Amtrak stretches Empire Builder schedule in response to BNSF congestion

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
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In recent months, the ontime performance of Amtrak’s Empire Builder has been severely impacted by heavy freight train congestion on host railroad BNSF Railway’s Northern Corridor. A near-exponential spike in crude oil traffic, with loaded trains originating in North Dakota’s Bakken region, is causing a significant portion of the congestion.

To help deal with this situation until BNSF is able to improve capacity, Amtrak Empire Builder trains will operate on a modified schedule, starting April 15, with most of the change affecting operation between St. Paul, Minn., and Portland, Ore., or Seattle.

Eastbound Empire Builder trains leaving Seattle (Train 8) and Portland (Train 28) and combined at Spokane, Wash., will originate three hours earlier, at 1:40 p.m. and 1:45 p.m., respectively.

The westbound Empire Builder, the combined Train 7 (to Seattle) and 27 (to Portland), will leave Chicago at 2:15 p.m., followed by St. Paul at 11:15 p.m., the same times it does now, but have about 90 minutes added to its westbound schedule between St. Paul and Seattle or Portland. The westbound train is separated at Spokane.

“We are working closely with BNSF, which owns the tracks and controls the dispatching of Empire Builder trains between St. Paul and the West Coast, in order to publish a schedule that accounts for freight train congestion and the condition of the BNSF-owned infrastructure,” said Empire Builder Route Director Jim Brzezinski. “We will assess the ability of BNSF to dispatch the Empire Builder with better reliability on this schedule, with further schedule changes possible in June.”

BNSF recently announced a 2014 capital investment plan of $5 billion. It includes a significant number of expansion programs. More than $900 million of the capital plan is for expansion and maintenance on the Northern Corridor. This investment is being made “to put the company in position to meet all customer service expectations, including Amtrak,” BNSF said.

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