Empire Builder schedule history 1947-1971
GN’s post-WWII transcontinental passenger train schedules
by Mark Meyer
It was with much fanfare in 1947 as Great Northern debuted its new streamlined Empire Builder. Not only was the train advertised as the first post-WWII western streamliner, the sparkling new trains came with a much faster schedule. Instead of a 59+-hour schedule from Chicago to Seattle and three nights on the road, running time was slashed over 14 hours to 45 hours with only two nights en route. Compared to the significant reduction in running time in 1947, the schedule of the Empire Builder seems to have changed little during its tenure as a GN (and for one year a BN) train until the advent of Amtrak. In reality, the train underwent numerous schedule changes in those 24 years to cement its place as the premier Chicago-Seattle streamliner, but also to accommodate changing operational realities – including some not even on the Great Northern.
While the fastest Chicago-Seattle passenger train, the 1947 Empire Builder wasn’t the fastest in the Pacific Northwest; that title belonged to UP’s City of Portland, which began service much earlier (1935) with a single fixed articulated trainset that usually limited frequency to only five round trips from Chicago to Portland each month. Still, the City of Portland made the Chicago-Portland trip in only 39 hours, 45 minutes, nearly a day less than the pre-1947 Empire Builder. When the streamlined Empire Builder started service in February 23, 1947, the City of Portland had just received (only 8 days before) new equipment creating a daily service. Adding stops increased the City’s Chicago-Portland westbound running time to just shy of 42 hours - still about 3 hours faster than the new Empire Builder, but 2 hours longer (since passengers needed to travel via Portland) than the Empire Builder for a Chicago-Seattle trip. Still, GN had bragging rights to the Emerald City, and it was a huge improvement considering Oakland/San Francisco and Los Angeles had less-than-40-hour scheduled service to and from Chicago since well before WWII (near the time the City of Portland was inaugurated).
Just four months after the launch of the streamlined Empire Builder, the Milwaukee Road replaced its Olympian with a streamlined version, the Olympian Hiawatha, also on a 45-hour schedule between Chicago and Seattle. (In reality, the Olympian Hiawatha still carried numerous heavyweight cars, and wasn’t completely streamlined until January of 1949.) Even after the Milwaukee Road announced its Olympian Hiawatha was in the works, Northern Pacific was still attempting to bargain some kind of alternate-day operation with the Milwaukee Road for its North Coast Limited west of St. Paul due to their respective railroads being in close proximity. This never happened, and the Northern Pacific began obtaining lightweight equipment for its North Coast Limited, and pronounced it a “streamliner” in 1948, though heavyweight sleeping cars continued to operate for several more years, and continued its slower, pre-WWII schedule (13.5 hours slower westbound than the Empire Builder).
Additional Great Northern streamliners in 1950 and 1951 cemented the GN as the long-distance passenger carrier in the American Pacific Northwest, and even offered superlative service in the Canadian Pacific Southwest! GN launched its Streamlined Internationals (three times each day each way) between Vancouver, BC and Seattle in 1950, and in 1951, the streamlined Western Star (using most of the original 1947 Empire Builder equipment) started to accompany the Empire Builder following yet another re-equipping of the Empire Builder (the “Mid-Century” version).
Though a fine train and a true streamliner, the Western Star was only moderately faster than the heavyweight Oriental Limited which it replaced as it took a longer route (starting in 1952) through Montana with a side trip between Havre and Shelby to serve Montana’s (then) largest city, Great Falls. Still, however, the Western Star posted running times between Chicago and Seattle a few minutes faster than Northern Pacific’s flagship North Coast Limited, the Milwaukee Road’s secondary Columbian, and GN’s Fast Mail - which offered coach accommodations only. The GN Fast Mail bested the North Coast Limited’s running time between St. Paul and Seattle by 3 hours westbound and 50 minutes eastbound.
