Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby EOst » January 4th, 2016, 12:11 pm

Megabus, not surprisingly, has very little legroom. (It's also terrible. But cheap!)

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby FISHMANPET » January 4th, 2016, 1:08 pm

Greyhound has legroom, but the problem is you're kinda stuck on a bus. Easier to roam around on train, which is kind of needed after more than a few hours.

I feel like there's got to be something said for the fact that almost everyone that rides a train, outside of scheduling issues, really enjoys it.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Archiapolis » January 4th, 2016, 1:54 pm

woofner wrote:Greyhound's express buses have good legroom -- not quite Superliner but comfortable for anyone under 7' I should think. Most of the buses between Mpls & Chicago are express. Look for the little 'e' symbol when you're booking. I've found Greyhound to have much more reliable wifi than Amtrak, too.

Of course the train is more comfortable, and I take it when I can, but when I lived in Mpls and took trips out East I'd usually take Greyhound for the MSP-CHI leg. The price was always much better, the station location was more convenient (although I consider Union Depot more convenient than Midway because of the stroadiness of Transfer Rd), and even before the Bakken took off, the Empire Builder was never particularly reliable. Megabus is probably better for most since it stops right outside Chicago Union Station, but they never beat Greyhound's price and I kind of liked the half-mile walk through central Chicago.

I prefer ground transportation for environmental reasons (flying is one of the most impactful acts any individual can make), but I think that anyone who isn't obstinate and is willing to learn about options will consider HSR over air for MSP-CHI trips. There are already car rental options at Chicago Union station and they will of course expand when it becomes an HSR terminal, and the location is more convenient for a lot of trips in South Chicagoland. Air travel will not go away, even with an appropriate carbon tax, but HSR would put a dent into its mode share. A three-hour or so time advantage for air isn't that big a deal once your trip goes over a couple days, and airfares will go way up if a carbon tax is raised since the shuttle function will become less useful.
I've never spoken to anyone who has physically taken a bus "cross country" in the manner that you suggest (out east). I'm NOT saying that it doesn't happen, just that I've never spoken to anyone that's done it. This is no at all a reflection of "affluence" of any kind on my part. I didn't fly in a plane until I was 20 something and have a very lower/lower middle class background. Economics and time have an interesting relationship in this mode discussion. I never even considered using mass transit to anywhere far flung because I never had enough time off of work to make it feasible. Waiting tables/bartending after college never seemed to afford enough disposable income AND time off to bus/train it across the country but I will allow that I spent my money very foolishly. I never even explored bus/train long distance because if it takes 8-10 hours to get to Chicago from here then it seems like it would take 3-4 days one way to get to say, Los Angeles where my brother lived for some time.

I'm having a hard time imagining the type of job that would both afford 1.5 to 2 weeks off to travel across the country from here via bus/train but also necessitate the economy of bus/train. A scenario like that obviously exists but I just can't see it. It seems like just about anyone in a middle class job where it is actually possible to take 1 to 2 weeks off at a time would have the means to choose to fly to maximize the time with loved ones but perhaps my imagination is lacking when it comes to considering employment that has very flexible time constraints but doesn't pay well (enough to afford a flight to maximize time).

FWIW, I'd choose HSR to Chicago EVERY time if the time was anywhere near flying (I'd apply the security line hit associated with flying to that calculation).

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby FISHMANPET » January 4th, 2016, 2:30 pm

I'd say a true long distance train trip (basically anything farther than Chicago) should be evaluated on a completely different level.

To get to LA you'd probably take the Empire Builder to Portland, and then catch the Coast Starlight down to LA. You could also take the Empire Builder to Chicago and catch the Southwest Chief to LA, but that would probably be longer. But a long distance train journey is more than just the transportation to a place, the journey itself is part of the experience. And if you're wanting to make an experience out of it, you'll probably want to get a room or at least a roomette, and then a lot of the price advantage disappears. But I think you're paying more for an experience at that point. My wife and I took the Empire Builder to Portland for our honey moon, and got a bedroom for the journey. I can't quite put my finger on what it was about the trip that made it so enjoyable. Was it the steady rocking motion of the train? Was it the scenery? The terrible cell reception requiring us to unplug a bit? Something else? I can't say what exactly was great about the trip, but I will say it's something that everyone should do in their lives. Just understand that with long distance train travel, the journey is just as important as the destination.

