Jump to content
montana mike

Empire Builder Timekeeping Struggles

Recommended Posts

I have taken the Builder 4 times now over the past two months. Once, the train arrived at our destinations close to on time and 3 times the train was 2 or more hours late. The BNSF track work really appears to be taking its toll on any decent time keeping, especially as the train heads thru MT and ND. #8 currently on the Hi-Line is now over 9 hours late, so it will miss all connections in CHI, again. #7 heading West thru this same area is only doing modestly better. Hopefully the BNSF track work will wrap up by early fall as scheduled, but the damage has been done, as most travelers this summer appear to be experiencing significant delays on their journeys.

I know the track work is very important, but it just seems to me that this summer's efforts have really impacted the Amtrak trains on this route more so than in previous summers. Somewhat ironic, since the weather has been fairly benign along the entire route so far and has not been a factor.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm on that super delayed #8 right now. People are very...grumpy. To be fair, though, a large amount of the delay for this particular train was weather-related. We were running about 2-3 hours behind coming out of Glacier yesterday, but then that nasty line of storms blew up in front of us. They put speed restrictions on us through much of eastern Montana and into western North Dakota; the Williston station had no power when we pulled in just after midnight. It only got worse this morning due to all the damage in the eastern part of ND. We sat at Michigan, ND, for over an hour because of the slow downs caused by knocked out signals, crossing gates, and track inspections. So much for my fun final night of vacation in Chicago!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There may be several factors causing these delays.

1. RR may be worried about early onset of winter causing need to have long day time work windows ? Maybe even night time ?

2. Work areas require stopping or at least slowing trains going thru ?

3. Every end of an existing siding or end of double track requires that that section out of service for new switch installation and proper surfacing. Then slow order until proper settling. Is a pre assembled turn out set(s) available or does have to be stick built ?

4. Worse a new switch on single track to the extension takes track out of service for same reasons as #3.

5. Signal work installing CP for new track.

a. Is equipment available for new signaling ? Bungalows, switch machines, signal poles and lights, wire and conduit.

b. PTC installation or updates due to different

6. Changes in CP locations to increase future fluidity requiring #3,4,5,

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm on that super delayed #8 right now. People are very...grumpy. To be fair, though, a large amount of the delay for this particular train was weather-related. We were running about 2-3 hours behind coming out of Glacier yesterday, but then that nasty line of storms blew up in front of us. They put speed restrictions on us through much of eastern Montana and into western North Dakota; the Williston station had no power when we pulled in just after midnight. It only got worse this morning due to all the damage in the eastern part of ND. We sat at Michigan, ND, for over an hour because of the slow downs caused by knocked out signals, crossing gates, and track inspections. So much for my fun final night of vacation in Chicago!

Wow, gosh, what a mess. It sounds like the weather played even more of a role than the track work in causing the delays. Safety is always paramount.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When I rode #28 PDX-CHI this past April, there was a substantial stretch of track in ND that had significant standing water on one or both sides, suggesting heavy rains within the past week or so. It was annoying to be gently swaying back and forth at 30mph on what could only be described as 'spongy' track. I think it was nearly 2 hours of slow orders. Then as 'advertised', we went from almost on time (lots of padding into MSP) to 1 hour late leaving LaCrosse, where they held us at the station until we actually were an hour late. CP was had numerous crews at a number of highway crossings working on the gates, etc, and other crews at the start and end of some double track segments until Wisconsin Dells or so. I'm often amused how some passengers get all upset because of slow orders and work zones on the railroad, especially during the summer. I tell them that just like 'fix the roads' time happens in summer, so does 'fix the tracks'. That generally reduces their anger...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We going to be using the EB on a couple of trips in August and while I was hoping the track work and other issues would have at least settled down a bit by then, it appears the timekeeping is now getting so bad that the EB's are turning around in SEA and PDX several hours late many days and this, coupled with the track work, fires and weather delays being experienced along the route, are really taking their toll on any semblance of a schedule. I got a wee bit of a chuckle after reading how interesting the ride was thru parts of Washington and ID during the day going eastbound, since in the past riders almost never saw any of this terrain because the trains went thru these areas at night. Now they are regularly going thru during the daylight hours. I spoke with one of the folks at our local station recently and he said that they are reminding passengers now that the EBs will likely be anywhere from 3 to 8 hours late thru at least September and to not count on making any connections.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I guess I was lucky to travel in May: EB ran early in both directions.