GN also focused on Canadian cross-county travel, advertising that by using GN streamliners (Internationals, Empire Builder, Western Star) and their Seattle, Everett, and Chicago connections, a trip from Vancouver to cities like Windsor, Toronto, and Montreal was significantly faster than an all-Canada routing. In 1952 as an example, Canadian Pacific’s Dominion made the Vancouver-to-Montreal trip in 80 hours, 10 minutes with Canadian National’s Continental taking 2 hours more; but the same trip starting on GN streamliners from Vancouver was only 74 hours, 15 minutes. To Toronto from Vancouver, both CN and CP carded schedules of just over 80 hours, but a trip starting on the Afternoon International and the Empire Builder (connecting to GTW/CN or NYC/CP) was over a half-day faster at 65 hours, 25 minutes, and an Evening International / Western Star trek was just under 73 hours. The GN advantage was eroded significantly beginning April 24, 1955, however, when CN and CP inaugurated their streamlined Super Continental and Canadian respectively – both on significantly faster schedules that didn’t require changes of trains or stations en route. Yet, the Empire Builder and its connections at Chicago and Everett allowed a Toronto-Vancouver trip 2 hours, 45 minutes faster than CP’s Canadian westbound, and was just over 4 hours faster eastbound; CN’s Super Continental was still nearly 6 hours slower from Toronto to Vancouver westbound and about 3.5 hours slower eastbound than the Empire Builder and its connections. Between Montreal and Vancouver – both eastbound and westbound – overall travel time on the Super Continental, Canadian, and Empire Builder/connections (using CN between Montreal and Toronto) was within an hour of each other. And one more Canadian-railroad comparison: In the mid-1950s, a trip from St. Paul to Vancouver, BC on the seasonal Soo Line/CP Mountaineer (a bit faster than the year-round Soo-Dominion) was about 18 ½ hours longer (each way) than using the Empire Builder and its International connection in Everett.
Northern Pacific finally ended its steam-era schedule of the North Coast Limited in November of 1952 - reducing the schedule by 12 hours to 46.5 hours each way - but with a route over 100 miles further than that of the Great Northern and Milwaukee Road, the North Coast Limited was nonetheless 90 minutes slower than the competition. (At the same time, NP began operating a secondary train, the Mainstreeter, from St. Paul to Seattle on the old North Coast Limited schedule.)
The Mid-1950s saw the discontinuance (in segments) of Milwaukee Road’s Chicago-Tacoma Columbian and the start of periodic and segmented consolidations of GN’s Fast Mail into the Western Star.
Two significant changes in scheduling occurred with flagship trains between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest in 1957. Most notably, Union Pacific (and the Milwaukee Road between Chicago and Omaha) began operating its City of Portland via Denver (instead of the direct route through Cheyenne; the train was consolidated with the City of Denver between Chicago and Denver). The change in routing – which would be in place for about a decade - added 2.5 hours to the westbound schedule of the City of Portland creating a running time very close to that of the westbound Empire Builder. (Eastbound, the City of Portland was still faster as the Empire Builder schedule was more tied to palatable arrival times in Spokane and the Twin Cities than overall speed.) Northern Pacific sped up its North Coast Limited by nearly an hour to 45 hours, 35 minutes from Chicago to Seattle, only 45 minutes slower than the Olympian Hiawatha, but still over 2 hours slower than the Empire Builder, which had also had moderate improvements to running time.
1960 saw a major change as GN’s Western Star stopped serving Grand Forks and Great Falls directly (but connecting service was maintained), significantly shortening the route as well as reducing running time. The Chicago-Seattle schedule was cut 5 hours, 45 minutes westbound and 9 hours eastbound, which included the advertised transfer to the CB&Q Afternoon Zephyr in Minneapolis (through cars to Chicago laid over in St. Paul for the overnight CB&Q Black Hawk to handle). A Seattle-to-Chicago trip via the Western Star/Afternoon Zephyr was only 2.5 hours longer than the Empire Builder and a mere 45 minutes longer than the North Coast Limited!
