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Empire Builder Opportunities

Empire Builder schedule: Historical perspective

The current schedule - or minor derivatives thereof - for the Empire Builder has been in effect since 1981, the year that the Spokane-Seattle portion of the route was changed to one via Wenatchee instead of Yakima. The Wenatchee routing decreased the running time by three hours for a round trip and allowed same-day turn time for equipment, which was historically the case in pre-Amtrak days. October of 1981 was also when the Portland section of the Empire Builder was added (as an Amtrak train). The change in schedule allowed for connections to most trains in Chicago as well as the Coast Starlight in Portland.

Today’s eastbound Empire Builder is the only Amtrak long distance train operating on a schedule faster than its last pre-Amtrak counterpart (in 1971). While this speaks poorly of all other long distance trains, that the eastbound Empire Builder is anomaly is more because from the mid-1960s to the advent of Amtrak, the Empire Builder was combined with the North Coast Limited between Portland and Pasco and between St. Paul and Chicago. In between (Pasco to St. Paul), the Empire Builder had a much shorter, faster route, yet the schedule was lengthened significantly to accommodate the additional running time needed by the North Coast Limited.

Today, the westbound Empire Builder (train 7) is carded for 46 hours, 10 minutes from Chicago to Seattle; the eastbound train (8) for 45 hours, 15 minutes. (The eastbound train is 55 minutes faster.) The turnaround time for equipment at Seattle and Portland (inbound equipment on trains 7 and 27 protect 8 and 28 the same day) is the shortest (about 6.5 hours) of any Amtrak long distance service.

In 1963, the westbound Empire Builder operated on a schedule of 42 hours, 45 minutes from Chicago to Seattle; its eastbound counterpart was scheduled at 45 hours. Historically speaking during its pre-Amtrak tenure as a streamliner (and when the schedule was not burdened by the consolidation with the North Coast Limited), the westbound schedule was always significantly faster than eastbound. This allowed more turnaround time of equipment on the west coast, but also because the eastbound train had an artificially longer running time to accommodate decent station stop times at Spokane (just before midnight) and Minneapolis/St. Paul (early morning).

As time as been added to the Empire Builder schedule through the years, Amtrak has chosen to allow Spokane (the largest city between Seattle/Portland and Minneapolis/St. Paul) to be “served” by rather unpalatable arrival and departure times. The lengthening of the schedule of train 7 also prohibits a much-desired connection to train 516 (to Vancouver, BC) at Everett (currently, the two trains misconnect by 2 minutes).

The idiosyncrasies of the current schedule and its flaws, train 7/27

Most of the problem with the current Empire Builder schedule is westbound, where the train has excessive dwell or padding, and in many of the wrong locations, all west of St. Paul. From Merriam Park, just west of the stop at St. Paul Union Depot and St. Anthony, the Empire Builder operates on Minnesota Commercial Railroad trackage (past the site of the former Amtrak Midway station at 730 Transfer Road). West of St. Anthony, operation is BNSF, which receives incentive payments for running the train on time. These payments are made based on performance in segments: St. Anthony-Minot, Minot-Shelby, Shelby-Spokane, Spokane-Seattle, and Spokane-Portland. There is padding built into the schedule just prior to the endpoint of the incentive segment.

After departure from St. Paul, additional schedule padding exists to cover the possibility that setting out or picking up cars for the Minneapolis/St. Paul area might be necessary, and if so, this would be done at the former Midway station site. It also explains that train 7 is allocated 124 minutes for the 90-minute run from St. Paul to St. Cloud. Again, while this station work is a possibility, it is rare, and it is not unusual for train 7 to arrive in St. Cloud (a crew change point) 20 to 30 minutes early.

Between Rugby and Minot, train 7 is allowed 93 minutes for a 55-minute run, as well as 37 minutes (versus 20 eastbound) to inspect and service the train. As a result, train 7 can often sit unnecessarily at Minot for 45 minutes waiting for scheduled departure time. In 2015, BNSF completed a massive upgrade its route between the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and Minot. Except for a short segment, the route is all two main track CTC or paired main tracks. (Between Fargo/Moorhead and Minot-Surrey, BNSF uses two largely single-track routes as paired track: one via New Rockford, and the current Amtrak route via Grand Forks; the route via Grand Forks was previously an ABS operation with no CTC or power switches; it is now completely CTC with additional sidings added; all siding switches are remotely operated by the control operator/dispatcher.) In spite of these upgrades, the overall schedule of train 7 has changed little, even though the likelihood of delay in this segment has been minimalized. When the train is at Minot, it occupies one of two main tracks between Gavin Yard and Soo Tower (the crossing with CP). Minot has taken on a greater importance with BNSF adding it as inspection point (usually in lieu of Havre); an Amtrak train occupying one of the main tracks simply “waiting for time” is an undesirable occupation of track space.

