News & Reviews News Wire Empire Builder adds cars following derailment

Empire Builder adds cars following derailment

By Bob Johnston | May 8, 2023

Expanded consist helps offset capacity crunch

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Passenger train emerges from tunnel at Chicago Union Station
The Empire Builder departs Chicago Union Station on Monday, May 8, the day after the train derailed leaving the station. Bob Johnston

CHICAGO — With horns blaring while track crews working in the tunnel at the scene of Sunday afternoon’s derailment stepped safely out of the way, the westbound Empire Builder emerged from the north side of Chicago Union Station this afternoon (Monday, May 8) with an extra coach and two additional sleeping cars compared to its normally shortened consist.

Adding a sleeper and coach to the Seattle section and another sleeping car bound for Portland avoids downgrading sleeper passengers and turning away delayed coach patrons.

End of passenger train rounds curve
Two Portland-bound sleepers bring up the rear of Monday’s expanded Empire Builder consist. Bob Johnston

Sunday’s westbound Builder derailed as it departed Union Station. Before that happened, today’s train out of Chicago was originally set to go only as far as St. Paul, Minn. It then would have returned on Tuesday, filling a gap created because Sunday’s eastbound departure from the Pacific Northwest was cancelled because of late-arriving inbound equipment [see “Weekend disruptions hit VIA, Amtrak long-distance trains,” Trains News Wire, May 8, 2023]. Now the expanded consist will go all the way through.

Amtrak spokeswoman Beth Toll tells News Wire that when two cars left the rails Sunday as the train departed Union Station, there were no injuries among the 196 passengers aboard. After safely exiting the train, “customers were provided snacks and food, as well as hotel rooms for the evening and were accommodated for the next scheduled departure today,” she says.

The derailment led to issues that also cancelled half of today’s Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha round trips, as well as some Metra operational problems.

The addition of the cars today makes the Empire Builder’s capacity resemble that of the train in the summers of 2019 and 2020 before management began sidelining Superliner equipment.

Today’s consist included:

5 thoughts on “Empire Builder adds cars following derailment

  1. When you lie as much as Amtrak mgmt it starts to get hard to keep all the lies straight.

  2. I don’t know whether or not to believe that that’s true. They could be testing to see how their current staff levels handle a full consist. Adding two additional sleeping cars to the Empire Builder seems much less feasible to me than adding one additional Seattle sleeper and one additional sleeping car to the California Zephyr which is currently operating with just one sleeping car and a transition car which is resulting in most trains being totally sold out on rooms. That train would always operate with a minimum of two sleeping cars plus the transition car. Also not one train needs additional coach capacity more than the Capitol Limited.

    1. Doesn’t one coach attendant take care of two Superliner coaches in each consist? So that would eliminate the staffing issue.
      This train too is no longer worthy of the name Capitol Limited.
      Uncle Dan Willard (B&O president 1911 to 1941 I believe) created the Capitol Limited in 1925 to rival the Century and Broadway and Paul Reistrup, Dave Watts and Bill Howes ran it as a top notch train until the coming of Amtrak.
      In Harold Edmondsons book Journey to Amtrak, David P Morgan wrote a nice eulogy to B&O’s Capitol.
      He ended by saying ‘she’s in the history books now and perhaps it’s just as well. Uncle Dan never cottoned to anyone, least of all government telling him how to run HIS railroad or HIS train. An Amtrak Capitol? The two words are incompatible.’

    1. I thought I heard somewhere that the lack of onboard service personnel, not necessarily superliners, was the reason for the constant shortened consists. Is that true?

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