News & Reviews News Wire Amtrak cancels Empire Builder, thins Midwest departures in advance of winter storm

Amtrak cancels Empire Builder, thins Midwest departures in advance of winter storm

By Bob Johnston | December 19, 2022

Corridor trains cut Thursday, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, but routes to remain open with reduced service

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Amtrak Midwest regional train traveling with heavy snow cover on ground
Amtrak Midwest regional train traveling with heavy snow cover on ground
Wolverine train No. 352 slogs east through heavy snow on Feb. 17, 2021, near Amtrak’s Hammond-Whiting, Ind., station. Trains 352 and 353 are being cancelled this Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, but other trains on the route will operate. James L. Burd

CHICAGO — With a massive winter snowstorm sweeping into the Midwest from the northern plains this week, Amtrak is canceling some trains out of Chicago to and from Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Pontiac, Mich., on the day the brunt of the blizzard is expected. The same trains also won’t run this Saturday and Sunday, when temperatures are projected to plunge to near zero. One Missouri River Runner round trip, the morning train out of St. Louis and afternoon departure from Kansas City, Mo., is also not operating those days.

Train at station platform with city skyline in distance
The eastbound Empire Builder is 3 hours late at its St. Paul Union Depot stop on Dec.11, 2022. Bob Johnston

Additionally, Amtrak has cancelled Empire Builder departures from Chicago and the West Coast on Tuesday, Dec. 20, and Wednesday, Dec. 21. Builders departing Saturday, Dec. 17, suffered extensive delays enroute. The Amtrak Alerts Twitter feed attributes these to “mechanical issues;” so were both running more than 6 hours late this evening (Monday, Dec. 19). Since the westbound equipment flips back east the same day, today’s Chicago-bound departures were set to run, but on a substantially-delayed schedule, from Seattle and Portland, Ore.

Here are the Midwest cancellations to and from Chicago for Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, Dec. 22, 24, and 25. Other trains on these routes will continue to operate, though many are already sold out both Thursday and Friday.

Chicago-Pontiac, Mich.: Train 352 (2:15 p.m. from Chicago); 353 (8:50 a.m. from Pontiac).

Chicago-St. Louis:  Trains 301 and 305 (7:15 a.m. and 5:20 p.m. from Chicago); trains 300 and 306 (4:30 a.m. and 5:40 p.m. from St. Louis)

Chicago-Milwaukee: Trains 329, 333, and 337 (6:10 a.m., 11:05 a.m., and 3:15 p.m. from Chicago); trains 332, 336, and 340 (8:05 a.m., 1:05 p.m., and 5:45 p.m. from Milwaukee)

 The National Weather Service forecast for Chicago as of 5 p.m. Monday calls for “heavy snow, strong winds, and bitterly cold temperatures” beginning Thursday and says “the worst conditions will develop Thursday evening into Friday evening, with a full-fledged blizzard possible accompanied by dangerously cold temperatures.”

16 thoughts on “Amtrak cancels Empire Builder, thins Midwest departures in advance of winter storm

  1. Perception is part of the problem. Look at the caption above. That condition is not “slogging through heavy snow”.

  2. Probably a wise decision considering the poor condition this aging equipment is in & the unreliable Siemens units. Would just become more bad press for these trains to be stranded in the middle of nowhere especially the Empire Builder in the midst of the blizzard warnings along that route or getting stalled behind freights encountering problems. Not as many employees to come to the rescue like in the “Old Days” they’re spread pretty thin nowadays.

  3. If I had the time the way to get between the 2 cities would be Chief or Eaglette and Starlight. Yes I like riding trains in the snow but going on the Builder route in this storm is just foolish. BNSF does not have the personnel to cover any stall.

    In fact if I was BNSF I would tell Amtrak don’t operate. They may have done so.

  4. Winterized diesel fuel solves the problem with gelling(that’s what happens to diesel in extreme cold, it gels and doesn’t flow)…so that’s not the problem. HEP solves the loss of a steam generator for heating, so that’s not the problem. The problem, no planning/coordination on the part of Amtrak Ops and the host railroads…it’s that simple. Oh, and a lack of spare equipment at end points to make up entirely new trains in the advent of excessive delay time. Something that should be included in any new passenger car order(s), not just enough equipment to cover maintenance, but enough to have parked at all origination points to augment an existing consists as well as assemble a complete trainset in the event of unforseen issues.

  5. Another standard and bastion of transportation bites the dust or should I say snow
    No longer can we count on the train as the all weather only form of transsportation to make it through blizzards or bad weather. Due to poor and bumbling management at Amtrak and these paper and pencil pushing executives who couldn’t even manage a grocery store properly but do know how to count their bonuses and deposit them in their accounts and have now brought Amtrak down to the lowest levels of respect and virtually no confidence in train travel or trust. Now that it has been established that trains can’t and are no match for Mother Nature or Old Man Winter, both the airlines and highways can now claim total and complete victory over all rail travel even if it is not the safest way to travel in rough weather but thank the bumblers running Amtrak who are conceding defeat and handing over all travel options to other forms of transportation. People would and will travel by train if the opportunity and the service is provided and is available. They sure don’t make railroaders and executives like they used to when railroaders and the railroads bravely challenged and ran their trains against the ravages of winter and snow and blizzards to provide service to their customers and people needing to get home for the holidays and visits with family and friends What a shame indeed
    Joseph C. Markfelder

  6. Hiawatha? Snow is forecast for SE Wisconsin. A few inches. Not enough to wax my skis but enough to cancel the Hiawatha.

  7. Hiawatha? I looked up the weather for SE Wisconsin, as I happen to live there. A few inches of snow is forecast over the next week.

    Not enough to wax my skis.

  8. Gotta say it… I grew-up in family of railroaders in the 40’s and 50’s… Back then the trains were on the job no matter what… Both steam and diesel ruled the rails than.. Large/small operations did not matter, they were all the job… In bad weather, even extreme bad weather trains and railroaders were on the job… There were delays at sure, but they were the job… Today Wimps rule (my observation)… Another observation from my persective, with all the mergers, past and future seems service has become less/poorer and less depenable. In this day and age, equipment being adversely effected by the elements, one has to wonder

  9. Wimps, and more Wimps, I grew-up in family of railroaders in the 40’s and 50’s…. No matter how bad the weather, trains were on the job… Yes with some delays- but on the job…. Seems to me with all the mergers and such, service in general has been on a steady decline… One other comment…in this day and age I fine interesting that equipment can’t withstand weather extremes…Blizzers are not new, happens every year

  10. And so as the sun sinks slowly in the west we bid a fond farewell to “the all-weather mode”.

    Of course no one at Amtrak ever anticipates the arrival of winter. All not aboard!

  11. Remember when people flocked to passenger trains in bad weather because trains were more reliable even with 25 year old steam heated equipment?

  12. This is ridiculous. We are officially a third-world country because a snowstorm shuts down all railroad operations.

  13. As a college student in the very early 1960’s I rode the PRR both into and out of Chicago in blizzard conditions. The trips were late arriving at or departing Altoona but we got through. When it wasn’t safe at all to drive and roads and airports were all shut down, the passenger trains struggled through. Times sure have changed.

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