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CollegeAviator
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*NO FLIGHTS* Spring Break 2017 - To the Pacific Northwest! (AMTRAK, BC, Idaho)

Mon Feb 12, 2018 3:02 pm

Well, while I wait and set up for the Summer 2017 series trip reports, I would like to fill up the time with a bit of a non-aviation related trip report. I do apologize in advance if this doesn’t fit here, and I will be open to any movement of this thread on the website.

Following what wasn’t the best experiences with friends down in Florida (always happens, lol) my girlfriend and I decided to head to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving, while the others went off to Colorado. While another trip to Fort Lauderdale was in the works amongst them, my girlfriend and I decided that it was my time to equalize with her: I would head to her home during Spring Break!
A trip up to Canada, British Columbia in particular. Flights were ruled out even before they were an option, although I did look up Delta just for the sake of it: a price tag of $700? Oh no, absolutely not. Good thing there was AMTRAK providing a relatively easier and much cheaper option (albeit quite unreliable at times). I have mentioned the option of taking the train a lot of times in my earlier trip reports here, but due to time constraints, I decided to give that a miss.

This was it then! Two round trip tickets booked on AMTRAK’s Empire Builder Superliner service. A train that runs from Chicago to Seattle/Portland, we would be boarding at Grand Forks at 04:41 in the morning, and reaching Sandpoint (Idaho) at 0221 hours the next day. A nice 21hr22min journey across three time zones in the mid-west. I was looking forwards to this. Not until I realized that the snowstorm from a few days ago led to the east-bound service to get stuck at a massive snowbank in Rugby (North Dakota). This did get cleared up, thanks to BNSF’s locomotives helping out.
Known for its unreliability and delays, we cautiously headed to the Grand Forks AMTRAK station, with the train on time. There were no less than three GE Genesis locomotives hauling this train up to the west coast. Tickets checked in the bitter cold, we were informed that we won't be able to get two seats together initially.
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Not ideal, but then we found someone who was willing to move seats, as they'd be alighting at Devil's Lake (ND) anyway. Caught up on some sleep as the Empire Builder made great time and reached its first long halt - 0809 hours, a whole 22 minutes before time! I headed out for some pictures and stuff….I could not get very close to the locomotives itself, as they were being refueled.
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Observation car
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The next part of the journey, up until Williston (ND), I enjoyed the scenery - granted, there was not much to be seen anyway seeing as how flat and barren it is, until we got to the oil fields. Empire Builder was still well on time. The drugs kicked in as I took a bit of a nap between Wolf Point (MT) and Havre (MT). Did a bit more of walking around at Havre, because of the long stop.
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A very effective nap followed as we slowly started climbing through the Rockies. Supper on the train included a warmed up cheeseburger and Mist Twist. We didn't risk spending extra money in the dining car, however….

A 25 minute delay occurred just outside of Sandpoint, our final destination. Trust an impressive BNSF train or two to get by at immense speeds! Once at Sandpoint, it was cool to see how the conductor was in constant communication with the engineers up front - the train reached SPT, but we hadn't (yet), but that was until the conductor gave the engineers a countdown as to where to stop. Fun stuff!
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A half hour drive up to Bonner's Ferry (ID), the small town just south of the border. It was a short night's rest before we headed up to Creston (BC), Canada. This was where my girlfriend spent a lot of her childhood. We headed to Nelson, a nice little down nestled in the hills around the Kootneay Lake. Took a ferry up there which was nice.
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Nothing better than a quick home cooked meal, eh? :)
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My first hockey game in Canada - Poutine!
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Indian food in Creston - why can't GFK have this?!
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Most of the days were spent chilling at Bonner's, but we did head to Spokane one day, on the day when a lot of the landslides and stuff happened which wasn't fun. I quite liked Spokane itself! It was the very sights and sounds in the Pacific Northwest that really made me confirm my belief that anything on the west coast and inner is just absolutely amazing. Loved my time there!