Now if you just get a coach seat (which is probably more luxurious than most first class seats on planes) to ride across the country, you probably won't have a super great time, though you can still roam the train and check out the observation car and eat in the dining room and such, but in that way the destination will matter far more than the journey. And getting a sleeper isn't cheap. Our bedroom (the nicest accommodation) was $1400 for the two of us to Portland. Even factoring in plane tickets, 2 nights of a hotel in Portland, and meals, it would have been cheaper to fly, but we would have missed out on that experience.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby jw138 » January 4th, 2016, 3:21 pm

FISHMANPET wrote:Just understand that with long distance train travel, the journey is just as important as the destination.
Absolutely! If taken with friends or family that's lot of quality time spent with each other. In addition to the many other things you mention, for some the idea of being locked away with nothing more to do than read, write, watch/listen to digital media, etc in a comfortable environment far away from everything is all that's needed for a successful and enjoyable vacation. Splurge on a sleeper and you may find it disappointing to reach your final destination. You can also turn it into a cruise-like experience and disembark for a night or two here and there at interesting locales.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby FISHMANPET » January 4th, 2016, 3:28 pm

Our honeymoon took us to Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and back to Seattle to catch a flight back to MSP (much cheaper than flying out of Vancouver). We booked the Cascades for Portland to Seattle, Seattle to Vancouver, and Vancouver back to Seattle. Portland to Seattle was great (we splurged on "business class") but then the route between Seattle and Vancouver had gotten washed out by rain, so that was substituted for a bus. Even though it was faster by bus, we had to stop at the border for Customs rather than go through Customs at the station in Vancouver, and it was a bus. Thankfully by the time we left the tracks were cleared and we took the train from Vancouver down to Seattle. Even that short trip was immensely enjoyable.

I don't know, all this talk of whatever, and it's like, if you'd just shut up and ride a damn train that's on time for an hour or two you'd start to understand why someone would want to do it, and why enough people might want to do it where it would make sense to build something for it.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby mulad » January 4th, 2016, 3:39 pm

I like to say that the country should have a much tighter mesh of passenger rail links too -- something like the density of the Interstate highway network or better in some places. That would allow more direct travel (distance-wise) than what's possible today, even if it might require an extra transfer here or there. We really should be able to take something south to Des Moines, Omaha, or Kansas City in order to get on a train to California. Even without high-speed service, that could shave off 12 hours of travel time.

The Twin Cities to Chicago corridor is a bit more in need of frequency than speed at the moment, though it definitely could use both. Just having a mid-afternoon/evening train to Chicago rather than the current 8 am departure would help a lot by letting people reduce the amount of time they need to take off of work. We sometimes complain about how highway planners oversell the time advantage of improvements by putting dollar amounts on them, but people could literally bring in more money -- perhaps pay for their trip -- by being able to work through those daylight hours and shift the travel later.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby woofner » January 4th, 2016, 7:31 pm

Archiapolis wrote:ve never spoken to anyone who has physically taken a bus "cross country" in the manner that you suggest (out east).
To be clear, I only took the bus "cross country" once, and will never repeat it by choice. That was a trip from Baltimore to Milwaukee. I was talking about taking Greyhound for the leg between Minneapolis & Chicago, and took the train the rest of the way. I wouldn't ever recommend more than ~8 hours on the bus for the reasons discussed here.