Actual running time between Chicago and Portland in 1960:
Empire Builder (GN): 42 hours
City of Portland (UP): 44 hours
North Coast Limited (NP):44 hours, 50 minutes
Mainstreeter (NP): 57 hours, 30 minutes
Western Star (GN): 57 hours, 30 minutes
Portland Rose (UP): 60 hours, 30 minutes
City of Portland (UP): 43 hours, 40 minutes
Empire Builder (GN): 45 hours
North Coast Limited (NP): 45 hours
Western Star/Afternoon Zephyr (GN): 46 hours; (through cars via the Black Hawk, 56 hours 30 minutes)
Mainstreeter (NP): 56 hours, 30 minutes
Portland Rose (UP): 57 hours, 5 minutes
Note: GN and NP trains use CB&Q Chicago-St. Paul and SP&S Spokane or Pasco to Portland; UP trains use MILW Chicago to Omaha; Portland Rose service required changing trains at Cheyenne and Omaha with no through cars.
Actual running times between Chicago and Seattle in 1960:
Empire Builder (GN): 42 hours, 50 minutes
Olympian Hiawatha (MILW): 44 hours, 55 minutes
North Coast Limited (NP): 45 hours, 20 minutes
City of Portland / UP 457 (UP): 48 hours, 30 minutes
Western Star (GN): 51 hours, 15 minutes
Mainstreeter (NP): 58 hours, 45 minutes
Portland Rose connections (UP): 68 hours, 30 minutes
Empire Builder (GN): 44 hours, 45 minutes
Olympian Hiawatha (MILW): 45 hours, 25 minutes
North Coast Limited (NP): 46 hours, 30 minutes
Western Star/Afternoon Zephyr (GN): 47 hours, 15 minutes (through cars via the Black Hawk, 56 hours 15 minutes)
GN 460 / City of Portland (UP): 49 hours, 50 minutes
Mainstreeter (NP): 56 hours, 25 minutes
Portland Rose (UP): 61 hours, 50 minutes
Note: GN and NP trains use CB&Q Chicago-St. Paul; UP trains use MILW Chicago to Omaha; Portland Rose service required changing trains at Portland, Cheyenne and Omaha with no through cars. No through cars on eastbound Western Star/Afternoon Zephyr connection.
Actual running times between Toronto and Vancouver in 1960:
International Limited/Empire Builder/Streamlined International (GN): 64 hours, 44 minutes (7:35 layover in Chicago)
Canadian (CP): 67 hours, 25 minutes
Super Continental (CN): 68 hours
Continental (CN): 83 hours
Dominion (CP): 83 hours, 10 minutes
Streamlined International/Empire Builder/NYC Canadian/CP train 20 (GN): 64 hours, 25 minutes (5:50 layover in Chicago)
Canadian (CP): 66 hours, 30 minutes
Super Continental (CN): 67 hours, 10 minutes
Continental (CN): 80 hours, 45 minutes
Dominion (CP): 81 hours
Note: GN service uses CB&Q Chicago-St. Paul, and either Grand Trunk Western-Canadian National (westbound) or New York Central-Canadian Pacific (eastbound) between Toronto and Chicago. No through cars.
Though the Western Star was rerouted away from Great Falls in 1960, GN maintained through sleeping car and coach service to and from St. Paul with a stub train from Havre. With the routing via New Rockford, a Great Falls-to-Minneapolis trip was reduced by over 2 hours. The connection time from train 236 (the Butte-Great Falls RDC) in Great Falls also was cut, decreasing the Helena-Minneapolis trip time by well over 7 hours. GN had long offered a comparable westbound running time to NP’s Mainstreeter between the Twin Cities and Helena via its Western Star connection at Great Falls, but the 1960 schedule change allowed a Helena-to-Minneapolis trip via Great Northern 2.4 hours faster than the Mainstreeter, and a Helena-Chicago trip (connecting to the Afternoon Zephyr) 4.7 hours faster. (It should be noted, however, that most of the trip times for the NP service was attributable to the very slow running time of the Mainstreeter; a Butte-to-Minneapolis trip on NP’s North Coast Limited was nearly 4.5 hours faster than via GN’s Western Star-and-connections on a route 100 miles shorter.)