Spokane - a mammoth exhibition!
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Town of Bonner's Ferry itself
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Canadian National and BNSF trains
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A last visit to Creston - the landslides got worse
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Quick story on the way back - as I mentioned, the melting snow and a significant amount of rain meant that landslides were disrupting movement everywhere. This meant that the return train to Chicago (or in our case, GFK) was delayed by about 17 hours to get things going. Amazing! A quick phone call to AMTRAK yielding a refund of the return tickets. My girlfriend's Mum was planning on heading to North Dakota anyway (Jamestown, to be particular), so we decided to drive down to ND, a solid 18 hour drive. This impromptu decision wasn't fun, but it gave me an experience of driving in the USA! Once back in GFK, we realized that the train was even more late, reaching GFK with a total delay of 33hr35min. Aaand that's it! A short & quick TR, and expect a return to the flight reports soon!
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My other trip reports:
2017

Winter Break 2016/17 (9): The Final Hop Home (AA Eagle ERJ-145, ORD-FAR, Jan '17, Y)
(video trip report)
Winter Break 2016/17 (8): Ultra long haul with Etihad (AUH-ORD, Y, Jan '17) (video trip report)
Winter Break 2016/17 (7): Enticing Etihad to Abu Dhabi! (CCU-AUH, Jan '17, Y) (video trip report)

2016
Winter Break 2016 (6): My last flight on Jet Airways' ATR (GAU-CCU, Y, Dec '16) + Scintillating Sunderbans (video trip report)
Winter Break 2016 (6): My last flight on Jet Airways' ATR (GAU-CCU, Y, Dec '16) + Scintillating Sunderbans (video trip report)
Winter Break 2016 (5): Konnecting to Kaziranga (S24363 B73H CCU-GAU Y, Dec '16) (video trip report)
Winter Break 2016 (4): Take us home, Qatar Airways! (QR540, DOH-CCU, Y, Dec'16) (video trip report)
Winter Break 2016 (3): Long haul middle seat - our first flight on Qatar Airways! (QR28 MAN-DOH, Y, Dec'16) (video trip report)
Winter Break 2016 (2): Pencil Jet across the Atlantic (AA54 MAN-ORD, Y+, Dec'16) (video trip report)
Winter Break 2016 (1): The Frozen Embraer Delay - missed connection! (FAR-ORD, Dec '16) (video trip report)
Thanksgiving '16 in the Sin City - My Allegiance with N891GA, to divert or not to divert (LAS-GFK Nov '16) (video trip report)
Thanksgiving '16 in the Sin City - My Allegiance with Allegiant! (Part 1, many pictures) (video trip report)
The day I flew the world's most popular plane (GFK-FAR-CKN-GFK, C172)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 14: Delta Connection, a quick hop in the Midwest! (MSP - GFK, Aug '16) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 13: Super old, Super 80, Mad Dog Across the Midwest! (AA ORD-MSP, Aug'16) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 12: Flying the Friendly Skies... (United Munich to Chicago, Aug '16)) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 11: Epic Lufthansa, Epic A340! (Delhi to Munich, Aug '16) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 10: Konnect, Lite, Delight...(S2 B73H CCU-DEL, Aug '16) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 9: Take me home, Vistara! (DEL-CCU, Jul '16) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 8: Vistara's INAUGURAL flight out of Kolkata! (CCU-DEL, Jun '16)) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 7: Efficient IndiGo! (Mumbai to Kolkata, A320, May '16) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 6: Big delays, cracked windshield, angry passengers (SG CCU-BOM B73J) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 5: Air India's domestic Dream)liner (DEL-CCU May '16) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 4: Nearly First Class - stories of the empty A380! (LH FRA-DEL May '16) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 3: World's longest jet, Lufthansa's B748i! (ORD-FRA May '16) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 2: ChicaGO on United's A319! (MSP-ORD, May '16) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 1: Sun rise onboard the long range CRJ (DL GFK-MSP CRJ-900, May '16) (video trip report)
The pencil jet(s) for spring break! (+ Iron Maiden bonus): Delta MSP-FLL-MSP, March '16 (DL1608 video trip report, DL2027 video trip report)
De-iced & Delayed, cold onboard a CRJ! (ORD-MSP-GFK on Delta, Jan '16) (ORD-MSP video report) (MSP-GFK video report)
Delta's aged B767-300ER across the Atlantic! (CDG-ORD in Y, Jan '16) (video report)
Air France's NEW Economy (B777-200ER, Bengaluru to Paris, Jan '16) (video report)
Delays and despair: stressed out in the middle seat! (Jet Airways B737 Mumbai - Bengaluru, Jan '16)
Air India's hybrid babybus from Kolkata to Mumbai (Jan '16, Y) (video report)