The train, on the other hand, is a comfortable, enjoyable, long distance journey, and I think the only think that really holds people back from it is that the frequencies are bad. Based on conversations I've had, many people would give the train a go even if it includes an overnight, except that the departure or arrival (or both) is in the middle of the night. It is a pain to get to or from a train station at 2am. In general, I think that rather than upgrading track or adding routes, Amtrak should add a second daily train to routes so that cities the size of Cleveland or Indianapolis don't only have middle-of-the-night departure or arrival times to choose from.

ps I know that lots of people were jumping up to buy bus tickets based on this conversation, but I doublechecked Greyhound's website, and they no longer use the 'e' symbol for their nice buses. They now use a little symbol of a man in a chair to indicate extra legroom. Also one way to Chicago was $27 for a trip just 9 days out, and they had like 5 trips at that price. Insanely cheap.
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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby jebr » January 4th, 2016, 8:23 pm

I've taken Greyhound, Megabus, Spirit, Southwest, and Amtrak on the MSP - Chicago segment. (Well, the Amtrak segment is usually to St. Cloud instead of MSP, but I digress.) I've also taken Megabus across country (DC to MSP and MSP to Atlanta) and taken Amtrak across country (MSP - the Northeast.)

I'm planning on repeating the MSP - Atlanta trip via Megabus again. The fact that the specific seats can be reserved helps a lot, and my seat companion is my significant other, so it's not an issue if our seat space overlaps some. The price is really hard to beat...MSP - Atlanta was $20 including reserving a specific (but not special) seat MSP - Chicago and reserving the front row seats Chicago - Atlanta.

Spirit's cheap but that comes with the downfall of only being able to bring one small bag. However, it makes day trips or weekend trips to Chicago a lot easier and cheaper (at the airport tickets can be purchased for $32.22 round trip if both legs are at the lowest fare.) Southwest is more expensive but is nice if I need more bags, especially if they're having a $41 fare one-way.

Amtrak with the saver fare runs a bit over $50 one-way (I think it's $52 or $54?) With as many options as I have MSP - Chicago, I find it hard to justify the cost differential. Sometimes I can if I'm going all the way back to St. Cloud (one less transfer to make in MSP) or if I'm doing a stopover in Milwaukee (no additional cost,) but in general the strength in Amtrak is in the intermediate markets. I've done a fair amount of trips to Winona; it's a nice, quick journey if everything's on time and it's close to campus and within walking distance to the destinations I usually have.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Archiapolis » January 5th, 2016, 8:36 am

jebr wrote:I've taken Greyhound, Megabus, Spirit, Southwest, and Amtrak on the MSP - Chicago segment. (Well, the Amtrak segment is usually to St. Cloud instead of MSP, but I digress.) I've also taken Megabus across country (DC to MSP and MSP to Atlanta) and taken Amtrak across country (MSP - the Northeast.)

I'm planning on repeating the MSP - Atlanta trip via Megabus again. The fact that the specific seats can be reserved helps a lot, and my seat companion is my significant other, so it's not an issue if our seat space overlaps some. The price is really hard to beat...MSP - Atlanta was $20 including reserving a specific (but not special) seat MSP - Chicago and reserving the front row seats Chicago - Atlanta.

Spirit's cheap but that comes with the downfall of only being able to bring one small bag. However, it makes day trips or weekend trips to Chicago a lot easier and cheaper (at the airport tickets can be purchased for $32.22 round trip if both legs are at the lowest fare.) Southwest is more expensive but is nice if I need more bags, especially if they're having a $41 fare one-way.

Amtrak with the saver fare runs a bit over $50 one-way (I think it's $52 or $54?) With as many options as I have MSP - Chicago, I find it hard to justify the cost differential. Sometimes I can if I'm going all the way back to St. Cloud (one less transfer to make in MSP) or if I'm doing a stopover in Milwaukee (no additional cost,) but in general the strength in Amtrak is in the intermediate markets. I've done a fair amount of trips to Winona; it's a nice, quick journey if everything's on time and it's close to campus and within walking distance to the destinations I usually have.
Okay, you appear to fit the market segment that I couldn't identify. Someone who values the cost savings over the time savings and has a job that affords the time it takes to take a bus trip across the country and apparently your SO also has a job that is amenable to such an arrangement. I'd love to know what kind of work you (and SO) do...writers? I'm really struggling to imagine...

