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Building An Empire: ATL-DEN-PDX-ORD On F9 / Amtrak  
User currently offlineMSYtristar From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 23 hours ago) and read 13930 times:


Obviously, I love flying. I’ve loved the entire experience of it since I was a kid. When someone moans and groans about being stuck in a small seat in a metal tube for hours upon end, the thought of doing that actually makes me quite happy (this will be exemplified by my upcoming ATL-LAX-MEL-SYD-LAX-ATL mileage run with no overnight stays in any of the cities). That being said, my love of rail travel is equal to my love of flight. There’s something to be said about going it old school…seeing the country from the steel roads which crisscross the nation like a spider web. I feel a connection to the past when I’m on a train. And as long as Amtrak keeps on chugging, I’ll keep on riding.

The purpose of this trip was to fill in two gaps in my personal Amtrak travels map: PDX-GEG, and MSP-ORD. So I decided might as well go for the whole route. I last took the Empire Builder in June 2008 out of SEA in coach class. This time, I bought a Roomette, since the price was right, and since I was going for two full days/nights. For the flights, I chose Frontier ATL-DEN-PDX, and then United back from ORD, since they offer the latest departure of the day between the two cities. I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking since there are a ton of them. Hope you enjoy.

Frontier Airlines
Flight F9425
Dep: 0620
Arr: 0737
Airbus A319

This was my first time on a Frontier Airbus since I left the company in October, 2005. It was like getting to see an old friend again. I had seat 16A and the middle seat next to me would remain empty. I’d say the load was about 90...there were a good number of middle seats and some aisle seats left open. Pushback was on-time and we were airborne within ten minutes. I chose to nap on this one most of the way so no DirecTV for me. In flight service started about :30 after takeoff with a beverage service and a buy-on-board snack service. I just had an apple juice…figured I’d grab something quick in DIA on my connection. Pretty much non-descript flight for the most part until we approached DEN which was seeing some awful conditions with rain and amazingly low visibility. I venture to say that our landing was right at or close to minimums. But, we made it, and as always on an Airbus, extremely smooth landing. Here are the pics from F9425.


Frontier Airlines
Flight F9791
Dep: 0825
Arr: 1008
Airbus A319

This flight was totally full…not an open seat in the house. Push was on time and we were off the ground in just a few minutes following a typically long takeoff roll. It was very turbulent as we crossed the Rockies but it smoothed out considerably after that. Just a Diet Pepsi for me on this one and I spent most of the flight listening to my iPod. Approach into PDX was spectacular and we were treated to an amazing view of Mt. Hood. I snagged a few pictures of it. We landed about :15 early due to lack of headwinds. Here are pics from the layover in DEN and from this flight:


*** Portland, Oregon ***


I took the tri met light rail train from PDX to Union Station in downtown Portland. There, I checked in at the Metropolitan Lounge (Amtrak’s lounge for sleeping car passengers), stored my bag, and picked up a map of the city. First stop on my tour of Portland was Voodoo Donuts, only about a 10/15 min walk from the station. I saw this place on the Food Network or Travel Channel…can’t remember which…and I said to myself “Oh yes, you need to go there”. The line to the place was out the door. The donuts were okay…ambiance was neat. Overall worth a visit. I then hopped on the light rail and made my way to Washington Park to ride the famous zoo train and to check out the zoo. I’ve always liked zoos, and this one didn’t disappoint. After the zoo, I caught the #63 bus to the Rose Gardens. Not all of the roses were in bloom yet, but you got a great view of the city from up there. Just a neat place to hang out. I had some time left after I checked out the Rose Garden and I was going to the Japanese Gardens but I noticed that if I went there, it would be pushing it a little too close as far as time goes for me to get all the way back to Union Station with some time to spare. So, I decided to check those out next time (apparently they are spectacular) and make my way back downtown. On the ride back I met a couple vacationing from Hawaii and we had a nice talk about the Pacific Northwest. After taking a few more pictures of the city I returned to Union Station by 3:45pm. Boarding for the train would begin at 4:20pm. Here are some pics from Portland...