2012
South Africa 3: 12 days in Scintillating South Africa (Kruger, Kulula and Rand Airport, Apr' 12, LONG!)
South Africa 2: Elegant Emirates Economy! (DXB-CPT, B77W, Apr '12)
South Africa 1: My first flight on Emirates, my first flight on the 777 (CMB-DXB, Apr '12)

2011
International transit with Jet Airways (BOM-MAA-CMB, Oct. '11)
Konnecting to Bhubaneswar (9W BOM-BBI-BOM, Jul '11)
Three trips between India and Sri Lanka (9W BOM-CMB-BOM: Jun '11, Jul '11, Oct. 11)
To India's Orange City: Mumbai - Nagpur - Mumbai on Jetlite & Tadoba National Park (May 2011)
My last flight on Kingfisher Airlines (and 2 other Jet flights, May '11)
Last edited by atcsundevil on Mon Feb 12, 2018 8:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Edited title for clarity
 
User avatar
atcsundevil
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Re: *NO FLIGHTS* Spring Break 2017 - To the Pacific Northwest! (AMTRAK, BC, Idaho)

Mon Feb 12, 2018 8:27 pm

I've updated the title to emphasize that this TR is not aviation related. It is permissible, since nothing actually specifies that a TR must be an aviation trip report. We just don't see them very often!

Thanks for posting.

✈️ atcsundevil
 
brucetiki
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Re: *NO FLIGHTS* Spring Break 2017 - To the Pacific Northwest! (AMTRAK, BC, Idaho)

Tue Feb 13, 2018 2:58 am

As someone who enjoys their trains nearly as much as their planes, this was a fantastic trip report. Loved seeing a variety of old and new locos through the photos in particular.
 
cwa2toa
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Re: *NO FLIGHTS* Spring Break 2017 - To the Pacific Northwest! (AMTRAK, BC, Idaho)

Tue Feb 13, 2018 4:23 am

Glad you saved your beer from the errant Puck...Love poutine and Canadian beer.
Glad you got back to ND in fine fettle. I love to fly but once in a while the train is a nice diversion. We're looking at Amtrak up to SLO soon.
We’ll pick a star
in the twilight canopy
and search the world
for the sights you long to see.
Your heart is young,
you’re alive, so come with me.

TWA, up, up, and away!
:airplane:
 
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hirofumi
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Re: *NO FLIGHTS* Spring Break 2017 - To the Pacific Northwest! (AMTRAK, BC, Idaho)

Tue Feb 13, 2018 5:01 am

Nice little break from your other aviation threads! The train ride looks quite scenic. But, more so eye-catching was the Indian food - looks so authentic despite being in such a remote area!
 
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KLASM83
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Re: *NO FLIGHTS* Spring Break 2017 - To the Pacific Northwest! (AMTRAK, BC, Idaho)

Tue Feb 13, 2018 1:10 pm

Cool TR! I do like the train from there when it is on time (rarely, when I was there).

I once went from LAS to GFK by way of a new AS 738 to PDX thence the "Baby" Empire Builder (28) from PDX to GFK. The Colombia river gorge is beautiful, and in March, the lighting was perfect! You should try it if you get a chance.

Glad you did something other than G4 from GFK for a change haha
Don't you want to hang out and waste your life with us?
 
