News & Reviews News Wire Empire Builder fights weather, congestion, track issues

Empire Builder fights weather, congestion, track issues

By Bob Johnston | December 13, 2022

| Last updated on February 10, 2024

Coach passengers receive free meals on train experiencing long delay because of broken rail

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Passenger train with two blue locomotives with red trim
Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder rolls into Rugby, N.D., 7 hours late on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. The train was delayed at Winona, Minn., the previous evening by a track problem at a Canadian Pacific highway crossing. Bob Johnston

MINOT, N.D. — With winter storm warnings in effect across the northern plains from a windy, frigid blast that has already barreled through the Sierra Nevada and Colorado mountains, there is always the possibility that service on Amtrak’s long-distance network will be disrupted.

As was the case during a blizzard last month [“Westbound Empire Builder to miss ND stops,” Trains News Wire, Nov. 10, 2022 News Wire], BNSF Railway is implementing directional running in North Dakota between Fargo and Minot through this Thursday, Dec. 15. The eastbound Builder will continue to go with the freight flow and make stops at Rugby, Devils Lake, and Grand Forks, but passengers traveling west through those communities have been notified that the stations will be missed because trains are detouring via BNSF’s KO Subdivision.

“It’s BNSF’s call,” Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari tells News Wire, adding that no alternate transportation is being provided from Fargo or Minot due to expected treacherous conditions along blustery, two-lane U.S. Route 2.

Frigid weather was also likely responsible for a lengthy overnight delay for the westbound train that left Chicago on Friday, Dec. 9. It was stuck for more than 6 hours at Winona, Minn., while Canadian Pacific maintenance crews attended to a broken rail. Repairs were complicated because the break occurred at a highway crossing.

“We were supposed to leave St. Paul at 11:15 p.m., but they kept pushing the departure time back, so we sat on chairs in the depot all night until 6 a.m.,” Cheryl Gnerer explained in the Sightseer Lounge aboard the westbound train the next day. She was headed to Williston, N.D., to attend her sister’s surprise birthday party at Plentywood in eastern Montana. “No other way to get there; I’ve taken the trip many times and never had a delay like this before,” she added.

Man in white short at dining table with bowl of food
Portland-bound coach passenger Arsham Dionysian prepares to eat a complimentary meal of beef stew and rice with a roll passed out to all passengers on the delayed westbound train Dec. 10. Bob Johnston

To help compensate for the disruption, Amtrak provided coach passengers with free food and non-alcoholic beverages all day: pastries at breakfast, sandwiches and chips at lunch, and beef stew over rice and a warm roll for dinner. Long-distance trains carry enough beef stew to feed all passengers for situations like this, or if a train becomes stranded for an extended period.

University of North Dakota student Arsham Dionysian received enough early notification about the delay to get some sleep before heading to the station at Grand Forks for his trip to Los Angeles via the Coast Starlight at Portland, Ore.

Knowing the Builder’s tardiness meant he would miss that connection, Amtrak switched Dionysian’s Starlight reservation to the following day. “They called to tell me they were putting me up in a hotel room,” he said.

The operating crew told some passengers that buses to Seattle and Portland might be substituted at Spokane so the equipment could make an on-time eastbound departure. This had happened the previous week when a westbound Builder was held at Minot for6 hours until a BNSF freight derailment near Williston was cleared, but each section continued west.

Snows in the Cascades further delayed the train’s Seattle arrival, so Sunday’s eastbound Builder departed from the West Coast more than 5 hours late at 10:06 p.m. The delay ballooned to 7 hours at Williston, N.D., on Monday, but with recovery time in the schedule, shrunk to 5½ hours leaving St. Paul on Tuesday with a 9:30 p.m. arrival projected for Chicago instead of 4:45 p.m. Once again, connections are being missed.

4 thoughts on “Empire Builder fights weather, congestion, track issues

  1. These super late #7 & 8s happen every winter. This would bettter for east bound passengers. When ever #8 would depart later than some number of minutes run stub train(s) from PDX and SEA.
    The eastbound passenger would advoid a bus ride over sometimes treachous roads

    Extra cars might be Horizones that could povide extra passenger seats on the 1st cascades train from each station. Extra cars would be droped at the 2 stations if stub trains are planned. Right now the equipent shotages preclude this set up but maybe next winter?

    Maybe Amtrak is not doing these are the cost reduction policies. Other than loco and SL mileage costs what is saved?. Amtrak will have to borrow BNSF AC locos to lead the stub trains in winter.

  2. Well at least they seem to be trying to accommodate the situation(s) above better than some of recent past. Roads in ND today are impassable to treacherous according to reports but 7 & 8 are on time today.

  3. My wife and I recently traveled Albuquerque to Washington DC, with a bedroom reserved on both the Southwest Chief and the Capitol Limited, connecting at Chicago. BNSF let the train on time, until we came to a stop sometime after midnight, on single track in western Kansas, behind a freight train, dead on hours of service with no BNSF crew at the rescue point. Just plain poor dispatching on the part of BNSF allowed this train die on the main track instead of heading it into a siding, but there we were, cooling our wheels for an extended time, and, the natural consequence is that our “window” closed, and other traffic began to use our scheduled time on the main track, all the way to Chicago. Our train proved the old saying that late trains get later, as we waited at crossovers, lost 45 minutes due to an air hose separation in Missouri, crept through sidings at 20 MPH on the Topeka Subdivision where dead trains (which obviously would have fit in the siding) sat on the 90 MPH main track, one having been there for two days, and finally stopped east of Aurora for a passenger medical emergency. We arrived in Chicago hours after the Capitol had left. Amtrak did a terrific job of rebooking us for the next day (in a family bedroom), arranged bus transportation for 30 passengers to a very nice hotel downtown, as well as return transportation to Union Station in the morning, and gave us a $20 voucher for food in the depot. This was all done while we were getting later and later as we moved toward Chicago. We simply lined up at Passenger Services, received our packet, boarded the bus, and we were in a comfy room with a great 15th floor Wacker Drive view before bedtime. Amtrak got an A+. BNSF got a D-.

  4. Get this nonsense out of here and ban the poster (likely a friggin’ bot!) for life. Is there no oversight on this sort of phishing on Newswire?

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