The more appropriate gauge of train performance for the respective flagship trains of the GN, Milwaukee, and NP were their westbound schedules, which tended to be faster than their eastbound counterparts. This was most notable for the Empire Builder, which could be over 2 hours faster going west, but less often the case for the North Coast Limited, which had the longer running time in each direction and similar running times both ways. All three railroads attempted to schedule the trains as not to arrive the key intermediate station stops of St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Spokane in the middle of the night. For example, in 1961 had the eastbound Empire Builder departing Seattle and Portland at 300 PM and Spokane before midnight had the same running time as its westbound counterpart, arrival in Minneapolis would be an unmarketable 400 AM instead of the actual 615 AM.
The Milwaukee Road discontinued its Olympian Hiawatha in May of 1961, only 14 years after its christening, and only 6 years after the demise of its companion train, the Columbian. While the Hiawathas were known for their speed between Chicago and the Twin Cities, such was not the case elsewhere. The Olympian Hiawatha ended its career posting a (westbound) Chicago-Seattle running time of 44 hours, 55 minutes (only 5 minutes faster than its post-war debut) at an average speed of only 48.7 MPH, compared to (in May 1961) the North Coast Limited at 45 hours, 20 minutes and 51.2 MPH and the Empire Builder at 42 hours, 50 minutes at 51.6 MPH.
The 45 hour, 20 minute Chicago-Seattle schedule for the North Coast Limited in 1961 was that train’s fastest. The schedule was lengthened 5 minutes in 1962. The westbound schedules from the mid-1950s until 1962 were unusual in that they include a Spokane-Seattle running time at its fastest, at less than 9 hours (8 hours, 43 minutes in 1961), while the eastbound counterpart remained at 9 hours or longer. Common practice is to have schedule padding toward the end of the trip – not the case with the westbound North Coast Limited. This was, evidently, an untenable situation, and by the fall of 1962 NP rescinded its 1957 speed-up of the North Coast Limited with an hour added to its westbound schedule versus that in the previous year for a 46 hour, 20 minute timing from Chicago to Seattle or 3 hours, 25 minutes slower than the Empire Builder. The later arrival in Seattle for the North Coast Limited severed the connection to the GN morning International for Vancouver, BC, and reduced the equipment turnaround time in Seattle to only 5 hours (830 AM to 130 PM).
In the fall of 1963, the Empire Builder posted a Chicago-Seattle schedule of 42 hours, 45 minutes, establishing the best-ever timing for a passenger train between those cities. The eastbound trip was 45 hours even. The North Coast Limited’s westbound running time from Minneapolis to Seattle was 38 hours, 35 minutes, only one hour less than the GN Western Star; While the Western Star had 109 fewer miles to go, it also had 63 positive and conditional intermediate stops versus 24 for the North Coast Limited, and was – most of the year – a much larger train handling all the Fast Mail business. Eastbound, the North Coast Limited was but 40 minutes faster than the Western Star Seattle to Minneapolis, and the NP Mainstreeter - still operating on the post-WWII North Coast Limited schedule - posted a Seattle-Minneapolis timing just over 7 hours longer than the eastbound Western Star.
The fall 1963 westbound Empire Builder was 2 hours faster from Chicago to Portland than UP’s City of Portland (consolidated with the City of Denver Chicago to Denver since 1959), but 1 hour 15 minutes slower eastbound; Evidently UP felt no particular obligation to put its crack trains through its headquarters city (Omaha, where all the Cities trains were scheduled between 1100 PM and 400 AM) at a decent hour as was the case with Great Northern and the Empire Builder at St. Paul.