The next segment for incentive purposes is Minot to Shelby. BNSF has also performed significant upgrades on this route. Minot to Williston – with the exception of the bridge over Gassman Coulee – is now two main track CTC (with numerous 50 MPH crossovers). Additional siding capacity has been added at a new staging yard east of Glasgow. In spite of these improvements, Amtrak schedules have not been significantly altered. At Havre, train 7 has 25 minutes of dwell. This is largely to accommodate the need to fuel the train, but no padding exists east of Havre. Havre is the most-logical location to include padding as it is the site of BNSF’s primary locomotive facility for its “Northern Transcontinental,” meaning any additional padding or dwell time could be applied to a locomotive modification on or repair of a locomotive on an Amtrak train. The scheduled time from departure Havre to departure Shelby is 138 minutes. Since the run can be made in 90 minutes (105 miles) and the crew change completed in 5 minutes, an on-time departure from Havre can mean station dwell in Shelby (and this is commonplace) of up to 40 minutes.

Historically, the station dwell in this area has been at Havre (the crew change point prior to when Amtrak crews began operating its own trains). Contrary to popular belief, that there is schedule padding and that the incentive point is at Shelby has nothing to do with Amtrak crews changing at Shelby. The padding was moved away from Havre over a decade ago as a result of BNSF launching a very high-priority (and very fast) intermodal service between Chicago and Portland to compete with UP. The schedule of this train was such that it arrived Havre very near to the arrival of Amtrak train 7. BNSF changed the incentive point so that train 7 would have no occasion to “wait for time” on the main track at Havre and possibly be blocking the main track, the preferred inspection location for this high-priority intermodal train between Chicago and Portland. The challenging schedule of the Chicago-Portland intermodal service was short-lived, and has been lengthened.

“Waiting for time” up to 40 minutes at Shelby, as can be the case should the train be close to on time from Havre, is also not a desired situation by BNSF. Shelby has become busier over the past decade with many more trains to and from CP interchange at Sweet Grass, MT/Coutts, AB, notably grain, metallurgic coal, and crude oil (and corresponding empty counterpart trains). Loaded trains from the CP going west of Shelby need locomotive modifications as the trains reverse direction in the yard, and often also receive additional power for steeper grades in the vicinity of Glacier Park and south of Wishram. Therefore, main track “track and time” is always an issue to perform work on these trains in addition to allowing other freight traffic to flow through the area. An Amtrak train blocking one of main track simply because it cannot depart until the time on its schedule is an artificial barrier to fluidity.

For the Shelby-to-Spokane incentive segment, the only area of significant schedule padding is at the west end, between Sandpoint and Spokane. Train 7 is allowed 111 minutes for a run that takes 70. Therefore, arrivals of 40 minutes early are not uncommon. Additionally, BNSF has added additional sections of second main track in this segment, further increasing fluidity.

Not all schedule padding should be removed, ever. A modicum should remain to accommodate minor delays and retain a semblance of on-time operation over the entirety of the run. However, much of the padding can be moved to certain areas of the schedule to create more palatable train times. For example, if 20 minutes of padding was removed from the schedule of train 7 between St. Paul and St. Cloud, 30 minutes en route to and at Minot, 30 minutes en route to Shelby, and 30 minutes en route to Spokane, this would change the current 140 AM arrival time at Spokane to 1150 PM instead of 140 AM. Selling a train time before midnight is infinitely better than one after.

Train 7 between Spokane and Seattle and train 27 between Spokane and Portland have the type of schedule padding associated with the end of a run. When operating on time, however, train 7 can arrive in Seattle 45 minutes early and train 27 thirty minutes early at Portland.

Two trips of train 7 explain schedule padding on the Empire Builder. The first one is train 7 which departed Chicago on January 6, 2018 some 4 hours, 25 minutes late. There wasn’t enough padding to make up an initial deficit of that amount, but it was close. The train made up 3 hours 39 minutes en route and arrived Seattle only 46 minutes tardy.

