Amtrak Empire Builder and Intercity Rail to Chicago

Roads - Rails - Sidewalks - Bikeways
mattaudio
Stone Arch Bridge
Posts: 7936
Joined: June 19th, 2012, 2:04 pm
Location: NORI: NOrth of RIchfield

Re: Empire Builder

Postby mattaudio » August 28th, 2012, 8:30 am

So the Empire Builder is late quite a bit? I need to get to the Madison area on Saturday morning in time for a late afternoon wedding. I'd love to take the Empire Builder there but I don't know if I can trust that it would be on time.

mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2802
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Re: Empire Builder

Postby mulad » August 28th, 2012, 11:48 am

Yeah, it's late pretty frequently, particularly the eastbound #8 train which needs to run 1,800 miles before it gets here, and also has to make a coordinated meet at Spokane to join the Portland section (#28) onto the tail of the Seattle section. The westbound #7 can get significant delays too, but usually they don't accumulate quite as much on the 417 miles between Chicago and St. Paul.

Over the past several years, I think the Empire Builder has generally had better on-time performance than most of Amtrak's long-distance routes, but the last two years have gotten pretty bad. I believe that Amtrak is advising that trains will run 1-3 hours late through the end of the month because of track work and other stuff out west, though unfortunately I can't find any evidence of it on their website. The average delay over the past month is worse than that, though -- about 4 hours, with at least one having a 12+ hour delay. Looks like yesterday's train was only about an hour late, and that's the best that it has done for quite a while.

There are two sites I've used to keep track of the trains' on-time performance. The first is good for trying to find where trains currently are and what the current delay is. You want the "West" map for tracking the Empire Builder.

That site also archives those on-time reports, though it's not so easy to get an overview of how the train performed over the last week or month or whatever. This second site is somewhat better for that, though it works best for busy stations where other people have queried the status on a regular basis (unlike the other website, which actively goes out and queries Amtrak's site whether anyone is asking or not, this one only looks up the on-time status for the day if someone requests it). It's still a confusing site, though.

Amtrak really ought to include a service onto their own site that integrates features of both...

Anyway, regardless of what those sites say, unfortunately past performance isn't always so good at showing how things will go in the future -- things might be going just fine until some numbskull decides to race a train at a crossing and loses (whether it's against an Amtrak train or, more likely, one of BNSF's or CP's trains running ahead of Amtrak). That can easily tie up a line for hours.

PNWsotan
Block E
Posts: 5
Joined: June 8th, 2012, 4:22 pm

Re: Empire Builder

Postby PNWsotan » August 28th, 2012, 12:56 pm

Amtrak's website has a performance page (http://www.amtrak.com/historical-on-time-performance) for each route that includes data on the top three reasons for delays and the on-time performance for the previous month and 12 months. Does anyone know if this is calculated by using each station or by arriving at the final destination on time? If you look at the timetable for the Empire there is a time cushion between the last 2 stops compared to when the train is beginning the journey. For instance, they schedule 22 minutes between Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA when the train is heading East, but when the train is arriving in Portland there is 52 minutes scheduled. I have been on the train when you we arrive in Vancouver late, but early in Portland and they announce "another on-time Amtrak arrival" when the train was actually delayed for the majority of the trip.

I ride the Empire Builder a few times each year between Portland and the Twin Cities and the Cascades service frequently and I always assume that there will be delays so I don't make firm plans for when I arrive. I love the train and find it a relaxing way to travel, but it is unfortunate it cannot be relied on to get you to your destination on-time, especially for areas that rely on Amtrak service such as northern Montana and North Dakota.

I enjoy the schedule of the Empire Builder because it allows me to maximize my time in the Twin Cities and Oregon. I would love for Amtrak to reinstate the North Coast Hiawatha service as another west coast option and hopefully be able to see more of the mountains in the daylight hours!

Northropdweller
Block E
Posts: 12
Joined: June 1st, 2012, 2:07 am

Re: Empire Builder

Postby Northropdweller » August 28th, 2012, 1:39 pm

UptownSport wrote:"And the trains ran on time"

Might have ominous connotations but if even a bus is late in Germany they all start talking about it.

