The Saga of Amtrak’s Empire Builder: From Bad to Worse.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder has had a miserable winter. The polar vortex, heavy snow, and a huge increase in freight traffic has resulted in many delays of many hours.

The worst area has proven to be in North Dakota, specifically the 120-mile stretch between Devils Lake and Minot. Things got so completely hopeless a couple of weeks back that Amtrak basically threw in the towel and began bussing their passengers between those two cities.

And just when you think things couldn’t possibly get worse, they do. There has been a derailment of a BNSF freight – apparently not one of the trains transporting crude oil, thank goodness – and a big avalanche near West Glacier, which have essentially closed the line.

The Train Status map on the NARP web site shows no Empire Builder consists operating anywhere on the 2200-mile route. Yet there are no service alerts appearing on the Amtrak web site. It is to be hoped that someone is contacting people holding tickets on these trains to let them know that the Builder is not operating. It’s probably too much to hope that passengers will know enough to call Amtrak’s 800 number to check on that train. I did so and Julie, Amtrak’s “virtual assistant” routed me to a live reservations agent when I requested information on Train # 8. 

Still, it continues to be a big mess. Whatever the Amtrak crews are being paid – operating and on-board service crews both –    it ain’t enough!