Train 7 of 01/06/2018

* Empire Builder

* +---------------- Station Code
* | +----------- Schedule Arrival Day
* | | +-------- Schedule Arrival Time
* | | | +----- Schedule Departure Day
* | | | | +-- Schedule Departure Time
* | | | | | +------------- Actual Arrival Time
* | | | | | | +------- Actual Departure Time
* | | | | | | | +- Comments
* V V V V V V V V
* CHI * * 1 215P * 640P Departed: 4 hours, 25 minutes late.
* GLN * * 1 239P * 720P Departed: 4 hours, 41 minutes late.
* MKE 1 342P 1 352P 819P 826P Arrived: 4 hours, 37 minutes late. | Departed: 4 hours, 34 minutes late.
* CBS * * 1 502P * 932P Departed: 4 hours, 30 minutes late.
* POG * * 1 531P * 1003P Departed: 4 hours, 32 minutes late.
* WDL * * 1 549P * 1022P Departed: 4 hours, 33 minutes late.
* TOH * * 1 627P * 1059P Departed: 4 hours, 32 minutes late.
* LSE * * 1 711P * 1140P Departed: 4 hours, 29 minutes late.
* WIN 1 741P 1 747P 1211A 1220A Arrived: 4 hours, 30 minutes late. | Departed: 4 hours, 33 minutes late.
* RDW * * 1 849P * 122A Departed: 4 hours, 33 minutes late.
* MSP 1 1003P 1 1020P 210A 229A Arrived: 4 hours, 7 minutes late. | Departed: 4 hours, 9 minutes late.
* SCD * * 2 1224A * 411A Departed: 3 hours, 47 minutes late.
* SPL * * 2 126A * 532A Departed: 4 hours, 6 minutes late.
* DLK * * 2 222A * 629A Departed: 4 hours, 7 minutes late.
* FAR * * 2 324A * 731A Departed: 4 hours, 7 minutes late.
* GFK * * 2 441A * 844A Departed: 4 hours, 3 minutes late.
* DVL * * 2 602A * 1000A Departed: 3 hours, 58 minutes late.
* RUG * * 2 656A * 1052A Departed: 3 hours, 56 minutes late.
* MOT 2 829A 2 906A 1149A 1215P Arrived: 3 hours, 20 minutes late. | Departed: 3 hours, 9 minutes late.
* STN * * 2 957A * 120P Departed: 3 hours, 23 minutes late.
* WTN * * 2 1107A * 224P Departed: 3 hours, 17 minutes late.
* WPT * * 2 1141A * 252P Departed: 3 hours, 11 minutes late.
* GGW * * 2 1226P * 334P Departed: 3 hours, 8 minutes late.
* MAL * * 2 125P * 432P Departed: 3 hours, 7 minutes late.
* HAV 2 239P 2 304P 547P 605P Arrived: 3 hours, 8 minutes late. | Departed: 3 hours, 1 minute late.
* SBY 2 517P 2 522P 733P 739P Arrived: 2 hours, 16 minutes late. | Departed: 2 hours, 17 minutes late.
* CUT * * 2 551P * 808P Departed: 2 hours, 17 minutes late.
* BRO * * 2 628P * 843P Departed: 2 hours, 15 minutes late.
* ESM * * 2 741P * 1004P Departed: 2 hours, 23 minutes late.
* WGL * * 2 823P * 1040P Departed: 2 hours, 17 minutes late.
* WFH 2 856P 2 916P 1109P 1122P Arrived: 2 hours, 13 minutes late. | Departed: 2 hours, 6 minutes late.
* LIB * * 2 1059P * 109A Departed: 2 hours, 10 minutes late.
* SPT * * 2 1149P * 201A Departed: 2 hours, 12 minutes late.
* SPK 3 140A 3 215A 310A 351A Arrived: 1 hour, 30 minutes late. | Departed: 1 hour, 36 minutes late.
* EPH * * 3 422A * 556A Departed: 1 hour, 34 minutes late.
* WEN 3 525A 3 535A 656A 708A Arrived: 1 hour, 31 minutes late. | Departed: 1 hour, 33 minutes late.
* LWA * * 3 608A * 743A Departed: 1 hour, 35 minutes late.
* EVR * * 3 838A * 1010A Departed: 1 hour, 32 minutes late.
* EDM * * 3 910A * 1035A Departed: 1 hour, 25 minutes late.
* SEA 3 1025A * * 1111A * Arrived: 46 minutes late.