Amtrak train #28 “Empire Builder”
Dep: 1645
Arr: 1555 (+2)
Superliner Sleeping car (Roomette)

They pre-boarded all of the Sleeping car passengers at 4:20pm. I had room #9 on the upper level. The Portland section of this train only operates with 4 passenger cars: 1 Sightseer Lounge, 2 Coaches, and 1 Sleeper. In Spokane, these four cars get added to the back of the 6-car train that starts in Seattle. So I was pretty happy because I’d be in the last car the entire way, which meant easy access to great views from the rear of the train. Of course, the last car is also the bumpiest, but I’ve been on so many trains I barely even notice anymore. Anyway, we departed on-time. After we left Vancouver the car attendant came around with our dinner choices. Since there’s no true dining car until after we leave Spokane, they offer free cold meal service to sleeper passengers, plus a complimentary bottle of champagne. I had the chicken option, and it was very good, overall. After I finished dinner I made my way to the Sightseer lounge as we began our trek through the Columbia River Gorge. The beauty of it I can’t really put into words, so I’ll let the pics do it for me.

I left the Lounge car about :30 before our stop in Pasco, and had the car attendant turn down my bed for the night. I was dog tired, and I figured I’d be ready for sleep after the fresh air break in Pasco. Indeed, once we departed Pasco, I lied down, and was probably sleeping within five minutes. It was nice and cool ion my room and the bed was comfortable. I set my alarm for 6:00am, which would give me time to shower and eat breakfast before we reached Glacier National Park. Here are pictures from day #1 on the rails…


18 replies: All unread, jump to last
User currently offlineMSYtristar From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 1, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 23 hours ago) and read 13887 times:


I woke up at 6 like I had planned after a very restful sleep and hit the shower. It’s always a fun experience showering on a train. Here’s what it looks like…pretty small, but manageable…

Then, at 6:30, I hit the Dining car for breakfast. I had the breakfast special…”sausage biscuits with gravy”. It was stick-to-your-ribs delicious….along with coffee and some juice.


Then, it was back to my room, as we were approaching Whitefish, which was a fresh air stop. I detrained here and took a few pics. That Montana air was cool and crisp. My lungs thanked me. Back in my room after that for our journey into Glacier National Park…my room was on the left side of the train going forward, as so it the best view going through the park. So I just stayed in there the whole time. It takes about 2 and ½ to 3 hours to cross the park, and every second offers something really spectacular to look at. After the train leaves the East Glacier stop (which is a summer seasonal stop) and crosses the Two Medicine bridge, the landscape changes rapidly into high rolling plains…and remain that way for most of the day. To be honest, it’s not much to look at, but it’s sort of relaxing and its beauty understated. Lunch was served at noon , followed by an afternoon wine tasting for sleeper passengers at 3:00pm. I had a 6:00pm seating for dinner where I had some spicy Bison meatloaf. It was very good.

Eventually Montana turned into North Dakota, and we arrived Minot at 8:55pm. This was another fresh air break so I hopped out. After that, I had the bed turned down, listened to music for another hour or so, and called it a day. Here are the pics from day #2:


I woke up at 6:00am again to find us on-time. Following my usual routine of shower and breakfast, I hopped out of St.Paul-Minneapolis during our 45 minute stop there. And then…the rains came. And it didn’t really stop raining until we left the state of Minnesota, but picked up again in Milwaukee. The ride between St.Paul and, say, La Crosse WI is very nice, since you basically hug the Mississippi River the entire time. You cross the river once in St.Paul and again just before arriving LaCrossse. Between LaCrosse and Milwaukee it’s mostly farmland. Lunch was served at 11:30 just as we were passing through Wisconsin Dells. You’re in MKE by 2:00pm, and then in CHI by 3:30pm. Here are pics from day #3 on the train…


After saying goodbye to the Empire Builder, I spent an hour lounging around the Metropolitan Lounge in CHI, before making my way to the CTA blue line train to ORD, and catching my United flight back home to ATL (UA373, A320), later that evening. There’s not much to say about the UA flight except that it was only about ½ full, I had the distinct honor of having a very weird dude as a seatmate (thankfully there was a seat open in between us), and the flight was like a roller coaster in the sky thanks to the storms all around.

So to sum up, it was a great trip. I’d like to get back to Portland to see more of the city…very nice place. And the train ride was, as usual, excellent. Also, it was great getting back on Frontier again after all these years. It brought back a lot of memories.

Happy travels and thanks for reading…and if you can, take the train for a change.  

Next trip report: ATL-LAX-MEL-SYD-LAX-ATL; 5/5/10 - 5/7/10; feat. A380.

User currently offlineEL-AL From Israel, joined Oct 2001, 1539 posts, RR: 13
Reply 2, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 22 hours ago) and read 13600 times:

Hey MSYtristar,

Thank you for very unique report. Those photos you took are simply breathtaking, it's amazing to have all those views without the need to get off the train.