I'm fascinated by the idea that two people are making the choice to use their time off to travel for several days/overnights on a bus rather than spend the extra money to fly and get to a destination in four hours.

As for the descriptions of train rides across the country...the bucolic scenes that you are painting are very alluring and everything that you are saying about the travel being part of the trip and disconnecting and focusing on the people that you are with sounds excellent. I'm in. However...I'd describe this kind of travel as "luxurious" in the sense that you are consciously relishing the time spent to GET to your destination rather than the actual destination. You are knowingly shaping this travel to be pleasurable. I can see this as a "once in a lifetime" or "once every decade" kind of trip but if you have family/loved ones in New York or Pittsburgh who you'd like to visit frequently, then it doesn't seem so great/financially feasible.

It seems like there is a gaping hole or a "missing middle" as it were in long distance transit. I'd LOVE HSR to Chicago or Seattle of course but at this point, I'd accept a price equivalent, slight time increase to take a "normal" train ride to Chicago for frequent visits...

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby FISHMANPET » January 5th, 2016, 9:46 am

MSP to Chicago is like just barely close enough to make HSR worth it. Any longer and a plane clearly wins time wise (now if carbon was taxed the cost equation could change drastically...). Long distance is certainly a luxury, and other than the fact that it happens to take place on a train that is also moving people somewhere, it's mostly a separate issue from something like HSR to Chicago.

On some routes you could in theory set it up so you leave at night, sleep over night, and arrive in the morning. I've got a fallen flag book at home and it has some ads for some railways in the south that advertised that kind of service in the 50's. But even in Europe those services are being discontinued, because low cost carriers are eating their lunch. Again, with a carbon tax, that balance could shift again.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby jebr » January 5th, 2016, 1:17 pm

Archiapolis wrote:
jebr wrote:I've taken Greyhound, Megabus, Spirit, Southwest, and Amtrak on the MSP - Chicago segment. (Well, the Amtrak segment is usually to St. Cloud instead of MSP, but I digress.) I've also taken Megabus across country (DC to MSP and MSP to Atlanta) and taken Amtrak across country (MSP - the Northeast.)

I'm planning on repeating the MSP - Atlanta trip via Megabus again. The fact that the specific seats can be reserved helps a lot, and my seat companion is my significant other, so it's not an issue if our seat space overlaps some. The price is really hard to beat...MSP - Atlanta was $20 including reserving a specific (but not special) seat MSP - Chicago and reserving the front row seats Chicago - Atlanta.

Spirit's cheap but that comes with the downfall of only being able to bring one small bag. However, it makes day trips or weekend trips to Chicago a lot easier and cheaper (at the airport tickets can be purchased for $32.22 round trip if both legs are at the lowest fare.) Southwest is more expensive but is nice if I need more bags, especially if they're having a $41 fare one-way.

Amtrak with the saver fare runs a bit over $50 one-way (I think it's $52 or $54?) With as many options as I have MSP - Chicago, I find it hard to justify the cost differential. Sometimes I can if I'm going all the way back to St. Cloud (one less transfer to make in MSP) or if I'm doing a stopover in Milwaukee (no additional cost,) but in general the strength in Amtrak is in the intermediate markets. I've done a fair amount of trips to Winona; it's a nice, quick journey if everything's on time and it's close to campus and within walking distance to the destinations I usually have.
Okay, you appear to fit the market segment that I couldn't identify. Someone who values the cost savings over the time savings and has a job that affords the time it takes to take a bus trip across the country and apparently your SO also has a job that is amenable to such an arrangement. I'd love to know what kind of work you (and SO) do...writers? I'm really struggling to imagine...

I'm fascinated by the idea that two people are making the choice to use their time off to travel for several days/overnights on a bus rather than spend the extra money to fly and get to a destination in four hours.
Well, many of the long distance bus trips I took while I was in college, usually spring break or something of that nature. The latest trips that I've taken via train or bus usually only require one extra day of travel over flying (usually unless I'm willing to take a very expensive flight I have to take a full day off each way for travel anyways, and MSP - Atlanta only takes about a day and a half, so it's a net cost of about one day off of work.) I do like to "enjoy the journey" at least one direction, so for me the extra time one direction is worth it, and if I have the reward points on the train I'll do it both directions. I'll usually fly back home, as that's the point where I want to just get back to my own bed and relax.

