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montana mike

Empire Builder Timekeeping Struggles

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I too have been on several Amtrak trains that were in excess of 12 hours behind schedule and it is indeed no fun. I was just trying to make the point that connectivity with other trains sort of goes out the window with this train for the foreseeable future. I am booked on an EB later this fall and will be taking the LSL. Hopefully I will be able to make that connection. In the past this was a 5 1/2 hour connection time. No final word if Amtrak will go back to the 3:55 arrival time in CHI after 10/3, when BNSF is supposed to wrap up track work for the summer season, or perhaps they will just leave the extra hour in the schedule?

BTW: It appears #8 scheduled to arrive in CHI today has made up essentially no time on it's trek across the Hi-Line. Now running about 3 1/2 hours late, which by this Summer's standards is actually somewhat better than many of its predecessors.

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BTW: It appears #8 scheduled to arrive in CHI today has made up essentially no time on it's trek across the Hi-Line. Now running about 3 1/2 hours late, which by this Summer's standards is actually somewhat better than many of its predecessors.

Trying to be better than the Crescent ?

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Maybe I was just lucky for many years, but I took the Empire Builders for many, both East and West bound and on most of the trips the trains were very close to being on schedule. The one time we were very late was because someone drove around a lowered barricade and we hit him going full track speed and it took 8 hours to get moving again. Granted, this was before Warren Buffett took over BNSF, so that may be a factor, but the trains were consistently close to being on time almost every trip I took, and I rode Empire Builders every month for about a decade. C'est La Vie'

AM 8/16: Both Eastbound EB's are very late (one over 6 hours again, the other over 4 hours behind schedule) this morning. Bummer.

Edited by montana mike

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"Only" two hours down. You make it sound like that's really great. That's awful. .

 

I'm considering the late arrival of the equipment. With the super late arrival, we're lucky that the train didn't depart its initial terminal much later since a 4 hour late departure would likely compound the delays en route.

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That appears to be happening today. 8(15) is now almost 7 hours behind and is still in western MT. Given the usual additional 2-3 hour delays thru the rest of the Hi-Line, this train may pull into CHI very, very late tomorrow night. Meanwhile 7(15) is now over 3 hours behind and has to go thru the heavy construction gauntlet in ID and eastern WA still, and 8(14) arrived in CHI tonight 5 hours behind the already adjusted schedule. Dismal performance every day now. Sad to see this.

AM 8/17: ALL EB's on the route are over 3 hours behind with the one heading east in ND now around 8 hours late. No semblance of keeping to the schedule left now, and according to BNSF the long delays will continue for almost two more months. Yuck. No real option for Amtrak to improve this mess at this point really.

Edited by montana mike

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An update from BNSF: It would appear now that given the amount of track and maintenance work still to be completed in 2018 on the Hi-Line, BNSF is expecting the Amtrak EBs on the Hi-Line to incur daily 4-6 hour delays on this route, with the potential for daily of "more than 8 hours" on occasion. I would expect Amtrak is just going to have to accept these protracted delays and the fact that most connections in CHI will be lost (as was the case several years ago when BNSF's track work also caused a similar mess) and that trains originating from PDX and SEA are going to depart several hours after the scheduled time each day due to late arrivals until the BNSF efforts are concluded at some point this Fall (which as I was told today may now stretch a little further into October than originally planned-argh).

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An update from BNSF: It would appear now that given the amount of track and maintenance work still to be completed in 2018 on the Hi-Line, BNSF is expecting the Amtrak EBs on the Hi-Line to incur daily 4-6 hour delays on this route, with the potential for daily of "more than 8 hours" on occasion. I would expect Amtrak is just going to have to accept these protracted delays and the fact that most connections in CHI will be lost (as was the case several years ago when BNSF's track work also caused a similar mess) and that trains originating from PDX and SEA are going to depart several hours after the scheduled time each day due to late arrivals until the BNSF efforts are concluded at some point this Fall (which as I was told today may now stretch a little further into October than originally planned-argh).

 

Selfishly, I'm hoping Amtrak starts putting together a recurring bus from MSP east to at least let those in Minnesota (at least eastern/southeast Minnesota) and Wisconsin make their connections in Chicago. They're already doing it at least off and on; I got a call today about my trip tomorrow stating that I'll have the option of an on-time bus tomorrow instead of having to wait for the seriously-delayed train.

