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.
Of the 391 national park sites, 248 are within 100 miles of an Amtrak route or station.
by Myron Sorozak
In September 2009, we departed Cleveland, Ohio, on the #29 Capitol Limited to Chicago, Illinois. We arrived a little early at the station, so we had plenty time to check in at the Metropolitan Lounge, eat, explore the station and take photos. The lounge was stocked with soft drinks and plenty of snacks after noon. When our call to board the Empire Builder #7/27 came around, the Amtrak Red Caps loaded our bags on their motorized carts and drove us right to the side of our Sleeper Car #0731.
Passing over a trestle in East Glacier, Montana.
The Sleeper Car Attendant, Donna, helped us board the train, gave us directions to our Roomette (#5) and assisted us with our luggage. Once underway, Donna explained the amenities and conveniences of our Roomette. Donna was really great and so helpful the whole time to Spokane, Washington.
We crossed several bridges over the wide and long Mississippi River past LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Our first meal, dinner, was a juicy steak, vegetables, salad, roll, baked potato and iced tea. It was rather humorous watching the Dining Car servers trying to stay balanced while the car swayed and rocked.
Morning found us waking up as we approached Minot, North Dakota. After a hearty breakfast, we went to the Sightseer/Lounge and then back to our Roomette. Endless numbers of plains, ranches and ghost towns passed our window.
Just west of Minot we received or first thrill, the very high, long and spectacular ride crossing the Gassman Coulee Trestle. At Shelby, Montana, we had a service crew (engineer/conductor) change. At Havre, Montana, we had a fuel/water/smoke stop. Here we had our second thrill: some US Border Patrol agents boarded and walked the train and then the station area. I took a photo of the huge steam engine and tender on permanent display at Havre.
Blue skies at the Whitefish,Montana station.
We began to see some mountains as we got into western Montana andarrived into Whitefish, Montana, a beautiful Alpine-type station, around the beginning of dusk. We did catch another couple of great views from high trestles at Cut Bank and Essex, Montana, and from the Goat Lick Trestle in spectacular Glacier National Park as it grew dark. We went though Libby, Montana, Sandpoint, Idaho and arrived in Spokane, Washington after dark.
Donna's sister took us in her car on a sightseeing excursion into Idaho and Montana. We never smelled such a sweet fragrance as fresh, live pine and never saw such huge trees and mountains like the Rocky Mountains.
We departed Spokane happy and well rested. As day broke, we had breakfast in the Dining Car. Our Sleeper Attendant for our trip back to Chicago (also Roomette #5) on the #8/28 Empire Builder was Manuel, a.k.a Manny. He too had things well organized, and like our first Sleeper Attendant, Donna, excelled in his job.
I had a hard time sleeping in the upper berth, so he arranged it with our conductor to let me sleep in Coach but still get our normal Sleeper benefits. I also must commend all of the Amtrak employees that we encountered who were so courteous and so helpful.
Our trip back to Chicago did give us a chance to see more of Glacier National Park and other places during daylight hours. Our Sightseer Lounge Attendant did a great job and for later parts of the trip in Minnesota and Wisconsin, also serving as as sort of tour guide, explaining the sights as we went by them.
We did get to see the SP4449 train as it pulled a special passenger section back west with a huge steam engine from a train show in Wisconsin. It was parked on layover in Whitefish, Montana.
We arrived safely in Chicago, Illinois, and from there we returned home to Cleveland, Ohio. We were tired but very happy train riders indeed and will one day return to Amtrak for another rail journey.