News & Reviews News Wire West Coast winter weather affects California Zephyr, Empire Builder

West Coast winter weather affects California Zephyr, Empire Builder

By Bob Johnston | March 1, 2024

Trains canceled or routes truncated after cascading delays this week

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Two passenger trains with bilevel equipment meet in snow
The eastbound California Zephyr meets Winter Park Express equipment at the Fraser-Winter Park station on Feb. 16, 2024. Steve Patterson

CHICAGO — Amtrak’s California Zephyr has been cancelled west of Salt Lake City through the weekend as weather forecasters are predicting heavy snow will pound Donner Pass and the Sierra Nevada mountains through Saturday. Service on the Seattle segment of the Empire Builder route was also disrupted this week.

Trouble started early Thursday when the westbound Zephyr was delayed more than 9 hours on Union Pacific’s former Western Pacific main line east of Elko, Nev., and straggled into Emeryville. Calif., 10 hours, 35 minutes late Friday morning. A Union Pacific train had derailed in Elko on Wednesday [see “UP train derails …,” Trains News Wire, Feb. 28, 2024]. The eastbound Zephyr departing Wednesday was held 3 hours at Reno, Nev., then lost another 3 hours into Salt Lake City. More delays to that train occurred east of Glenwood Springs, Colo., and it was running almost 10 hours late across central Nebraska today (Friday, March 1).

Since then, Zephyrs have turned at Salt Lake City. The next scheduled Amtrak operation over Donner Pass between Reno and Sacramento, Calif., at this writing is Sunday’s eastbound and the westbound crossing on Monday after its scheduled departure from Chicago on Saturday, March 2.

Earlier in the week, the Empire Builder departing Chicago on Tuesday, Feb. 27, did not run between Spokane and Seattle as a result of a line blockage, though the Portland section did operate. The eastbound Builder’s Seattle section of Feb. 28 thus began its run at Spokane once the westbound train had arrived. After switching, it left Spokane four hours late Thursday morning and had shaved an hour from that tardiness into the Twin Cities on Friday, March 1.

Amtrak does a good job of notifying passengers already ticketed of the delays through cell phone push messages, but at least in these two instances the booking system didn’t adjust departure times at major stops such as Omaha and St. Paul to allow purchase of tickets on the tardy train.

5 thoughts on “West Coast winter weather affects California Zephyr, Empire Builder

  1. Amtrak did the right thing with the Zephyr. But why not just run the entire Builder to Portland ?

    1. Amtrak doesn’t control the weather, and the Sierra Nevada has ALWAYS had intense snowstorms in winter.

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