News About the Empire Builder? Still Bad.

Are you sick of reading about the problems the Empire Builder is having? Not half as sick as I am writing about them, I can assure you. The thing is, it’s an intolerable situation and it just cannot go on. But it doesn’t seem to be improving.

There are four Empire Builder consists somewhere on the 2200-mile route at almost any given time – two westbound and two eastbound. Regardless of which direction they’ve been heading, the on-time performance hasn’t been too bad . . . until they get to North Dakota. And that’s when it all turns to well the Hawaiian word is kukae.

Today, one of the westbound trains left Minneapolis/St. Paul on time. By the time it had crossed North Dakota and reached Williston, it was running nearly six hours behind schedule.

If that’s got you shaking your head, yesterday an eastbound Builder arrived in Chicago almost 12-and-a-half hours late.

The weather has been awful – heavy snows and even an avalanche have caused some of the trouble – but the real problem is an extraordinary amount of freight traffic, 100-car trains loaded with crude oil.

Yes, BNSF owns the tracks. And, yes, the railroad has spent and will continue to spend many millions on upgrading the route. But you can bet the farm that money is to move their trains more efficiently and not Amtrak’s.

Some weeks ago, NARP – the National Association of Railroad Passengers – publically complained that crude oil is being given priority over people. And that, in a nutshell, is the issue.

There’s a frazzled mother with two kids riding in coach. Try telling her that she and her kids are going to be six, eight, ten, or maybe even twelve hours late, because getting a dozen trains carrying a zillion gallons of crude oil are more important.

Then duck.