Train 7 from Chicago the following day (January 7) was nearly on time for the entire trip:

Train 7 of 01/07/2018

* Empire Builder
* +---------------- Station Code
* |    +----------- Schedule Arrival Day  
* |    |  +-------- Schedule Arrival Time
* |    |  |     +----- Schedule Departure Day
* |    |  |     |  +-- Schedule Departure Time 
* |    |  |     |  |     +------------- Actual Arrival Time
* |    |  |     |  |     |     +------- Actual Departure Time
* |    |  |     |  |     |     |     +- Comments
* V    V  V     V  V     V     V     V
* CHI  *  *     1  215P  *     215P  Departed:  On time.
* GLN  *  *     1  239P  *     242P  Departed:  3 minutes late.
* MKE  1  342P  1  352P  345P  356P  Arrived:  3 minutes late.            |  Departed:  4 minutes late.
* CBS  *  *     1  502P  *     507P  Departed:  5 minutes late.
* POG  *  *     1  531P  *     538P  Departed:  7 minutes late.
* WDL  *  *     1  549P  *     557P  Departed:  8 minutes late.
* TOH  *  *     1  627P  *     636P  Departed:  9 minutes late.
* LSE  *  *     1  711P  *     719P  Departed:  8 minutes late.
* WIN  1  741P  1  747P  750P  755P  Arrived:  9 minutes late.            |  Departed:  8 minutes late.
* RDW  *  *     1  849P  *     857P  Departed:  8 minutes late.
* MSP  1  1003P 1  1020P 946P  1020P Arrived:  17 minutes early.          |  Departed:  On time.
* SCD  *  *     2  1224A *     1224A Departed:  On time.
* SPL  *  *     2  126A  *     126A  Departed:  On time.
* DLK  *  *     2  222A  *     222A  Departed:  On time.
* FAR  *  *     2  324A  *     328A  Departed:  4 minutes late.
* GFK  *  *     2  441A  *     442A  Departed:  1 minute late.
* DVL  *  *     2  602A  *     602A  Departed:  On time.
* RUG  *  *     2  656A  *     656A  Departed:  On time.
* MOT  2  829A  2  906A  754A  906A  Arrived:  35 minutes early.          |  Departed:  On time.
* STN  *  *     2  957A  *     957A  Departed:  On time.
* WTN  *  *     2  1107A *     1107A Departed:  On time.
* WPT  *  *     2  1141A *     1142A Departed:  1 minute late.
* GGW  *  *     2  1226P *     1242P Departed:  16 minutes late.
* MAL  *  *     2  125P  *     141P  Departed:  16 minutes late.
* HAV  2  239P  2  304P  256P  318P  Arrived:  17 minutes late.           |  Departed:  14 minutes late.
* SBY  2  517P  2  522P  456P  522P  Arrived:  21 minutes early.          |  Departed:  On time.
* CUT  *  *     2  551P  *     553P  Departed:  2 minutes late.
* BRO  *  *     2  628P  *     628P  Departed:  On time.
* ESM  *  *     2  741P  *     741P  Departed:  On time.
* WGL  *  *     2  823P  *     823P  Departed:  On time.
* WFH  2  856P  2  916P  853P  916P  Arrived:  3 minutes early.           |  Departed:  On time.
* LIB  *  *     2  1059P *     1059P Departed:  On time.
* SPT  *  *     2  1149P *     1155P Departed:  6 minutes late.
* SPK  3  140A  3  215A  104A  215A  Arrived:  36 minutes early.          |  Departed:  On time.
* EPH  *  *     3  422A  *     422A  Departed:  On time.
* WEN  3  525A  3  535A  523A  535A  Arrived:  2 minutes early.           |  Departed:  On time.
* LWA  *  *     3  608A  *     608A  Departed:  On time.
* EVR  *  *     3  838A  *     853A  Departed:  15 minutes late.
* EDM  *  *     3  910A  *     918A  Departed:  8 minutes late.
* SEA  3  1025A *  *     947A  *     Arrived:  38 minutes early.

In this example, train 7 is indicated as “early” for 152 minutes. (“Early” is only registered at stations where an arrival and departure are indicated; at St. Cloud, where early arrivals are commonplace, it is not indicated as such as only a departure time is given.) Of the 152 “early” minutes, 112 were at Spokane and east, meaning that if the train were simply allowed to depart after dwelling for its allotted station time (and if additional delays were not encountered), it would have arrived Spokane at 1142 PM.

