The Empire Builder operates daily between Chicago and Seattle/Portland and was named for James J. Hill, the builder of the Great Northern Railway.
There are 45 station stops on the Empire Builder — the most of any Amtrak route.
by Neil Conner
My wife and another couple traveled on the 7/27 train from Chicago to Seattle on September 25. We were met at the platform by our terrific Sleeper Attendant, Paul. He had a smile for us as we boarded his car (2730). From the beginning to the end of our trip he was wonderful. He went above and beyond for us, and we made sure he knew it.
Our adventure was flawless. The train left precisely at 2:15 as scheduled. It arrived in Portland 10 minutes early.
Our dinner on the first evening was better than we expected. The steaks were cooked perfectly as well as the ribs. We enjoyed our waiter who took very good care of us. The next morning's breakfast of hearty pancakes were also splendid. Lunchtime was burger time. It was OK, nothing terrific. It's a train diner, not a five-star restaurant. Our dinner was very good on the second night. No complaints about the food — the server was a little touchy but she did pretty well.
Each evening Paul would come to offer his services to get our sleeper compartment ready for sleeping. We opted to do it ourselves. We stayed up late and wanted the bench seats to sit on. Putting the seats into sleeping position was fairly easy as well as dropping down the upper bunk. The upper bunk, that is another story within itself. It was a little claustrophobic for me. Getting up and down was not a problem but at one point in the night, I had to take a deep breath and calm myself down when I woke up and realized where I was and how small the space really was. Sleeping was sporadic. My wife on the lower bunk had little trouble sleeping. On the second night, we trade spots. My turn for some real sleep.
Blue skies at the Whitefish,Montana station.
The compartment itself is small, but usable. The bathroom/shower combo are worth the expense. They are very small inside but give you a larger area for the daytime seating. The Roomette is very small and I don't know if I could travel with another person in that space. It is made for two, but it is very small with little legroom between the facing seats. I took my shower on day one in our compartment, my wife used the much larger public shower on level one. On day two, I used the public shower and it was much better. The shower has a small dressing room attached and is totally private once you activate the lock. Paul kept it stocked with clean fresh towels and soap.
The scenery during the day was spectacular. From the rolling hills of Wisconsin to the flat plains of Montana, it was great to see the terrain change every hour. The travel on the second morning along the Columbia River was worth waking at 5 am to see the sunrise.
All in all the trip was a great success. The Amtrak employees were wonderful. I saw some very courteous actions toward the customers in the Chicago station as well as other stops. It is definitely a different pace of travel. None of the passengers seemed to be in a hurry. We all understood that the train will move forward as allowed by the freight trains that control the tracks. As I said earlier, we arrived about 10 minutes early into Portland after a 48 hour trip. That's pretty good in my opinion. Yes, we had perfect weather, no mechanical problems, and no long delays caused by the freight trains. We were very lucky in that respect.
We spoke to a travelers who had used Amtrak on many trips. They liked the pace as well as the co-travelers. It is quite a mixed group. My wife and I will be back. This was our first trip. Good job Amtrak.