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alex0easy
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Re: *NO FLIGHTS* Spring Break 2017 - To the Pacific Northwest! (AMTRAK, BC, Idaho)

Tue Feb 13, 2018 5:35 pm

Thanks for posting.

I think all 5 Amtrak west-coast long-distance trains have beautiful views. I have currently tried the Southwest Chief (LA to Chicago) and the Coast Starlight (LA to Seattle), both were fantastic rides. I hope to try the other 3 soon.
 
Cubsrule
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Re: *NO FLIGHTS* Spring Break 2017 - To the Pacific Northwest! (AMTRAK, BC, Idaho)

Tue Feb 13, 2018 7:47 pm

alex0easy wrote:
Thanks for posting.

I think all 5 Amtrak west-coast long-distance trains have beautiful views. I have currently tried the Southwest Chief (LA to Chicago) and the Coast Starlight (LA to Seattle), both were fantastic rides. I hope to try the other 3 soon.


At least some of the short-distance trains do too. I also like the middle hour of the Pacific Surfliner run from San Diego to Los Angeles (along the beach and San Juan Capistrano), and taking the train on that route is far easier than driving or braving LAX for a 20 minute flight.
I can't decide whether I miss the tulip or the bowling shoe more
 
AR385
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Re: *NO FLIGHTS* Spring Break 2017 - To the Pacific Northwest! (AMTRAK, BC, Idaho)

Wed Feb 14, 2018 4:27 am

Great report! I specially loved the nature pictures. What struck me about the train, is why the seats don´t have seatbelts? Specially the ones on the Observation Deck. One would think given the recent Amtrak issues, trains would be equipped with seatbelts.

I was never able to stomach "Poutine", though it seems lots of people love it.

Thanks for posting!
 
KLDC10
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Re: *NO FLIGHTS* Spring Break 2017 - To the Pacific Northwest! (AMTRAK, BC, Idaho)

Wed Feb 14, 2018 1:35 pm

Nice report, and fun to read about a non-aviation related trip. Pretty quickly, your report hit on one of the main problems with Amtrak - the pretty terrible seat reservation system. You are unable to actually select a specific seat and instead just receive the assurance that, somewhere on the train, you will be able to take a seat. I recently booked Amtrak for an upcoming NYC-BOS journey (more out of curiosity than anything else) and received said assurance. It's not great to be honest - during recent journeys with the Deutsche Bahn, I have not only been given a specific seat reservation, but also a specific platform number months in advance. I enjoyed reading the report, but Amtrak just isn't up to scratch.
DC9/MD90/MD11/F70/BAE146/Q400/737/738/739/744/748/752/763/772/789/A320/A321/A332/A333/A346/E170/E175/E190
 
OKCDCA
Posts: 123
Joined: Sat Sep 30, 2017 2:50 am

Re: *NO FLIGHTS* Spring Break 2017 - To the Pacific Northwest! (AMTRAK, BC, Idaho)

Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:49 pm

As someone who works in the rail industry, enjoyed the train pics, especially the freight related ones. That said, I despise Amtrak. It needs to go away. Unprofitable trains taking up valuable capacity on profitable, private freight networks is just wrong. Hopefully with the current administration trying to push some of the funding for long distance Amtrak trains on to the states, which already can't afford it, this will speed up the process of finally doing away with Amtrak.
 
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CollegeAviator
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Re: *NO FLIGHTS* Spring Break 2017 - To the Pacific Northwest! (AMTRAK, BC, Idaho)

Wed Feb 21, 2018 5:33 pm

First of all, I would like to thank you everyone for such an overwhelming response to this trip report! And it doesn't even have a single plane :D This encourages me to post another trip report on the train in the future, but this time it will be from India.

atcsundevil wrote:
I've updated the title to emphasize that this TR is not aviation related. It is permissible, since nothing actually specifies that a TR must be an aviation trip report. We just don't see them very often!

