Glacier National Park in darkness on all except the longest summer days.
Most of the time, however, the trains have suffered far more serious delays than are being projected on the new schedules. Eastbound into Chicago, the Empire Builder has been 3 hours late or less only 10 times in the past 60 days, and three of those arrivals were short-turned trains from St. Paul. During the same period, train No. 8 typically arrived between four and five hours late, making connections with only the eastbound Lake Shore Limited, scheduled to depart at 9:30 p.m.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari tells Trains News Wire that only connections to the Lake Shore Limited will continue to be allowed at Chicago until an assessment is made on the Builder’s reliability.
Westbound, connections will no longer be honored with the Coast Starlight at Portland, effective immediately. At Seattle, train No. 7 has arrived less than an hour and a half late only 4 times in the past 60 days. As a result, Amtrak still plans on using a sixth set of Empire Builder equipment, so the extra capacity those cars normally provide elsewhere will not be available.