I don't travel more than a couple times a year, and my workplace has a rather generous PTO policy (I currently earn 20 days a year of time off, so four weeks.) Since I'm rarely sick and I don't have family obligations that eat into that time, the vast majority of that gets used for personal vacation time. For me, it's worth it to take a day to "see the sights" (at least from the highway) and save some money while taking that additional day off. It's a niche market for sure, but one that's apparently profitable for Megabus.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby mulad » January 10th, 2016, 1:36 pm

About $360,000 has been raised for another phase of planning for the second daily train to Chicago. The total cost of this phase of study is expected to be between $850,000 and $1.25 million. Looks like they'll try to get it done in 2017, theoretically the time that construction could begin (so, *sigh*, 2020, I guess?)

https://www.minnpost.com/political-agen ... in-chicago

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby mattaudio » January 10th, 2016, 1:39 pm

How hard is this to plan? Just go ahead and do it already. Yikes.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Silophant » January 10th, 2016, 2:38 pm

What construction is there? Isn't this just another daily train on the existing route hitting the existing stations?

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby talindsay » January 10th, 2016, 6:02 pm

My guess is the extra passenger traffic will be used as justification to further the signaling and grade-separation projects that have been ongoing for the last decade. That's a good thing, of course, as both make the trains faster and safer, but it does add time and delay when they (unnecessarily) get tied to a project like this.

I'm running the Chicago Marathon in October and the cost of Amtrak won't keep me from using it, but the combination of the bad schedule, the tendency of the line to massively miss that schedule, and no backup train if there are issues means I'll probably either fly or drive. Parking downtown will cost me $150, plus eight gallons of diesel each way, so call it a $200 base cost that I can subtract from whatever it would cost to take either Amtrak or an airplane (I don't do intercity buses, period), but it's probably going to end up being a drive since there are three of us and Amtrak isn't especially reliable right now.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby Tiller » January 11th, 2016, 11:46 am

mulad wrote:About $360,000 has been raised for another phase of planning for the second daily train to Chicago. The total cost of this phase of study is expected to be between $850,000 and $1.25 million. Looks like they'll try to get it done in 2017, theoretically the time that construction could begin (so, *sigh*, 2020, I guess?)

https://www.minnpost.com/political-agen ... in-chicago
http://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/01/11 ... rail-money

Guess it's up to "$660,000" now?

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby mulad » January 11th, 2016, 12:14 pm

Ah, I misread the MinnPost article -- both WisDOT and RCRRA are each providing $300,000, so it all totals up to $660,000.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby the other scott » January 11th, 2016, 9:44 pm

talindsay wrote:Amtrak isn't especially reliable right now.
It's interesting that you say this. I walk across the Robert St bridge to work every day at about 7:20 am. For the past month or two the Empire Builder has already pulled into SPUD at least half the days when I cross the bridge. That's a half an hour early. My office window overlooks DT St Paul and the tracks next to Shepherd Rd, and I'm in the habit of checking on the arrival time of the EB. Many days when it is early I check the Amtrak website and it has arrived an HOUR early. This was not the case earlier this summer. I had booked a trip to Chicago on the EB and ended up canceling it after seeing too many late trains after I checked the estimated arrival times after getting to the office. One day it was 10 hours late. My guess is that some of the lateness earlier this year had to do with construction. IDK. My hope is that the EB is getting more reliable. I'm planning another trip on it this summer.

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Re: Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Postby mulad » January 11th, 2016, 11:57 pm

I may as well post this tool I just found for digging into arrival history. Right now it reports an average delay of 1 hour 11 minutes for departures, but a median delay of just 2 minutes. Tthe arrival figures would be even better. Still, we'd really want something that's punctual closer to 95% of the time, not just 50%.


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