Someone should be accountable for delays (withing reason) and fix them
The problem here is that reasons for train delays are extremely varied (could be a different reason everyday), spreading across many companies and government departments. To hold "someone" accountable is unrealistic. There are so many people involved. I don't know the answer here...but let's just say that they couldn't pay me enough to apply for the position of figuring out who's at fault for every single delay.

Northropdweller
Block E
Posts: 12
Joined: June 1st, 2012, 2:07 am

Re: Empire Builder

Postby Northropdweller » August 28th, 2012, 2:01 pm

mattaudio wrote:So the Empire Builder is late quite a bit? I need to get to the Madison area on Saturday morning in time for a late afternoon wedding. I'd love to take the Empire Builder there but I don't know if I can trust that it would be on time.
I would never make concrete plans within 6 hours of a scheduled arrival on the eastbound Empire Builder (at least currently). You just never know. It could arrive on time, 45 minutes late, 7 hours late, 3 hours late, 1 hour late, 10 hours late...

Related, SO many people get on in the middle of North Dakota, trying to catch their flights at MSP to Las Vegas/Mexico/what-have-you within 2-3 hours of Amtrak's scheduled arrival. This is about the dumbest thing someone could do, and screams of inexperience when traveling on Amtrak. Of course, I am kind and understanding when they ask me if I think they will make their flight when we arrive 2 hours late into MSP, and I have to give them a big, fat "NO." as my reply. Then they ask me if I "...think Amtrak will issue a refund for not arriving on time," causing them to miss their flight. I, as an experienced traveller throughout this and several other continents, find this to be a very annoying question...But, as I established...I am sweet as pie when I say, "NO. Amtrak has no obligation to ensure connections with unrelated companies." Of course, I word it in a more understanding, apologetic way (explicitly apologizing on Amtrak's behalf), but that is the basic idea of what is said. That said, I find it VERY annoying that these trains cannot run on time. I mean, I have a life, too! I make plans in my personal life between my trips at work, just like anyone else, and sometimes have to cancel due to my train arriving home late. So, I am right there with the passengers' frustrations. An example would include my planned trip to Italy in the fall. I am planning on working to Minot and back as my last trip before we take off, putting me to be home from Minot the DAY BEFORE our flight. There's NO WAY I'll risk missing that flight by planning it the same day as my arrival into MSP.

Northropdweller
Block E
Posts: 12
Joined: June 1st, 2012, 2:07 am

Re: Empire Builder

Postby Northropdweller » August 28th, 2012, 2:14 pm

mulad wrote:Yeah, it's late pretty frequently, particularly the eastbound #8 train which needs to run 1,800 miles before it gets here, and also has to make a coordinated meet at Spokane to join the Portland section (#28) onto the tail of the Seattle section. The westbound #7 can get significant delays too, but usually they don't accumulate quite as much on the 417 miles between Chicago and St. Paul.

Over the past several years, I think the Empire Builder has generally had better on-time performance than most of Amtrak's long-distance routes, but the last two years have gotten pretty bad. I believe that Amtrak is advising that trains will run 1-3 hours late through the end of the month because of track work and other stuff out west, though unfortunately I can't find any evidence of it on their website. The average delay over the past month is worse than that, though -- about 4 hours, with at least one having a 12+ hour delay. Looks like yesterday's train was only about an hour late, and that's the best that it has done for quite a while.

There are two sites I've used to keep track of the trains' on-time performance. The first is good for trying to find where trains currently are and what the current delay is. You want the "West" map for tracking the Empire Builder.

That site also archives those on-time reports, though it's not so easy to get an overview of how the train performed over the last week or month or whatever. This second site is somewhat better for that, though it works best for busy stations where other people have queried the status on a regular basis (unlike the other website, which actively goes out and queries Amtrak's site whether anyone is asking or not, this one only looks up the on-time status for the day if someone requests it). It's still a confusing site, though.

Amtrak really ought to include a service onto their own site that integrates features of both...

Anyway, regardless of what those sites say, unfortunately past performance isn't always so good at showing how things will go in the future -- things might be going just fine until some numbskull decides to race a train at a crossing and loses (whether it's against an Amtrak train or, more likely, one of BNSF's or CP's trains running ahead of Amtrak). That can easily tie up a line for hours.
Extremely accurate and realistic information in this post. I fully concur!