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At least they are doing something. I know riding a bus for many hours does NOT compare to riding the train, but not a lot of other options, unless you can catch a quick flight from MSP to ORD or MDW. I chose to skip my return trip on #8 last week from SEA to WFH (the incoming #7 was running over 8 hours behind and was terminated in SPK). Amtrak gave me the option of being bussed all of the way to SPK, then a short ride on the train to WFH. I decided I didn't want to wait all day in the King street station for a bus. I rented a car at SEATAC (I had just arrived midday from AK) and made it the MT about 10 hours ahead of #8. It's little consolation, but my BNSF contacts say that freight customers have been seeing 12-24 hour longer transit times for their goods most of the summer on this route due to the track work. It's just too bad for Amtrak that BNSF must do the track work in the most heavily booked months for the Empire Builder. But then again, winter's on the Hi-Line are usually not conducive for any track work, other than emergency stuff.

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An update from BNSF: It would appear now that given the amount of track and maintenance work still to be completed in 2018 on the Hi-Line, BNSF is expecting the Amtrak EBs on the Hi-Line to incur daily 4-6 hour delays on this route, with the potential for daily of "more than 8 hours" on occasion. I would expect Amtrak is just going to have to accept these protracted delays and the fact that most connections in CHI will be lost (as was the case several years ago when BNSF's track work also caused a similar mess) and that trains originating from PDX and SEA are going to depart several hours after the scheduled time each day due to late arrivals until the BNSF efforts are concluded at some point this Fall (which as I was told today may now stretch a little further into October than originally planned-argh).

 

 

Is this work expected to be completed this year? Thinking of taking the EB From Seattle to West Glacier next June. I hope things get back to "normal"

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so what are they doing with all the passengers who are missing connections to eastbound trains? putting them up in hotels and having them catch the next day's train? Im looking at going from SPK to WAS in the middle of next month and wondering what will happen if miss my connection to the Capitol Limited.

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In response to shanghaiamtrak's question about missing the connection to the Capitol Limited, I can advise what happened when I missed the connection in June this year.

 

Initially I was offered overnight hotel accommodation with a placement in coach on the next days Capitol (no sleepers available) but I advised them that this would probably mean I would miss my flight back to the UK.

 

I was then given a coach booking on that evenings Lake Shore Ltd to New York which I made with about 40 minutes to spare (with change required at Albany) and then a Regional service from New York to Washington resulting in me getting into WAS about midnight on the day I was originally due to arrive on the Capitol.

 

I was also given a voucher refund, part of which I used getting myself on an earlier service than I was booked on from New York to Washington which meant I got there before the Metro system had closed for the night and was able to get to my hotel.

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An update from BNSF: It would appear now that given the amount of track and maintenance work still to be completed in 2018 on the Hi-Line, BNSF is expecting the Amtrak EBs on the Hi-Line to incur daily 4-6 hour delays on this route, with the potential for daily of "more than 8 hours" on occasion. I would expect Amtrak is just going to have to accept these protracted delays and the fact that most connections in CHI will be lost (as was the case several years ago when BNSF's track work also caused a similar mess) and that trains originating from PDX and SEA are going to depart several hours after the scheduled time each day due to late arrivals until the BNSF efforts are concluded at some point this Fall (which as I was told today may now stretch a little further into October than originally planned-argh).

 

 

Is this work expected to be completed this year? Thinking of taking the EB From Seattle to West Glacier next June. I hope things get back to "normal"

 

Current schedule shows them finishing the work some time in October. More work is slated for next year, BUT it should not be as extensive as this year's effort.

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so what are they doing with all the passengers who are missing connections to eastbound trains? putting them up in hotels and having them catch the next day's train? Im looking at going from SPK to WAS in the middle of next month and wondering what will happen if miss my connection to the Capitol Limited.

Most likely, yes. If possible, they'll probably try to bus EB passengers whose connections are in jeopardy, to their next train, but if they can't make that work in time, they'll put you up in a hotel and try for the next days' train. As I've said before though, if you think you won't be making your connection, call Amtrak as soon as possible (from the train), and try to make alternative arrangements before everyone else.

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Current schedule shows them finishing the work some time in October. More work is slated for next year, BUT it should not be as extensive as this year's effort.

 

 

Isn't that what they said last year? :blink:

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Current schedule shows them finishing the work some time in October. More work is slated for next year, BUT it should not be as extensive as this year's effort.

 

 

Isn't that what they said last year? :blink:

 

Good Point. According to the local BNSF folks here in MT a lot of additional track work was added to the schedule this summer. As they pointed out, they will always be doing some maintenance on the tracks, especially in the Summer, but this year has been a busy one for them. As I mentioned earlier their freight customers are being delayed even more than Amtrak and I would expect there may be some unhappy customers from that group as well, but not a lot of alternatives to BNSF in this part of the country if you are moving agricultural items, intermodal, oil or vehicles.

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Thanks everyone for the responses to my comment/question. Where are the delays mostly occuring? It appears that there is already a lengthy delay in the train leaving Portland headed east. I assume thats because the incoming train was so late? Why doesnt Amtrak just bus passengers between SEA/PDX and SPK, thereby allowing the train to leave SPK on time? I would think if this delay was occurring everyday, which it seems to be, that that would be the prudent thing to do. Saves more money than so many people missing their connections in chicago. Unless they are busing most of those people from MSP or somewhere to make their connections.

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The track work is concentrated in several main areas along the Hi-Line: (1) The Kootenai area which encompasses eastern ID and extreme western MT, (2) the Fallbridge sub in Oregon and (2) the Glasgow Sub in MT and western ND. Having traveled over these areas twice now this summer it appears to be just a lot of what BNSF considers to be "normal maintenance, replacement of switches, lights, ties and track and preventive measures. I did not see any evidence of any new tracks or sidings being constructed as was the case several years ago.

Yes, the late departures from both PDX and SEA, like yesterday for example, are due to the fact that many EBs are losing 4-6 hours of time during their trek to the West and often losing 6-8 hours as they go Eastbound. Amtrak has bussed pax on occasion this summer from SEA/PDX to SPK (they offered to bus me last week for just this reason), but that is not a very good solution, since it makes a mess of people wanting to travel the train from SEA/PDX to intermediate stops before SPK and keep in mind the east bound EBs after leaving SPK are still often losing enough time, even if the train misses the Kootenai track work, to arrive in CHI 4 or more hours late, which would miss all connections except the LSL. No real good answer this year on the current problems. :-(

 

Montana mike == How mch new track are you aware is going in ? That is extended sidings, connecting sidings, additional CPs etc ?

 

 

Thanks everyone for the responses to my comment/question. Where are the delays mostly occuring? It appears that there is already a lengthy delay in the train leaving Portland headed east. I assume thats because the incoming train was so late? Why doesnt Amtrak just bus passengers between SEA/PDX and SPK, thereby allowing the train to leave SPK on time? I would think if this delay was occurring everyday, which it seems to be, that that would be the prudent thing to do. Saves more money than so many people missing their connections in chicago. Unless they are busing most of those people from MSP or somewhere to make their connections.

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Thanks everyone for the responses to my comment/question. Where are the delays mostly occuring? It appears that there is already a lengthy delay in the train leaving Portland headed east. I assume thats because the incoming train was so late? Why doesnt Amtrak just bus passengers between SEA/PDX and SPK, thereby allowing the train to leave SPK on time? I would think if this delay was occurring everyday, which it seems to be, that that would be the prudent thing to do. Saves more money than so many people missing their connections in chicago. Unless they are busing most of those people from MSP or somewhere to make their connections.

 

 

Or run a train between Portland and Spokne. I would not mind switching trains if Amtrak decided to break them up and just run more trains between cites giving better schedule choices. Spokane's schedule really stinks both ways. But my guess is competition with freight would limit the runs. I also see scheduling issues between trains.

 

I have several trips planned to Spokane It would be nice to use the train but those arrival and departure times make me think twice.

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Thanks everyone for the responses to my comment/question. Where are the delays mostly occuring? It appears that there is already a lengthy delay in the train leaving Portland headed east. I assume thats because the incoming train was so late? Why doesnt Amtrak just bus passengers between SEA/PDX and SPK, thereby allowing the train to leave SPK on time? I would think if this delay was occurring everyday, which it seems to be, that that would be the prudent thing to do. Saves more money than so many people missing their connections in chicago. Unless they are busing most of those people from MSP or somewhere to make their connections.

I thought they were bussing some passengers between Spokane and Seattle/Portland, but that's never ideal. Passengers are going to be more angry about taking a bus for a decent chunk of the route than just leaving the station a few hours late. Bustitution often makes a lot of sense for significant one-time delays, in order to let them catch up, but IMHO it isn't a great option for consistent long term delays.