Later in the mid-1960s, GN’s Western Star got the contract for a Seattle-Chicago storage mail car via the CB&Q Afternoon Zephyr at Minneapolis. To accommodate this business, the eastbound Western Star in October of 1965 had its schedule reduced to 38 hours, 40 minutes Seattle to Minneapolis – the identical running time of the NP flagship North Coast Limited between the same two cities! (The Empire Builder was scheduled only slightly faster at 37 hours, 15 minutes with most of its running time advantage occurring west of the Continental Divide; in fact, from Cut Bank to Minneapolis, the Western Star was actually 5 minutes faster than the Empire Builder - albeit via Alexandria instead of Willmar on a route 18 miles shorter!) Indeed, through the latter part of the 1950s and most of the 1960s, the Western Star maintained its dual role of second (but not secondary) transcontinental streamliner as well as the Fast Mail with a schedule to accommodate both.
Throughout most of the 1960s, the eastbound Empire Builder and North Coast Limited were consolidated between St. Paul and Chicago on CB&Q – but not westbound. This changed in the Fall of 1966 when the westbound Empire Builder and North Coast Limited were consolidated on a year-round basis (and seasonally with the Afternoon Zephyr). This change would be the primary driver in schedule changes for the Empire Builder until the arrival of Amtrak because the Empire Builder would be tied to the schedule of the slower North Coast Limited on both ends of its run in each direction: Chicago to St. Paul on CB&Q and Pasco to Portland on SP&S. With a running time easily 2 hours faster than the North Coast Limited between St. Paul and Pasco, GN was left with little choice but to fatten the Empire Builder’s schedule in between.
The consolidated Empire Builder/North Coast Limited (and Afternoon Zephyr, depending on the day of operation or season) initially departed Chicago at 115 PM – a whopping 1 hour, and 45 minutes earlier than the previous schedule for the Empire Builder, and 45 minutes later than previously for the North Coast Limited (and the latest ever as a streamliner). To compensate, GN added 45 minutes of fat to the westbound Empire Builder, but still arrived in Seattle an hour earlier than its previous schedule; NP actually decreased the running time of the westbound North Coast Limited by 30 minutes arriving in Seattle at 845 AM instead of 830 AM.
But unlike the seven or more hours of turn time available for inbound equipment at Seattle enjoyed by the Empire Builder, North Coast Limited equipment was always racing the clock. Turnaround time in 1952 was a mere 5 hours and 15 minutes. In 1965 and 1966 it was 5 hours (inbound at 830 AM turning for a 130 PM departure). The change to the 845 AM arrival in Seattle reduced the turn time to 4 hours, 45 minutes – little leeway for a train already on a tight schedule. To compensate, late in 1967, the eastbound North Coast Limited’s traditional 130 PM departure was set back an hour to 230 PM to improve timekeeping. (Interestingly, the SP&S didn’t modify the schedule for its eastbound Empire Builder/North Coast Limited; as a result: SP&S train 2 arrived in Pasco 84 minutes before the arrival of the Seattle section of the North Coast Limited and arrived in Spokane 80 minutes before the arrival of the eastbound Seattle section of the Empire Builder.) Arrival in Chicago for the Empire Builder/North Coast Limited/Morning Zephyr was 55 minutes later than previously (255 PM versus 200 PM). GN’s Empire Builder departed Seattle at 300 PM as usual, but with its route being well over an hour faster than the NP to Spokane, it then was scheduled to depart the Lilac City 34 minutes BEFORE that of the eastbound North Coast Limited with its 230 PM Seattle departure. Given that an unrestrained Empire Builder could best a typical North Coast Limited to St. Paul by nearly 2 hours, this meant all the more schedule padding needed for the eastbound Empire Builder to accommodate the consolidation. (One must wonder why GN didn’t change the Seattle departure to a similar later time to maintain the “spacing” from origin with the North Coast Limited. A palatable departure time from Spokane was certainly a major consideration, but GN had operated the westbound Empire Builder in and out of Spokane near the midnight hour previously. Also speculating, GN could even have rerouted the Empire Builder via the somewhat longer route through Grand Forks to serve more on-line population without jeopardizing any schedule commitments at St. Paul or Pasco.)