Yeah, we used to be the best (on time). Now? Not so much. : (

mattaudio
Stone Arch Bridge
Posts: 7936
Joined: June 19th, 2012, 2:04 pm
Location: NORI: NOrth of RIchfield

Re: Empire Builder

Postby mattaudio » August 28th, 2012, 2:22 pm

It's really sad I can't use Amtrak this weekend. I can't take off work Friday just to buffer in a day to get to Madison. Really unfortunate since if it was reliable this would be perfect for many of my trips to Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago.

Do they allow last minute cancels? If so, I could buy a ticket and then if the train is more than an hour or two late, cancel it hop in the car and just drive to Madison.

Northropdweller
Block E
Posts: 12
Joined: June 1st, 2012, 2:07 am

Re: Empire Builder

Postby Northropdweller » August 28th, 2012, 2:32 pm

mattaudio wrote:It's really sad I can't use Amtrak this weekend. I can't take off work Friday just to buffer in a day to get to Madison. Really unfortunate since if it was reliable this would be perfect for many of my trips to Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago.

Do they allow last minute cancels? If so, I could buy a ticket and then if the train is more than an hour or two late, cancel it hop in the car and just drive to Madison.
You have 1 (one) year from the date of purchase (not the date of travel) to either:

A. Get a refund in the manner that which it was purchased.

B. Use the original balance toward a future reservation.

Different rules apply for sleeper accommodations, but I assume you won't be getting a sleeper to the Dells... But still, not a bad policy, eh?

mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2802
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Re: Empire Builder

Postby mulad » September 1st, 2012, 2:53 pm

There is an option of taking a bus toward Chicago and then taking the train back. Megabus or Greyhound at least, and I think Jefferson Lines has some service mixed in too.

mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2802
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby mulad » September 10th, 2012, 5:53 pm

Not too much to report on this from today's Passenger Rail Forum meeting, though things are moving along, apparently. The only thing I wrote down specifically for the higher-speed, multiple-trains-per-day service was that there's going to be some additional traffic modeling added into the existing contract for the Tier 1 EIS that MnDOT is pursuing.

For the 2nd daily train, some infrastructure cost estimates have been returned by the freight railroads, though I'm a bit wary of saying anything since it wasn't entirely clear what the cost was for -- There may be some mixed-up communication happening since they seemed to return a number intended for the higher-speed service. The number tossed out at the meeting was $600 million, which would be several times higher than what would be expected for infrastructure costs for just a single daily train (the North Coast Hiawatha study from a few years back put the cost at $1 billion to go all the way from Chicago to Seattle!). WisDOT reportedly had a meeting today with Amtrak and Canadian Pacific, and part of that meeting may have involved trying to understand the cost weirdness. But if they were talking about the higher-speed, higher-frequency service, then that number seems in the ballpark, maybe even low, depending on what it actually covers.

Canadian Pacific has recently had a change in management, with Hunter Harrison coming in as the new CEO -- he had previously headed Canadian National and took a lot of efficiency measures along the way which has helped make CN very profitable. But there has been a concern that CP, which has been a relatively good partner on passenger rail projects, would take a new tack and become uncooperative on that front. So I wonder if this may be an early sign of that. Hopefully there's just some miscommunication.

But if CP does begin stonewalling, I hope that MnDOT, WisDOT, and others actually try to call them on it: Out in California, it seems that state may try to force Union Pacific to allow a second daily Coast Starlight train by bringing the issue to the federal Surface Transportation Board -- the entity that has long had the dour responsibility of approving abandonments. I suspect they'd enjoy the change of pace of enforcing service restoration, but what do I know...

aguaman
Nicollet Mall
Posts: 113
Joined: August 13th, 2012, 11:23 am

Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby aguaman » September 12th, 2012, 6:03 am

The high cost could be due to the addition of more than just one additional train per day. Perhaps they are estimating at the high end of passenger trains on the corridor, say a half dozen trains each way. That would likely necessitate additional sidings and double track sections. Some stations would need to be moved because currently the stopped trains block intersections in some small towns in wisconsin. if you have ever ridden the empire builder to the east, you will see that happen and also see trains waiting on sidings. and if you're lucky enough like me, you'll have the joy of waiting on a siding to allow a freight train to pass.