The idiosyncrasies of the current schedule and its flaws, train 8/28

Between Chicago and Seattle, the running time of train 7 exceeds that of train 8 by 55 minutes. Therefore, train 8 logically should have less station dwell. The biggest flaw with regard to schedule padding for the eastbound Empire Builder is WHERE its padding is. Between Seattle and Spokane, the padding is logically between Ephrata and Spokane where the train is allotted 178 minutes for a trip requiring 130. Train 28 between Pasco and Spokane gets 196 minutes for a trip that takes 170. At Spokane, train 28 dwells for 73 minutes and train 8 for 45 minutes. When trains are late, the combining of trains at Spokane rarely takes more than 30 minutes, even if both trains arrive with one locomotive and each are to be used on the outbound train. The only extenuating circumstance for delay at Spokane usually is due to private or business cars arriving train 8. These are on the end of the train behind the last Amtrak car, and at Spokane, the cars from Portland need to be placed in between the regular Seattle section cars and any private or business cars. Overall, these moves are rare, and consequently, dwell is excessive.

The segment between Spokane and Shelby features two segments of padding: Libby to Whitefish (20 minutes), and Cut Bank to Shelby (20 minutes). The padding inbound to Whitefish is not excessive, especially considering that scheduled running time from Spokane to Sandpoint is 65 minutes – something that has never been achieved. Therefore, the train is always a bit late departing Libby. Whitefish, the largest intermediate station for ridership west of St. Paul is not a bad place for padding, but at least 10 minutes could be shifted east to East Glacier Park or Browning to accommodate winter weather delays or summertime passenger traffic from West Glacier Park and East Glacier Park. The 20 minutes of padding inbound at Shelby is just again an example of a train occupying space where it doesn’t need to. The dwell could be much better of use further east.

The segment from Shelby to Minot features a mysterious 10 minutes of padding between Havre and Malta, and 35 minutes between Stanley and Minot. This is the segment when train 8/28 encounters train 7 (and its larger amount of padding) and many of BNSF’s highest-priority intermodal trains. Therefore, its padding is not unreasonable, and it’s the segment where, should the train become late, it is most likely to stay late. The 89 minutes for the 105 miles from Shelby to Havre is possible, but rarely achieved. The 20 minutes of dwell in Havre to fuel the power is sufficient. Given the likelihood of delay on this segment, the padding inbound at Minot should be expected, especially since the 20 minutes of dwell at Minot for train servicing and inspection is rarely achieved.

From Minot to St. Paul (or St. Anthony, on BNSF), all the padding is between St. Cloud and St. Paul. This is logical to try to achieve and as-close-to-on-time departure of train 8/28 from St. Paul, as St. Paul-to-Chicago is a major market for this train. Also, padding is needed in the event cars are added or removed at St. Paul/Midway. East of St. Paul on Canadian Pacific, the padding is not excessive: eastbound to Chicago and westbound to St. Paul and approaching the intermediate engine crew change point of Winona, Minnesota.

This is a log of train 8 of January 2, 2018:

Train 8 of 01/02/2018

* Empire Builder
* +---------------- Station Code
* |    +----------- Schedule Arrival Day  
* |    |  +-------- Schedule Arrival Time
* |    |  |     +----- Schedule Departure Day
* |    |  |     |  +-- Schedule Departure Time 
* |    |  |     |  |     +------------- Actual Arrival Time
* |    |  |     |  |     |     +------- Actual Departure Time
* |    |  |     |  |     |     |     +- Comments
* V    V  V     V  V     V     V     V
* SEA  *  *     1  440P  *     440P  Departed:  On time.
* EDM  *  *     1  512P  *     512P  Departed:  On time.
* EVR  *  *     1  539P  *     539P  Departed:  On time.
* LWA  *  *     1  800P  *     816P  Departed:  16 minutes late.
* WEN  1  832P  1  842P  846P  855P  Arrived:  14 minutes late.           |  Departed:  13 minutes late.
* EPH  *  *     1  942P  *     958P  Departed:  16 minutes late.
* SPK  2  1240A 2  125A  1214A 125A  Arrived:  26 minutes early.          |  Departed:  On time.
* SPT  *  *     2  230A  *     246A  Departed:  16 minutes late.
* LIB  *  *     2  521A  *     535A  Departed:  14 minutes late.
* WFH  2  721A  2  741A  718A  745A  Arrived:  3 minutes early.           |  Departed:  4 minutes late.
* WGL  *  *     2  811A  *     815A  Departed:  4 minutes late.
* ESM  *  *     2  850A  *     853A  Departed:  3 minutes late.
* BRO  *  *     2  1005A *     1140A Departed:  1 hour, 35 minutes late.
* CUT  *  *     2  1040A *     1236P Departed:  1 hour, 56 minutes late.
* SBY  2  1128A 2  1133A 104P  111P  Arrived:  1 hour, 36 minutes late.   |  Departed:  1 hour, 38 minutes late.
* HAV  2  102P  2  122P  240P  256P  Arrived:  1 hour, 38 minutes late.   |  Departed:  1 hour, 34 minutes late.
* MAL  *  *     2  242P  *     418P  Departed:  1 hour, 36 minutes late.
* GGW  *  *     2  337P  *     520P  Departed:  1 hour, 43 minutes late.
* WPT  *  *     2  423P  *     604P  Departed:  1 hour, 41 minutes late.
* WTN  *  *     2  659P  *     900P  Departed:  2 hours, 1 minute late.
  STN  *  *     2  801P              CT
* MOT  2  927P  2  947P  1045P 1110P Arrived:  1 hour, 18 minutes late.   |  Departed:  1 hour, 23 minutes late.
* RUG  *  *     2  1043P *     1206A Departed:  1 hour, 23 minutes late.
* DVL  *  *     2  1137P *     100A  Departed:  1 hour, 23 minutes late.
* GFK  *  *     3  102A  *     219A  Departed:  1 hour, 17 minutes late.
* FAR  *  *     3  218A  *     334A  Departed:  1 hour, 16 minutes late.
* DLK  *  *     3  315A  *     432A  Departed:  1 hour, 17 minutes late.
* SPL  *  *     3  414A  *     533A  Departed:  1 hour, 19 minutes late.
* SCD  *  *     3  519A  *     635A  Departed:  1 hour, 16 minutes late.
* MSP  3  743A  3  800A  813A  834A  Arrived:  30 minutes late.           |  Departed:  34 minutes late.
* RDW  *  *     3  854A  *     928A  Departed:  34 minutes late.
* WIN  3  1004A 3  1011A 1028A 1035A Arrived:  24 minutes late.           |  Departed:  24 minutes late.
* LSE  *  *     3  1047A *     1109A Departed:  22 minutes late.
* TOH  *  *     3  1126A *     1147A Departed:  21 minutes late.
* WDL  *  *     3  1208P *     1227P Departed:  19 minutes late.
* POG  *  *     3  1227P *     1244P Departed:  17 minutes late.
* CBS  *  *     3  1257P *     121P  Departed:  24 minutes late.
* MKE  3  207P  3  215P  229P  229P  Arrived:  22 minutes late.           |  Departed:  14 minutes late.
* GLN  *  *     3  312P  *     329P  Departed:  17 minutes late.
* CHI  3  355P  *  *     354P  *     Arrived:  1 minute early.

Note that the train was 2 hours late at one point, but still got to Chicago on time. In this case, the amount of padding was sufficient, but it also shows that early arrival at Spokane might have been used to facilitate the more-important on-time departure from St. Paul and that scheduled running time from Spokane to Sandpoint and at Minot is insufficient.

Example of a schedule modification to enhance train times at major stations:

7/27
proposed
7/27
current
The Empire Builder
Train number
8/28
current
8/28
proposed
Daily Daily Frequency of Operation Daily Daily
Read Down Read down Read up Read up
115 PM 215 PM Dp Chicago, IL (CT) Ar 355 PM 325 PM
r139 PM r239 PM Dp Glenview, IL Ar d312 PM d242 PM
r252 PM r352 PM Dp Milwaukee, WI Ar d207 PM d137 PM
402 PM 502 PM Dp Columbus, WI Dp 1257 PM 1227 PM
431 PM 531 PM Dp Portage, WI Dp 1227 PM 1157 AM
449 PM 549 PM Dp Wisconsin Dells, WI Dp 1208 PM 1139 AM
527 PM 627 PM Dp Tomah, WI Dp 1126 AM 1058 AM
611 PM 711 PM Dp La Crosse, WI Dp 1047 AM 1017 AM
647 PM 747 PM Dp Winona, MN Ar 1011 AM 946 AM
749 PM 849 PM Dp Red Wing, MN Dp 854 AM 824 AM
900 PM 1003 PM Ar St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN - SPUD Dp 800 AM 730 AM
920 PM 1020 PM Dp St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN - SPUD Ar 743 AM 700 AM
1020 PM Dp Coon Rapids, MN-Northstar Station Dp 530 AM
1120 PM 1224 AM Dp St. Cloud, MN Dp 519 AM 435 AM
1222 AM 126 AM Dp Staples, MN Dp 414 AM 326 AM
118 AM 222 AM Dp Detroit Lakes, MN Dp 315 AM 227 AM
220 AM 324 AM Dp Fargo, ND-Moorhead, MN Dp 218 AM 130 AM
335 AM 441 AM Dp Grand Forks, ND Dp 102 AM 1215 AM
455 AM 602 AM Dp Devils Lake, ND Dp 1137 PM 1050 PM
551 AM 656 AM Dp Rugby, ND Dp 1043 PM 956 PM
715 AM 829 AM Ar Minot, ND Dp 947 PM 900 PM
745 AM 906 AM Dp Minot, ND Ar 927 PM 830 PM
835 AM 957 AM Dp Stanley, ND Dp 801 PM 712 PM
945 AM 1107 AM Dp Williston, ND (CT) Dp 659 PM 610 PM
1019 AM 1141 AM Dp Wolf Point, MT (MT) Dp 423 PM 335 PM
1104 AM 1226 PM Dp Glasgow, MT Dp 337 PM 250 PM
1203 PM 125 PM Dp Malta, MT Dp 242 PM 155 PM
130 PM 239 PM Ar Havre, MT Dp 122 PM 1240 PM
155 PM 304 PM Dp Havre, MT Ar 102 PM 1215 PM
336 PM 522 PM Dp Shelby, MT Dp 1133 AM 1035 AM
405 PM 551 PM Dp Cut Bank, MT Dp 1040 AM 1000 AM
440 PM 628 PM Dp Browning, MT (seasonal) Dp 1005 AM 923 AM
500 PM 645 PM Dp East Glacier Park, MT (seasonal) Dp 949 AM 910 AM
555 PM 741 PM Dp Essex, MT Dp 850 AM 809 AM
635 PM 823 PM Dp West Glacier Park, MT Dp 811 AM 730 AM
705 PM 856 PM Ar Whitefish, MT Dp 741 AM 700 AM
725 PM 916 PM Dp Whitefish, MT Ar 721 AM 630 AM
908 PM 1059 PM Dp Libby, MT (MT) Dp 521 AM 430 AM
959 PM 1149 PM Dp Sandpoint, ID (PT) Dp 230 AM 140 AM
1159 PM 140 AM Ar Spokane, WA Dp 125 AM 1230 AM
27 27 Train Number 28 28
115 AM 245 AM Dp Spokane, WA Ar 1213 AM 1145 PM
415 AM 535 AM Dp Pasco-Richland-Kennewick, WA Dp 857 PM 835 PM
615 AM 730 AM Dp Wishram, WA Dp 655 PM 625 PM
650 AM 804 AM Dp Bingen-White Salmon, WA/Hood River, OR Dp 621 PM 551 PM
d805 AM 918 AM Dp Vancouver, WA Dp 507 PM r437 PM
900 AM 1010 AM Ar Portland, OR (PT) Dp 445 PM 415 PM
7 7 Train Number 8 8
1245 AM 215 AM Dp Spokane, WA Ar 1240 AM 1130 PM
252 AM 422 AM Dp Ephrata, WA Dp 942 PM 847 PM
405 AM 535 AM Dp Wenatchee, WA Dp 842 PM 747 PM
438 AM 608 AM Dp Leavenworth, WA Dp 800 PM 705 PM
d730 AM 838 AM Dp Everett, WA Dp 539 PM r444 PM
d755 AM 910 AM Dp Edmonds, WA Dp 507 PM r412 PM
915 AM 1025 AM Ar Seattle, WA – King St. Station (PT) Dp 440 PM 345 PM

Synopsis: What follows is a proposal to not speed up the Empire Builder (though that, too, would be desirable), but to change the distribution of its schedule padding. Also, to change departure times from origin with the goal of providing more marketable train times at major stations.