The lengthened Empire Builder running times starting in 1966 likely solidified GN’s decision to move the seasonal Glacier Park tourist cars to the Empire Builder from the Western Star and establish Empire Builder stops at Glacier Park and Belton starting in the summer of 1968. Declining ridership and loss of U.S. Mail contracts were the more-likely reasons to make the change, but it did eliminate any further need to run second sections of the Western Star during Glacier Park summer season when other mail and express volumes might require trains of excessive length. Nonetheless, the Empire Builder could still reach over 20 cars in length, with any switching and/or multiple station spots being easily accommodated by the lengthened schedule. For the first time ever (since being streamlined), the westbound Empire Builder departed Havre before noon and was scheduled from Havre to Whitefish in 6 hours, 10 minutes on a run that could be done in less than 5 hours. Overall, the schedule had 80 minutes added Havre to Spokane.
The schedule of the Western Star didn’t change significantly when it was no longer the vehicle for the Glacier Park tourist cars in the summer of 1968, but it did later that year when the Dakotan was discontinued between Minot and Fargo, and was rerouted to serve Devils Lake and Grand Forks rather than operating via the Surrey cutoff. The westbound Western Star schedule was lengthened only 30 minutes (to 40 hours, 30 minutes) between St. Paul and Seattle (to preserve the pre-midnight arrival time at Seattle), but the eastbound train had its schedule lengthened by three hours (to 42 hours, 30 minutes). The new 630 PM arrival in St. Paul reduced the wait Chicago passengers would endure for the overnight CB&Q Black Hawk, since a connection with the Afternoon Zephyr was no longer possible. Meanwhile, also in the Fall of 1968, with dwindling head end business and having filed notices for discontinuance, NP reduced the running time of the Mainstreeter dramatically from St. Paul to Seattle by 6 hours 20 minutes and by 4 hours, 55 minutes eastbound. (For the first time ever, this late-1968 eastbound Mainstreeter was faster than the Western Star by 50 minutes; the westbound train was still 2 hours slower.) With the change, the eastbound Mainstreeter gained a connection the Afternoon Zephyr for Chicago, but lost its SP&S connection from Portland in Pasco, and the southbound connection from the Winnipeg RDC at Hawley, Minnesota. (The southbound Winnipeg train’s connection was changed to the North Coast Limited in the middle of the night at Fargo which further hastened its demise.)
Following the removal of most U.S. Mail from passenger trains in September of 1967, NP immediately petitioned to discontinue the Mainstreeter, but was thwarted on several occasions; One of the contemplative scenarios at Northern Pacific was whether to add station stops to the North Coast Limited should the Mainstreeter be discontinued – a conundrum with downstream effects as schedules would be lengthened and equipment turn time in Seattle reduced, once again potentially affecting consolidations with the Empire Builder at Pasco and St. Paul. But as it happened, the Mainstreeter sauntered on until its discontinuance with the advent of Amtrak.