Thx again,


every day is a good day to fly
User currently offlineAirport From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 3, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 21 hours ago) and read 13581 times:

WOW! What a fantastic report!

Same for me, for as much as I'm an aviation enthusiast, I also share a similar enthusiasm for trains (as well as boats and ships).

Unfortunately, I've never had the opportunity to experience Amtrak, but your TR at least gave me a glimpse as to what its like. Thank you for taking the time to write and compile such a wonderful report! Looking forward to more in the future.  


User currently offlinekl911 From Netherlands, joined Jul 2003, 5500 posts, RR: 16
Reply 4, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 21 hours ago) and read 13531 times:

Wow!! What a great report and pics! I just love the combi of plane and train.

User currently offlineazstar From United States of America, joined May 2005, 646 posts, RR: 0
Reply 5, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 21 hours ago) and read 13502 times:

Wow, what an adventure. Fantastic report.

User currently offlinemke717spotter From United States of America, joined Dec 2005, 2558 posts, RR: 4
Reply 6, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 18 hours ago) and read 13001 times:

Nice trip report and pictures. I'm kind of surprised you got YX napkins on a F9 flight out of DEN to a non-YX destination.

Will you watch the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions on Sunday? Only if coach Eric Mangini resigned after a loss.
User currently offlineburj From United States of America, joined Nov 2007, 903 posts, RR: 3
Reply 7, posted (6 years 1 month 1 week 16 hours ago) and read 12659 times:

Wow thanks! Living in the Northeast my only experience with Amtrak has been on the train between Boston and NYC...

I've always wondered what the long distance trains were like! Thanks for sharing your pictures and experience!

User currently offlineAirlineBrat From United States of America, joined Jan 2005, 678 posts, RR: 0
Reply 8, posted (6 years 1 month 6 days 16 hours ago) and read 11218 times:

Excellent trip report as usual.

I always enjoy reading your trip reports covering your adventures by air and rail. I think it was your trip that included the Sunset Limited between New Orleans and LA that I read through last month in preparation for the adventure I took late-March/early-April. Cashed in 12,500 miles to fly UA one way ACV-SFO-ORD. Spent two days exploring Chicago. Ate way too much, saw live jazz both nights (Green Mill & Velvet Club), visited the Contemporary Art Museum and walked miles on end. 3 day pass on the L for $14 was a good deal. Then I rode the California Zephyr to Emeryville. Booked a roomette like you did this trip. What a spectacular ride. West of Denver was jaw dropping. Had a room on the north side of the train which seemed to have most but not all of the best views westbound.... Rockies, Glenwood Canyon and crossing the Sierra's. I didn't expect the section of track between Grand Junction and Green River, UT to be as spectacular as it was. I thought it would be like what you see driving on I-70. After a night in Emeryville, I took the Capitol Corridor train to Martinez and the Amtrak Bus home to Arcata. All that travel for $595 including the roomette. I learned the trick, travel during the off season and wait until the switch back to Daylight Saving Time when the sun is up longer at night.

I rode on the EB between PDX and CHI with my parents when I was 18. That trip we went SJC-PDX-CHI-NWK (Coast Starlight, EB and Broadway Ltd).

I look forward to more of your reports in the future. Cheers!!


[Edited 2010-04-26 21:08:10]

I'm leavin on a jet plane. Don't know when I'll be back again....
User currently offlineMSNYX From United States of America, joined Dec 2006, 131 posts, RR: 0
Reply 9, posted (6 years 1 month 5 days 21 hours ago) and read 10693 times:

I just missed you by a day. I rode the empire builder to Milwaukee the day before you. What a great ride! Thanks for the report.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me
User currently offlineLazialeMKD From French Polynesia, joined Oct 2009, 154 posts, RR: 0
Reply 10, posted (6 years 1 month 5 days 16 hours ago) and read 10396 times:

Excellent report!!!
You must have some European roots since not too many American ppl travel this way  .
I enjoyed the report and the pics especially from that wild nature in the northwest.


User currently offlineMSYtristar From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 11, posted (6 years 1 month 4 days 23 hours ago) and read 10003 times:

Thanks for all the comments!