min-chi-cbus
Capella Tower
Posts: 3131
Joined: June 1st, 2012, 9:19 am

Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby min-chi-cbus » September 12th, 2012, 10:22 am

I think HSR absolutely HAS to happen for the Midwest and is an amazing opportunity to connect our (relatively) dense cluster of major metropolitan areas. If we had HSR from Minneapolis to Chicago, Chicago to STL, Chicago to Detroit, and the 3-C alignment in Ohio, we not only would be a super-connected region but would have that many more options to travel back and forth and would put downward pressure on airfare pricing. It's more eco-friendly, to boot!

I'd do whatever it takes to continue pushing this initiative forward and be more progressive about future transit planning!

UptownSport
US Bank Plaza
Posts: 607
Joined: July 23rd, 2012, 12:07 am

Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby UptownSport » September 13th, 2012, 12:07 am

and all-weather, all situation (Trains still ran on 9/11/01)

Same-day service is essential between the cities-
If a machine is down at your factory, it's costing you thousands of dollars an hour, and the parts in Chicago ....
Now you throw it on a plane for $$$ or $$$$- So it's not just personnel that needs to move-
I just wonder how much a good transportation secretary could con private firms (and USPS) into 'partnering' with a truly hi-speed system.

aguaman
Nicollet Mall
Posts: 113
Joined: August 13th, 2012, 11:23 am

Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby aguaman » September 13th, 2012, 5:58 am

the amtrak study currently underway is looking at additional train(s) with conventional speed; it is not a hsr study.

UptownSport
US Bank Plaza
Posts: 607
Joined: July 23rd, 2012, 12:07 am

Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby UptownSport » September 13th, 2012, 5:34 pm

aguaman wrote: it is not a hsr study.
Dis-Like

MNdible
is great.
Posts: 5813
Joined: June 8th, 2012, 8:14 pm
Location: Minneapolis

Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby MNdible » September 14th, 2012, 11:16 am

Baby steps.

UptownSport
US Bank Plaza
Posts: 607
Joined: July 23rd, 2012, 12:07 am

Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby UptownSport » September 15th, 2012, 12:28 am

2120

Online
User avatar
LRV Op Dude
Union Depot
Posts: 324
Joined: July 7th, 2012, 10:30 am
Contact:

Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby LRV Op Dude » September 15th, 2012, 2:03 am

:cry:
Blog: Old-Twin Cities Transit New-Twin Cities Transit

You Tube: Old, New

AKA: Bus Driver Dude

mulad
Moderator
Posts: 2802
Joined: June 4th, 2012, 6:30 pm
Location: Saint Paul
Contact:

Re: Empire Builder

Postby mulad » September 29th, 2012, 10:47 pm

This link probably won't work for anyone here, but it's an article from the Trains magazine news wire which says that two bridges near Churchs Ferry, ND will be replaced soon, forcing a detour of the Empire Builder from October 15th through November 2nd. The train will take the more direct Surrey Cutoff (KO Subdivision) route from Fargo to Minot rather than going through Grand Forks, Devils Lake, and Rugby.

The article says the line will be raised by about 5 feet this year and another 5 feet next year to get the rails above the floodwaters permanently (water in the Devils Lake basin will keep accumulating until it eventually overflows into the Sheyenne River).

The Devils Lake Subdivision has had some repair work happen already. The first through-routed freight train since 2010 used the line early this month.

UptownSport
US Bank Plaza
Posts: 607
Joined: July 23rd, 2012, 12:07 am

Re: Intercity rail to Chicago

Postby UptownSport » November 26th, 2012, 11:32 pm

Perhaps 'back-burner' priority is best-
Here's an article on Maglev developments;

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldne ... Japan.html

instead of getting 110 or 120 MPH service (Near Steam train speeds) now, perhaps by the time it 'rolls' around to being accomplished the technology will be affordable/proven.

minor upgrades will ensure nothing significant ever happens; 'You already have high speed rail'


Return to “Transportation”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest