Amtrak Tries a Cheap Fix for the Empire Builder.

Patient: “Doc, it hurts when I do this.”
Doctor: “Then stop doing that!”
*  *  *
Well, it would appear that the dreadful on-time problems Amtrak’s Empire Builder has been experiencing for the past several months are going to be corrected … sort of … with a change in the train’s schedule.
The two sections of the eastbound train will depart from both Seattle and Portland about three hours earlier than the current schedule; westbound trains will leave Chicago 90 minutes sooner.

(Heading west, the Empire Builder splits into two trains when it reaches Spokane, with one section continuing on to Seattle, the other swinging southward to Portland. It all works in reverse for the eastbound train.)

There are many factors to consider when creating a train’s schedule, but a major concern is allowing enough time for passengers to make connections to other long-distance trains.

According to the existing schedule, the eastbound Empire Builder is due into Chicago every day at 3:55 p.m. The Capitol Limited departs Chicago at 6:40 p.m., the City of New Orleans at 8:00, and the Lake Shore Limited at 9:30.

In theory, adding three hours on the front end of its schedule will be enough to absorb delays occurring as the Builder crosses North Dakota. If theory becomes fact, even with continuing delays from freight congestion, the Empire Builder should arrive in Chicago in time for passengers to make any of those connections.

There are always some passengers on the westbound Empire Builder who want to connect with the southbound Coast Starlight in Portland. Given the 90-minute-earlier departure from Chicago, that could still work. But passengers coming north on the Coast Starlight will no longer be able to make a same-day connection with the eastbound train there in Portland.

So … with the new schedule changes, would you feel comfortable taking a chance on any of those connections?

That’s what I thought.

Neither would I.