Quoting AirlineBrat (Reply 8):
I always enjoy reading your trip reports covering your adventures by air and rail. I think it was your trip that included the Sunset Limited between New Orleans and LA that I read through last month in preparation for the adventure I took late-March/early-April. Cashed in 12,500 miles to fly UA one way ACV-SFO-ORD. Spent two days exploring Chicago. Ate way too much, saw live jazz both nights (Green Mill & Velvet Club), visited the Contemporary Art Museum and walked miles on end. 3 day pass on the L for $14 was a good deal. Then I rode the California Zephyr to Emeryville. Booked a roomette like you did this trip. What a spectacular ride. West of Denver was jaw dropping. Had a room on the north side of the train which seemed to have most but not all of the best views westbound.... Rockies, Glenwood Canyon and crossing the Sierra's. I didn't expect the section of track between Grand Junction and Green River, UT to be as spectacular as it was. I thought it would be like what you see driving on I-70. After a night in Emeryville, I took the Capitol Corridor train to Martinez and the Amtrak Bus home to Arcata. All that travel for $595 including the roomette. I learned the trick, travel during the off season and wait until the switch back to Daylight Saving Time when the sun is up longer at night.

The Zephyr is still my favorite run in the U.S. There's always something interesting to look at between DEN and Emeryville. It's better going the direction you did because you're guaranteed daylight hours for the crossing of the Rockies. If you travel in the off-season you can find some pretty good deals for long haul trips in a Roomette. Between June-August and during holidays...not so much.  
Quoting MSNYX (Reply 9):
I just missed you by a day. I rode the empire builder to Milwaukee the day before you. What a great ride! Thanks for the report.

Wow...it's a small world. lol

User currently offlineTWA757 From United States of America, joined Jul 2007, 181 posts, RR: 0
Reply 12, posted (6 years 1 month 2 days 5 hours ago) and read 9201 times:

What a great report -- thank you for sharing! I especially loved all the pictures of Portland; my family used to live there, and I love going back every chance I get.

User currently offlineKaiGywer From United States of America, joined Oct 2003, 12323 posts, RR: 32
Reply 13, posted (6 years 1 month 2 days 1 hour ago) and read 9090 times:

Quoting MSYtristar (Reply 1):
It’s always a fun experience showering on a train.

Does the room have a private shower or is it shared?

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, an
User currently offlineFabo From Slovakia, joined Aug 2005, 1245 posts, RR: 0
Reply 14, posted (6 years 1 month 1 day 22 hours ago) and read 8952 times:

I am pretty surprised by the sheer size of American trains, compared to what I ride to home here, even more so as it is same gauge...

I wonder, what is the speed of the train?

The light at the end of tunnel turn out to be a lighted sing saying NO EXIT
User currently offlineELAL772 From Israel, joined Jun 2008, 158 posts, RR: 0
Reply 15, posted (6 years 1 month 1 day 13 hours ago) and read 8775 times:

This TR is AMAZING!!

What an experience you must have had.

Beautiful pictures and beautiful country!!

User currently offlineMSYtristar From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 16, posted (6 years 1 month 1 day 9 hours ago) and read 8649 times:

Quoting KaiGywer (Reply 13):
Does the room have a private shower or is it shared?

Those small rooms have a shared shower. The larger "bedrooms" have a small private shower. The sleeping car attendant keeps the public shower very clean...and to be honest, it's not used all that much from what I've seen.

Quoting Fabo (Reply 14):
wonder, what is the speed of the train?

On long distance routes like this one, the top speed allowed 79mph (127km), but there are sections on some routes where they are allowed to hit 90.

User currently offlineTLG From United States of America, joined Jul 2005, 397 posts, RR: 0
Reply 17, posted (6 years 3 weeks 2 days 20 hours ago) and read 7586 times:

You passed within 200 yards of my house, just east of La Crosse, WI! We enjoy watching the Empire Builder pass by twice daily, eastbound in the morning and westbound in the evening.


User currently offlinePI4EVER From United States of America, joined May 2009, 706 posts, RR: 2
Reply 18, posted (6 years 3 weeks 1 day 2 hours ago) and read 7185 times:

Excellent report. Written very well, and beautiful pictures. Thank You for sharing a great trip.
I join you and several others for the love of flying and train travel. My favorite 3 forms of transport is air, rail and cruise ship.
I really enjoy train travel in Europe and on my wish list is the ViaRail "Canadian" from YYZ to YVR. Tuesday thru to Saturday of beautiful scenery and Gold Leaf service in your private suite with complimentary food and drink.......and if I could afford it the Orient Express/Plimpton luxury train Paris-Istanbul.
I'm ready to ride Amtrak even thanks to your report.
Looking forward to reading of your mind-numbing trip to Australia which I suspect you're recovering from today.......

watch what you want. you may get it.
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