Schedules of the Empire Builder and Western Star changed little after 1968 through merger day on March 2, 1970, but the epitome of awkward pre-Amtrak Empire Builder schedule padding actually occurred as a Burlington Northern train starting in November, 1970 when the shorter, faster bypass route around the Libby Dam site in Northwest Montana was placed in service. BN changed the Seattle departure eastbound Empire Builder from 300 PM to 345 PM (its latest departure time from Seattle as a streamliner), and reduced the running time from Seattle to Spokane by 15 minutes. As a result, it departed Spokane only 4 minutes (instead of 34 minutes, as was the case previously) before the eastbound North Coast Limited (still on its 230 PM Seattle departure time, and the train it still had to consolidate with at St. Paul). BN shortened the eastbound Empire Builder’s schedule 30 minutes between Spokane and Cut Bank and 40 additional minutes between Wolf Point and Fargo. Arrival in Fargo was 1225 AM, a full 85 minutes faster than the 1962 version of the train, the fastest Seattle-Fargo schedule ever. But more importantly, arrival in Fargo was 2 hours, 18 minutes ahead of train of the eastbound North Coast Limited (or 3 hours, 2 minutes faster from Seattle to Fargo). These running time reductions only necessitated additional schedule padding east of Fargo where the train moseyed the 262 miles to St. Paul in 6 hours, 42 minutes for an average of 39.1 MPH (versus 50.9 MPH for the eastbound North Coast Limited). Arrival at Minneapolis was scheduled for 630 AM but often occurred much earlier; The St. Paul arrival was planned for 720 AM, still 30 minutes before the arrival of the North Coast Limited at 750 AM. Departure for the combined Morning Zephyr/Empire Builder/North Coast Limited was 815 AM which meant that most days the eastbound Empire Builder languished in the Minneapolis/St. Paul terminal area (roughly Wayzata to St. Croix Tower) for three hours awaiting and executing its consolidation with the North Coast Limited. The run to Chicago was also lengthened a bit in 1971 so the last pre-Amtrak schedule put the Empire Builder into Chicago at 315 PM – 45 hours, 30 minutes from Seattle and 46 hours, 15 minutes from Portland. The current Amtrak Empire Builder is scheduled at 45 hours, 15 minutes from Seattle to Chicago and 45 hours, 10 minutes from Portland to Chicago. As such, the Empire Builder schedule padding in the immediate pre-Amtrak years gave a recent schedule for the eastbound Empire Builder a distinction: As the only long-distance passenger train operating in the United States faster between end points than its pre-Amtrak counterpart! Not only that, but with an equipment turnaround time for the shortest of any Amtrak long-distance train: 6 hours, 20 minutes in Seattle and 6 hours 35 minutes in Portland – much shorter than in post WWII GN streamliner days! (Unfortunately, effective July 11, 2022, Amtrak added 35 minutes' running time to the schedule of the eastbound Empire Builder - to accommodate a more realistic dwell time at Minot for train inspection - so Amtrak currently has NO long-distance trains on a schedule with endpoint-to-endpoint running times faster than pre-May 1, 1971.)
The Libby Dam line change also resulted in a minor speed-up for the Western Star just prior to its Amtrak Day discontinuance with a St. Paul-Seattle running time reduced by 30 minutes westbound and 15 minutes eastbound. (The last westbound Western Star was scheduled 10 minutes faster than the Empire Builder from Havre to Seattle.) The Western Star’s Fast Mail connection to and from Chicago at St. Paul had usually been the Milwaukee Road’s train of the same name, the Fast Mail. Between the two railroads, through Fast Mail cars in early 1971 were scheduled for 51 hours, 30 minutes from Chicago to Seattle. A week before the start of Amtrak on May 1, 1971, Burlington Northern moved much of the westbound mail and express remaining to a new freight train (along much of the Western Star route) which often made the Chicago-Seattle trip faster than its advertised 50-hour schedule. Its name, the Pacific Zip, was a nod to the early GN Pacific Fast Mail. Indeed, in its short 20-year history, the Western Star successfully bridged and maintained the spectrum of being GN’s Glacier Park streamliner (nearly-equal in equipment and amenities to running mate Empire Builder) AND keeping the concept of the Fast Mail alive and well long enough to successfully transition into the fastest-ever Chicago-Seattle priority freight train (much faster than the 55.5 hours carded for the Milwaukee Road’s XL Special and CB&Q/GN train 97). This, and 93 years (in 2022) of Empire Builder history, have created an enduring legacy of superlative trains along GN’s “Northern Transcontinental” route.