 

Hopefully this trackwork blitz will "stick" and they'll be able to maintain things with routine maintenance rather than having months of delays again.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I wonder what happened to #8, still on the Hi-Line and now running over 11 hours behind schedule? Hopefully that was a "one-off" issue.

My BNSF contacts here in MT have been somewhat surprised at the extent of EB delays this summer. They knew the track work would cause some issues (they were thinking more on the order of a couple of hours each direction), but the extent of the delays on a regular basis has even surprised them, although not quite as bad as several years ago (when I was on EBs that were 12+ hours late several times). The suggestion was made to Amtrak officials that a second train set would be helpful out of SEA and PDX in order to minimize the Eastward bound delays, as was used during the major BNSF problems several years ago, but evidently Amtrak did not have the equipment to employ this time as they did then. Still, more than 2 months of track work to go unfortunately, according to their schedule, so this summer season will have long passed before things get a good deal better. I was also told that next summer will feature a similar work schedule on different sections of tracks on this route. Rats.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A big problem with #8 was that #28 was veeeerrrry late into Spokane for a variety of reasons. 7/27 ran very late the day before into Seattle and Portland, so were delayed by a few hours to begin with. Then near Spokane, a freight had a car with a broken drawbar, resulting in a backlog of freights from Pasco to Spokane. And when delays of this magnitude occur, of course, late trains get later. I will be taking the EB back to Spokane from Chicago in late August; the selfish part of me hopes it's several hours late so that I can get a decent night's sleep rather than schlepping off at Spokane at 0 dark 30 and then having to make the hour's drive home. The practical side of me, however realizes the world doesn't revolve around me (though it should!😋) so that part of me hopes delays are minimal to non-existent.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would like to know how Amtrak figures how much time a train can make up once it is late? For example Train 8(19) is now almost 5 hours behind, chugging along thru Western MT, yet when you look at Amtrak's status for arrival in CHI tomorrow, it shows the train arriving 7 minutes early. I have been on dozens and dozens of Builders over the years and I can say with certainty that once a train is 5 hours late there is no chance to make up that much time before arriving in CHI. I will be surprised if it is less than 2.5 or 3 hours behind tomorrow PM.

It would be much more helpful if whatever formula they are using is more reflective of real world conditions rather than some optimum situation where everything perfectly aligns for the Amtrak trains on the Host Railroad's tracks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would like to know how Amtrak figures how much time a train can make up once it is late? For example Train 8(19) is now almost 5 hours behind, chugging along thru Western MT, yet when you look at Amtrak's status for arrival in CHI tomorrow, it shows the train arriving 7 minutes early. I have been on dozens and dozens of Builders over the years and I can say with certainty that once a train is 5 hours late there is no chance to make up that much time before arriving in CHI. I will be surprised if it is less than 2.5 or 3 hours behind tomorrow PM.

It would be much more helpful if whatever formula they are using is more reflective of real world conditions rather than some optimum situation where everything perfectly aligns for the Amtrak trains on the Host Railroad's tracks.

If they "gun it" between stations and spend less dwell time at smoke stops, they can make up a lot of time en route. It's when the train gets caught behind freights, has to restock, has to get a new crew, etc, that delays snowball and they just can't make up the time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posting a "mark" for a late running train, especially at an intermediate point, has always been a tricky "art". You have to figure the very best amount of time the train can possibly make up. If you don't, and post a more 'realistic' time, and the train does surprise you and make up the time...then you may have to delay its departure, so that those relying on your mark don't end up missing it. As the train gets closer and closer, you can get a more accurate estimate, and revise the time accordingly. But every time you do that, you will be greeted with a chorus of groans, and more flak from angry passenger's who are waiting, and feeling like they are being "nickle and dimed"...

Of course posting the time at the end of the line doesn't matter as much, except for those waiting for their loved ones, who want to be sure to be there when it arrives.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Today's (7/20) Captiol Limited train 30 was held about 50 minutes for a late Empire Builder. The connecting passengers boarded cross platform from track 30 to 28.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would like to know how Amtrak figures how much time a train can make up once it is late?

