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Amtrak Empire Builder Travelogue of Greg Schultz

Amtrak Empire Builder Travelogue of Greg Schultz, January 24 through January 26, 1997.

From: GrSchultz
Date: 2/10/97 8:30:30AM
To: Stephen Grande

On Friday, Jan 24, 1997 I left for a business trip to Portland, OR. I took the train rather than fly for the experience and I just like trains. My company has no problems with me using the train as long as 1) It doesn't cost more and 2) I use more than one business day in travel. I had first class, economy sleeper, reservations for the Empire Builder train #7 from Chicago, IL to Portland, OR. This post is a journal of my trip. I hope you enjoy reading about my experience on the Empire Builder.

Arrived in Chicago at Midway Airport. Took the "Orange" line to the Quincy St. station downtown. There are quite a few freight lines along this route. I saw four SP freights and a couple others that I did not get to see the power to determine what RR they were.

When I arrived at Quincy, I exited the station north and walked the two blocks west on Adams to Union Station. I arrived around 12:45 although my train was not scheduled to leave until 3:15.

So I killed a couple of hours by walking around admiring the station and eating a quick lunch. I went to my departure gate approx. 45 min prior to the departure time. I relaxed and waited while all of the others boarded the train and finally boarded at 3:05. My first class reservation was for the Superliner sleeper "Oklahoma" car number 32104 room 12. Bottom level next to the stairs.

The Oklahoma was the last passenger car in the consist followed by three express box cars.

Since my car was the last "manned" car, I suppose you could say I was in the "caboose".

I found the Economy compartment to be very comfortable and roomy, for one person. Two people could be comfortable if they didn't have more than one large bag between them. My carry on suitcase fit well in the hanger area and I thought the safety belt for the bag was a good feature. However, since my bag wasn't the wardrobe type it didn't fit down in the opening and actually ended up sitting on the armrest. I didn't find this to bad since the seat was quit wide and I had plenty of room. My room was on the right side of the train or the engineers side.

The train left Union Station, Chicago at precisely 3:15pm CT. I was expecting it to leave late, I guess I had expected the old adage to be true. "Trains don't run on time". The ride out of Chicago was very smooth and I found the ride to be rather quiet. Other than an occasional item thrown against the bottom of the car it was very quiet. It started snowing as we traveled north and the ambiance was very soothing.

Since I was the only passenger on the lower level of the "last" car, and only one other couple was riding upstairs, I was missed when the dining crew came around for dinner reservations. When they announced they were done and for anyone who was missed to report to the dinning car, I hiked up three cars to make my reservations. There is one coach and the lounge car between the diner and myself. When I returned to my car, I met my car attendant, Mr. Larry Ray. Larry has been with Amtrak for 25 years and was very polite and quite accommodating. We talked a few minutes and I returned to my room.

I had noticed the smell of diesel fuel which at first I thought were fumes from the exhaust, we had a Genesis in the power consist. When we arrived, on time, to Milwaukee, I found out that one of the units had a fuel leak and they were setting it out and replacing it with another. Exactly one hour late, we departed Milwaukee at 5:51 pm. With this delay, came a dinner delay but the dining crew did an outstanding job of getting things done. I was called for dinner at 7:15.

The New York strip was OK, I have had better streaks. It was a tad greasy and a bit fatty. I don't care for my steaks done on a flat grill or as I refer to it, frying pan style. The baked potato was good and I don't care for canned corn anyway so I'll leave that go.

After a glass of wine, I retire for the evening around 10pm, somewhere between Winona and Red Wing, MN. I awake briefly in Minn-St. Paul during servicing but drift back off to sleep. I drift in and out throughout the night during stops and passing trains. My room is also very hot. Even though it's below zero outside. Even my bed is hot, I put my hand under my pillow and it's very hot. So I turned the thermostat down some more. I awake around 5am because we're stopped and drift back off. Larry wakes me, as requested at 6:15 and we're still stopped. It seems that a freight has broken a rail and derailed just this side of Fargo. I go to the diner for breakfast at 7am and we're stopped at Detroit Lakes, MN. As breakfast arrives, we begin to move, we've been stopped for 3 hours.

Dale, MN, a few miles east of Fargo and we stop again. Two piggy backs pass, the lead on the first, my first view of the new orange and green BNSF paint scheme. Too quick of a view to get a good look. We finally arrive in Fargo around 10am. In Fargo, we pass Amtrak's train #8, the east bound Empire Builder running 8 hours behind as well.

In Thompson, MN we take the siding for two stack trains. We back thru the switch onto the main. We're 9 miles from Grand Forks, ND and the crew goes dead in 15 minutes. We're three miles from the station when the train stops because the crew is "outlawed" We wait 30 minutes for a BNSF crew to take us into Fargo. The Amtrak relief crew is inbound from Minot. They left Minot at 11:30 and it's now 12:45. It's 226 miles from Minot to Grand Forks. We stop and allow passengers for Grand Forks to disembark then we pull up and back onto the west leg of the Grand Forks wye. It's 30 minutes later, we pull back onto the main and back into the station so passengers can use the phone. Another 35-45 minutes go by and we're moving again. Now, here we are in a siding west of Larimore, ND waiting for another freight.

It seems to me BNSF doesn't like silver trains on their line. It's now 5 pm, we're still near Larimore and we should be between Havre and Shelby, MT.