Perfect, thanks for the clarification! I suppose it was nice to switch things up a little bit. Thanks for giving this a read! :)

brucetiki wrote:
As someone who enjoys their trains nearly as much as their planes, this was a fantastic trip report. Loved seeing a variety of old and new locos through the photos in particular.

Glad to know you enjoyed it, thank you so much! Do stay tuned for another train TR in the future :)

cwa2toa wrote:
Glad you saved your beer from the errant Puck...Love poutine and Canadian beer.

Loved every moment of my time up there! :D

cwa2toa wrote:
Glad you got back to ND in fine fettle. I love to fly but once in a while the train is a nice diversion. We're looking at Amtrak up to SLO soon.

Absolutely agree. Barring any delays here and there, the train is a pretty stress free way to get around. Enjoy your trip!

hirofumi wrote:
Nice little break from your other aviation threads! The train ride looks quite scenic. But, more so eye-catching was the Indian food - looks so authentic despite being in such a remote area!

I, too, was surprised with the great Indian food in the Pacific Northwest. Loved it. Thanks for giving this one a read! :)

KLASM83 wrote:
Cool TR! I do like the train from there when it is on time (rarely, when I was there).

For sure! I guess I too was very lucky with the train being on time - a stroke of luck!

KLASM83 wrote:
I once went from LAS to GFK by way of a new AS 738 to PDX thence the "Baby" Empire Builder (28) from PDX to GFK. The Colombia river gorge is beautiful, and in March, the lighting was perfect! You should try it if you get a chance.

Will certainly give that a shot! A very scenic route for sure.

KLASM83 wrote:
Glad you did something other than G4 from GFK for a change haha

Oh boy, will you enjoy the next TR I have in line.... :roll:

alex0easy wrote:
Thanks for posting.

And thank you for giving this a read!

alex0easy wrote:
I think all 5 Amtrak west-coast long-distance trains have beautiful views. I have currently tried the Southwest Chief (LA to Chicago) and the Coast Starlight (LA to Seattle), both were fantastic rides. I hope to try the other 3 soon.

That sounds like goals! Awesome stuff! :)

Cubsrule wrote:
At least some of the short-distance trains do too. I also like the middle hour of the Pacific Surfliner run from San Diego to Los Angeles (along the beach and San Juan Capistrano), and taking the train on that route is far easier than driving or braving LAX for a 20 minute flight.

Almost always makes sense to take the train on short distance travel. Especially given travel times to and from the airport(s) and waiting around, while the flights itself don't take long at all....

AR385 wrote:
Great report! I specially loved the nature pictures. What struck me about the train, is why the seats don´t have seatbelts? Specially the ones on the Observation Deck. One would think given the recent Amtrak issues, trains would be equipped with seatbelts.

Come to think of it, that does make sense from a safety pov and maybe comfort as well, so that you don't slide around as much at all. Thanks for checking out this one!

KLDC10 wrote:
Nice report, and fun to read about a non-aviation related trip. Pretty quickly, your report hit on one of the main problems with Amtrak - the pretty terrible seat reservation system. You are unable to actually select a specific seat and instead just receive the assurance that, somewhere on the train, you will be able to take a seat. I recently booked Amtrak for an upcoming NYC-BOS journey (more out of curiosity than anything else) and received said assurance. It's not great to be honest - during recent journeys with the Deutsche Bahn, I have not only been given a specific seat reservation, but also a specific platform number months in advance. I enjoyed reading the report, but Amtrak just isn't up to scratch.

Thank you so much for giving this a read! I agree, they should have seat selection. Indian Railways have it, as do Sri Lankan Railways even! AMTRAK does have a long way to go, but I appreciate their Empire Builder service that runs through the midwest....

OKCDCA wrote:
As someone who works in the rail industry, enjoyed the train pics, especially the freight related ones. That said, I despise Amtrak. It needs to go away. Unprofitable trains taking up valuable capacity on profitable, private freight networks is just wrong. Hopefully with the current administration trying to push some of the funding for long distance Amtrak trains on to the states, which already can't afford it, this will speed up the process of finally doing away with Amtrak.