 

This one of the pitfalls of automation. The status system is largely automated. It is no longer a matter of the agents in the field updating the stations with an eta. It is based upon the "pure" running time of the train versus the position of the train. If the pure running time is within the limits of the recovery time, the status will reflect it.

 

 

 

 

It would be much more helpful if whatever formula they are using is more reflective of real world conditions rather than some optimum situation where everything perfectly aligns for the Amtrak trains on the Host Railroad's tracks.

 

How would you expect an automated or even a human to provide concrete, advanced real time conditions when the railroad is fluid operation? It's not like the hosts have master schedule available so people monitoring the progress can know "it'll follow this train to here and this trains is scheduled to come out of this yard at this time every day." How will anyone know what the dispatcher will decided to ruin or hold? How do we know how many trains they'll put in front of it or who will take the siding vs hold the main? Maybe everything WILL align and the train will make up time. It has happened. I literally watched a train make up four hours on its run. The whole system is an estimation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the interesting comments all. I fully agree it is indeed a crap shoot the further out in time one makes estimates, but I would hope Amtrak could come up with some formula that does better than the current one. As a frequent Amtrak traveler I have found these estimates to be quite inaccurate. My "gut" feelings, from travel experiences on various Amtrak routes are often closer to the mark. Meanwhile #8 on the Hi-Line this morning is now well over 7 hours behind schedule. And again Amtrak shows them making up all but 3 hours of the tardiness. The way things are going for this train, even if everything went very well the rest of the way, this EB will likely roll into CHI between 5 and 6 hours behind schedule.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Im on 7 (21) we were 35 minutes early into Minot yet will be several hours late departing waiting for the inbound crew off of #8 that will be almost 13 hours late.

 

We were moved off of the main line onto a side track where we sit waiting on a new rested crew.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for the update. Meanwhile #7(20), scheduled to arrive in SEA at 10 AM this morning will now not likely arrive until around 6 PM tonight. SEA usually requires about 4 hours to ready and turn the train around so they will be lucky to head back as tonight's #8 about 5 hours late. Too bad Amtrak doesn't have sufficient equipment to have had a second set in SEA and PDX like they did several years ago when BNSF was doing all of the track work on this route. #8, still plugging along the Hi-Line after the BNSF derailment delay, is now over 13 hours behind. Best guess on CHI arrival will likely be 3 or 4 AM. A lot of confused and frustrated tourists at the WFH station the last several days, not much Amtrak could do about the BNSF issues and weather delays though. I'm on the EB going West in a couple of weeks. Maybe things will settle down a bit by then.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hmmm. 3 of the 4 "Builders" this morning are more than 5 hours behind and continuing to lose time. At some point, and likely soon, Amtrak may have to annul a day's worth of EB's in order to reset the schedule, since the continued delays in arrivals into SEA/PDX are increasing the late departures, which make the entire schedule break down. I guess, given the troubles BNSF has had there is little else Amtrak can do.

:-(

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think they are trying scrounge up equipment for another set, which is difficult with all of the PTC test trains, overhauls, refreshes, shopped equipment and sidelined equipment.. They are cutting cars on a few trains to free things up..

Edited by Thirdrail7

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I wonder if Amtrak could at least scrape together buses for a few days to reset the schedule in Spokane. Not ideal to have passengers transfer at midnight, but better than consistently late trains or cancelling trains entirely.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Terminating in SPK would at least give the EB's a chance to get back on schedule. Ideally, given the realities of the growing mess on the Hi-Line (my BNSF contacts say the delays are here for at least another couple of months or longer), having a second train set ready to go in SEA/PDX makes sense, but as also stated, finding sufficient equipment as was done in the past, appears to rule this option out. Today's 7/27 now plugging along in WA will likely arrive around 9 hours late at each destination, which means departures late at night (perhaps after 11 PM) from SEA/PDX. Given the ongoing delays on the BNSF tracks due to the overall congestion and track work, heading back eastbound the 8(23) EB could possibly be close to 12 hours late arriving in CHI two days later, putting an on time departure from CHI in jeopardy.

Edited by montana mike

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×