We are now 12 hours behind schedule and it's getting worse. I'm beginning to think BNSF stands for Big New Super Freight "NO PASSENGERS ALLOWED"!!!!!!!

9pm, two miles from Minot, ND and we're stopped because of a frozen switch at the entrance to the yard. It's 35 BELOW zero without the win chill factor. 35 below is COLD!!!!! 20 minutes later we enter Minot. We are now 11 hours behind schedule. OH NOOOO HEP problems another 20 minute delay. We leave Minot at 9:45pm 12 hours behind schedule. On the bright side, we'll go through Glacier Park during daylight.

It's a full moon tonight and I can see the country side west of Minot. From what I can see it's rather pretty. Not too far outside of town, we cross a long trestle, a large valley stretches out below, I can see some houses and a river, frozen over. A few minutes later we pass Amtrak #8 the east bound Empire Builder running 1 hours behind schedule. This is the first train we've passed since Larimore, that I know of. Now it's off to sleep.

I awake briefly around am, station stop, it's Glasgow, MT. . . . 13 hours behind. At 5:30 MT I get up and hit the shower. We are in a station and we're still sitting when I get out. We're in Havre, MT, service stop, but it takes a little longer than expected, I assume it's because of the cold. . .-23. Well, 6:30 and we're moving again and it's off to the diner. By the way, if you use the shower on the sleepers, they're quite roomy and the water was plenty warm. The floor was a little cold but an extra towel made that easier. One important point, make sure the latch on the lock slides ALL the way into the lock position. The lounge car girl was quite startled when she opened the door and found me occupying the facilities!! :-)

This morning, breakfast is being served to ALL passengers for free. I don't blame Amtrak for the majority of the delay, I blame BNSF. It was their train that derailed and they don't seem to be too cooperative about getting us through.

8:30MT Cut Bank, MT, the sun is up and I get my first view of these mountains, WOW they sure are pretty. We were scheduled in here at 6:25pm LAST night. We cross over to the east bound track, there is a EB freight sitting on the WB track. The snow sparkles as rising sun, still low in the sky, reflects off of it.

3 pm PT. Sandpoint, ID. We were scheduled here at 12:28 this am. 14 hours late. The crew changed three miles outside of town, no delay, they were waiting for us at a crossing.

Passed over Marias Pass in the day time. Seeing it in daylight makes up = for the delay (for me anyway). Lots and LOTS of snow!!! It's strange to see BNSF green/orange GE's, green BN SD-40's and strangest of all . . . Warbonnets!! A couple of years ago, no one would have believed it if you told them that GN colors and Warbonnets would be running on this line.

Amtrak has been super. The staff's shift was supposed to end at 10 am yet they have at least 14 more hours to go. I haven't heard one complaint. Last nights dinner was supposed to be the last scheduled meal for the entire train, yet three more meals will be served before we get to Spokane.

All meals, for ALL passengers have been complimentery today. And with the extra work the dining crew has been upbeat and positive.

The train is scheduled to breakup in Spokane with the front section and diner going to Seattle and the rear coach, sleeper and lounge cars going to Portland. However, with the mud slides between here and Seattle, the entire consist will go on to Portland with the Seattle leg passengers being bussed.

My porter, Larry has just stopped by and delivered a complimentery bottle of Chardonnay. I still have a half a bottle left from Friday night. I don't care to hear anyone bad mouth the Empire crew after this experience. I cannot say enough about them, they've been great. I plan to send a copy of this post as a letter to the head of Amtrak. How do I get three wine glasses back to Ohio?

We arrived in Spokane at 4:10 pm Sunday. We were scheduled here ate 2:05 am this morning this makes us 14 hours late. We leave three locomotives (2 F40's and the 1 Genesis), the forward sleepers, coaches and the diner. Only one coach, our sleeper, the lounge car, our only express car left from Chicago and 1 locomotive will continue on to Portland. We are told we should be leaving by 5:00 but it's another 20 minutes before the brake tests are completed and srevicing is complete and we are finally moving. Since we have no diner, complimentary sandwiches (lunch meat subs), a bag of chips, two cookies and a can of juice are served for dinner.

Since we're expected late into Portland, they estimate 7 hours, I try to get some sleep. I have to work tomorrow. I awake around 11:30 and i'm informed we're at The Dalles. I'm awake now and sit up and watch out the window the rest of the trip. Although it's night, the moon is still 3/4 full so it's rather bright out and I can see pretty good. I'm sitting on the Columbia river side of the train and even at night the view is spectacular.

12:30 am we arrive in Vancouver, WA, the old SP&S station is a pretty building, typical RR style. Vancouver comes and goes and at 1:05 am we pull into Portland, FINALLY. I bid fairwell to my car attendent, I make sure I tip him before I leave, he has been very attentive to all of the passengers needs. Although I have enjoyed the trip I'm ready to get off the train. 61 hours on a train is a long time.

My original plan was to arrive at 10:05 am Sunday and Hertz's downtown facility was to pick me up upon arival. I called Hertz from Spokane and they said the downtown office was closed at 1 am ond to pick up my car at the airport. Taxi service to the airport is estimated at $25. When we arrive we'r told Amtrak would assist with missed connections. Since I missed my 10 am Hertz pick up the give me and another passenger a taxi voucher to the airport. I think BNSF should be responsible for all these taxi and motel vouchers for the passengers.

Over all I enjoyed the trip. The scenery was great and overall a positive experience. I hope to use the train again.

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