A proposed change, trains 7 and 27

  1. Chicago: Advance the departure time of train 7/27 by one hour to 115 PM. This will improve connecting times from most inbound trains, some of which are excessive, such as the Capitol Limited, which is over 5 hours. The main advantage would be train time at St. Paul. A disadvantage would be that, providing everything else remained unchanged, connections from trains 302 (Lincoln Service from St. Louis, arriving at 1220 PM) and 390 (Saluki from Carbondale, arriving at 100 PM) would be severed, as the minimum one hour connecting time would not be met. The current connecting time of 75 minutes from train 390 is iffy at best due to the poor on-time performance of this train on CN. In both cases, there are earlier trains that would provide a connection to an earlier-departing Empire Builder: Trains 58 (City of New Orleans) and 300 (Lincoln Service). Eventually, when 110 MPH schedules become a reality along the Lincoln Service route, reduced running time would allow the necessary one-hour connection at Chicago.
  2. St. Paul: Retain the one-hour earlier schedule to arrive at a more palatable 900 PM instead of 1003 PM. Dwell time remains about the same.
  3. Coon Rapids: Add a station stop at the Coon Rapids Northstar station. Already in place with abundant parking, adjacent to a major shopping area, and near freeways, the site is a natural to attract passengers from Minneapolis departing westbound on trains 7/27 and arriving eastbound on train 8/28. For passengers on trains 8/28, it would also allow quicker access to downtown Minneapolis via transfer to Northstar commuter trains. A second Minneapolis/St. Paul stop is needed, to offset the geographic disadvantage that is St. Paul Union Depot, which is much further from the center of population of the Twin Cities metro area than the previous Midway Station stop.
  4. St. Cloud: Reduce padding inbound at St. Cloud.
  5. Minot: Remove about 15 minutes of padding inbound at Minot.
  6. Havre: Add 15 minutes of padding inbound at Havre.
  7. Remove almost all padding inbound at Shelby.
  8. Increase padding between Sandpoint and Spokane, but still allow an arrival time prior to midnight at Spokane.
  9. Increase dwell time at Spokane to ensure on time departure.
  10. Add running time between Leavenworth and Everett as delays are frequent.
  11. Padding removed further east is added back between Edmonds and Seattle.
  12. Padding removed further east is added back between Vancouver and Portland.

A proposed change, trains 8 and 28

  1. Portland: This is most difficult component. Departure time advanced 30 minutes for train 28, but still maintains 6.5 hour turnaround of inbound equipment. It is all predicated on an earlier arrival time for train 14, the Coast Starlight. The current connecting time at Portland is only 68 minutes. Similar to this process for the Empire Builder, the Coast Starlight needs a complete revamping to allow this and same day all-rail connection to Vancouver, BC in Seattle. Between Los Angeles and Portland, today’s train 14 takes 29 hours, 22 minutes versus the first Amtrak version of the train taking 27 hours, 5 minutes due to longer running time, additional stops and more route miles via Chico and Sacramento instead of Orland.
  2. Reduce padding on train 28 between Pasco and Spokane to advertise Spokane arrival prior to midnight.
  3. Reduce padding on train 8 between Ephrata and Spokane to advertise Spokane arrival prior to midnight.
  4. Reduce dwell at Spokane for train 28 to create more-marketable 1230 AM departure.
  5. Add running time between Spokane and Sandpoint to reflect reality.
  6. Add 10 minutes of dwell at Whitefish to protect 700 AM departure on new schedule.
  7. Remove almost all padding inbound at Shelby.
  8. Add 15 minutes of padding inbound to and at Havre.
  9. Reduce about 15 minutes of padding inbound at Minot.
  10. Add 10 minutes dwell at Minot to eliminate train servicing delay.
  11. Coon Rapids: Add a station stop at the Coon Rapids Northstar station. Already in place with abundant parking, adjacent to a major shopping area, and near freeways, the site is a natural to attract passengers from Minneapolis departing westbound on trains 7/27 and arriving eastbound on train 8/28. For passengers on trains 8/28, it would also allow quicker access to downtown Minneapolis via transfer to Northstar commuter trains. A second Minneapolis/St. Paul stop is needed, to offset the geographic disadvantage that is St. Paul Union Depot, which is much further from the center of population of the Twin Cities metro area than the previous Midway Station stop.
  12. Padding removed further west is added back at St. Paul to help ensure on time departure.
  13. 8/28 arrives in Chicago 30 minutes earlier than currently, adding additional connecting time to all trains. Train 8 departed Seattle 55 minutes earlier, so actual running time is increased. Padding is moved more to the east half of the run and creates an overall running time more similar to the westbound train.