Thanks for your interesting insight, and for checking out this trip report! Just taking the Empire Builder itself - how much of a dent does it cause to BSNF operations? It is just the two trains during the 24 hour period (assuming it is on time). I can see the two AMTRAKs passing by each other at one point as the biggest hinderance. That being said, the oil industry workers at ND do seem to patronize this service quite often.
 
seat38a
Posts: 260
Joined: Wed Nov 20, 2013 2:29 am

Re: *NO FLIGHTS* Spring Break 2017 - To the Pacific Northwest! (AMTRAK, BC, Idaho)

Wed Feb 21, 2018 10:29 pm

atcsundevil wrote:
I've updated the title to emphasize that this TR is not aviation related. It is permissible, since nothing actually specifies that a TR must be an aviation trip report. We just don't see them very often!

Thanks for posting.

✈️ atcsundevil


Didn't know that. So we can write a full report from a road trip through 5 states that does not include any flight segments?
 
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atcsundevil
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Re: *NO FLIGHTS* Spring Break 2017 - To the Pacific Northwest! (AMTRAK, BC, Idaho)

Wed Feb 21, 2018 11:32 pm

seat38a wrote:
atcsundevil wrote:
I've updated the title to emphasize that this TR is not aviation related. It is permissible, since nothing actually specifies that a TR must be an aviation trip report. We just don't see them very often!

Thanks for posting.

✈️ atcsundevil


Didn't know that. So we can write a full report from a road trip through 5 states that does not include any flight segments?

Keep in mind that we'd prefer people post trip reports that people want to read, but if it's something particularly interesting, then yes. It just needs to be prominent in the title, just like it is in this thread. It's clear that it's a no-flight trip report, and that it's with AMTRAK. That way, users who aren't interested in a train trip report won't click on the thread with different expectations.
 
OKCDCA
Posts: 123
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Re: *NO FLIGHTS* Spring Break 2017 - To the Pacific Northwest! (AMTRAK, BC, Idaho)

Thu Feb 22, 2018 1:35 pm

CollegeAviator wrote:
OKCDCA wrote:
As someone who works in the rail industry, enjoyed the train pics, especially the freight related ones. That said, I despise Amtrak. It needs to go away. Unprofitable trains taking up valuable capacity on profitable, private freight networks is just wrong. Hopefully with the current administration trying to push some of the funding for long distance Amtrak trains on to the states, which already can't afford it, this will speed up the process of finally doing away with Amtrak.

Thanks for your interesting insight, and for checking out this trip report! Just taking the Empire Builder itself - how much of a dent does it cause to BSNF operations? It is just the two trains during the 24 hour period (assuming it is on time). I can see the two AMTRAKs passing by each other at one point as the biggest hinderance. That being said, the oil industry workers at ND do seem to patronize this service quite often.

There's a lot that goes into it and quite frankly too much to type but simplified, it is more than just the two trains in the 24 hour period. The BNSF Northern Transcon is one of the busiest freight corridors in the US. They have hundreds of trains operating on it in both directions every day taking up capacity. Now you throw in not just two but possibly four trains on the route as you're always going to have more than one day worth of Empire Builders out there. BNSF has to dispatch around these trains and make sure they stay on time, as well as their own freight trains which are carrying millions of dollars worth of cargo, some of which has huge penalties associated with late delivery. High priority intermodal can have penalties as high as BNSF not being able to charge the customer if the container/trailer is late to the terminal. Luckily, BNSF restricts high priority routes like this to their best and most senior dispatchers who have years of dealing with high priority freights mixed with Amtrak but even then it can become a challenge. From the time Amtrak enters a dispatchers territory, he/she has to start figuring out what trains they are going to meet and where all while not laying down freights. You also have all the other issues associated with running a railroad: equipment breakdowns, right of way maintenance, serving customers, etc... That's why railroads in the US are much better suited for freight and not people.

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