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Why couldn't Amtrak use some of the excess(?) equipment that is at present not being used for Cascades trains ? Run from SEA/PDX to Spokane and pick up persons from very late train #7. Appears that any #7 more than ~ 6 + hours late ?

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Why couldn't Amtrak use some of the excess(?) equipment that is at present not being used for Cascades trains ? Run from SEA/PDX to Spokane and pick up persons from very late train #7. Appears that any #7 more than ~ 6 + hours late ?

 

I had a similar question above. My guess is scheduling. Amtrak is likely to be able to run one train let alone multiples.

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My feeling is the real reason for delays is not trackwork. It seems the railroads know that people buy that explanation so they throw that out there every summer. Of course your going to have work areas on the railroad for trackwork. Does that usually cause much for speed restrictions or delays? Somewhat but usually for short distances and that is very rarely the cause of hours long delays on a main line railroad.

 

The real reason is probably the BNSF trying to get by with not hiring enough train crews and then attempting to run more trains than the line can handle. So then you have trains dying and needing to wait for rested crews.

 

They must be calculating that it is more profitable to suffer long delays than to build enough track and hire enough people to have a fluid line.

 

Why the Hi-line has any sections of single track besides a bridge or tunnel here and there is beyond me. With the amount of money Berkshire Hathaway has, the BNSF could hire an army of track workers to lay a new track from Chicago to Seattle in one summer and still have money left over if they really wanted to.

 

Just my opinion of course. But I feel like the BNSF has been claiming "trackwork" for way too many years now to be justified in delaying the Empire Builder so much that it can not be depended upon for any regular rider.

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Why couldn't Amtrak use some of the excess(?) equipment that is at present not being used for Cascades trains ? Run from SEA/PDX to Spokane and pick up persons from very late train #7. Appears that any #7 more than ~ 6 + hours late ?

What equipment isn't being used? Every single trainset is in use (there's only 6, with 13 scheduled trains per day if I recall...), which is why trains may be delayed or even cancelled due to mechanical issues, if they're severe enough. There is simply no spare equipment in Seattle. Also, Amtrak doesn't own the equipment, so someone would need to get permission from WDOT and ODOT.

 

Good luck with that.

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My feeling is the real reason for delays is not trackwork. It seems the railroads know that people buy that explanation so they throw that out there every summer. Of course your going to have work areas on the railroad for trackwork. Does that usually cause much for speed restrictions or delays? Somewhat but usually for short distances and that is very rarely the cause of hours long delays on a main line railroad.

 

The real reason is probably the BNSF trying to get by with not hiring enough train crews and then attempting to run more trains than the line can handle. So then you have trains dying and needing to wait for rested crews.

 

They must be calculating that it is more profitable to suffer long delays than to build enough track and hire enough people to have a fluid line.

 

Why the Hi-line has any sections of single track besides a bridge or tunnel here and there is beyond me. With the amount of money Berkshire Hathaway has, the BNSF could hire an army of track workers to lay a new track from Chicago to Seattle in one summer and still have money left over if they really wanted to.

 

Just my opinion of course. But I feel like the BNSF has been claiming "trackwork" for way too many years now to be justified in delaying the Empire Builder so much that it can not be depended upon for any regular rider.

Are you insinuating that BNSF is just doing what they can to delay the EB? I highly doubt it...

 

With running heavy and long freight trains, damage is going to occur, and will need to be replaced. Have you ever actually watched a work crew? It takes a lot of work and time. And it's not a case of just speed restrictions, but say it turns a double track area in to a single track area, and the next siding or double track area is always 20+ miles away and can only fit one train in it, the EB may be forced to wait 40 miles away from the track work for a single freight to go by before the freight in the next siding can continue moving, then the EB can move to occupy their siding. Then there's the same issue on the other side of the track work. So it turns in to a huge juggling act.

 

Then say they're doing track work in a single track area. The work required may get to a point where a total shutdown of traffic is required for a short time, quickly causing everything to back up. You did see the post where someone said freight deliveries are being delayed over 24 hours, right? Something that could irritate their customers and drive them to other transposition methods.

 

Lastly, just because there is money from investors to add another track spanning from Seattle to Chicago, why would the investors approve such a large expenditure when the infrastructure generally works? The investors want to see a profit turned, so they can gain income.

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