Link to Amtrak.com

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.

Through America's Backyard on the Empire Builder

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Sunday, August 21

6:30 am - Everett, Washington

As the third day of my trip dawns, Lorian and I meet for breakfast in the dining car, where we're joined by Bruce and Suzanne Blecha, from Cicero, Illinois. The Blechas are on their way to a vacation in Seattle, and it's their first time on the Empire Builder.

"It's relaxing to take the train on a long trip like this, while driving isn't relaxing," says Suzanne.

Suzanne and Bruce agree that a train ride sets the stage for meeting new people. And, at the moment, they say, they're glad that Lorian and I are filling the "new people" role. One reason is that we're both writers — and their daughter is a budding writer who's looking for tips on how to get published. Lorian and I pass along some suggestions and encourage the Blechas to keep kindling their daughter's interest.

9:08 am - Edmonds, Washington

I say goodbye to Lorian as she meets her husband Jeff in suburban Seattle and return to my roomette to get ready to arrive downtown. On my way, though, I say hello to a group of three women in a nearby room.

Cross-country travelers (from left) Bonnie Wilson, Chekesha Davis, and Arlene Edwards

They're Arlene Edwards, her sister Bonnie Wilson, and her niece Chekesha Davis, and they're in a Superliner "Accessible Bedroom," a lower-level room with ample space for a wheelchair and other health care equipment. The trio has been on the train since New York City, where Arlene lives, en route to Seattle, where she'll undergo surgery. All three give Amtrak rave reviews.

"It's been easy to get on and off the train, with a shuttle at the station to and from the train," says Chekesha. "Also, we've had a lot of room, even with six oxygen tanks!"

Bonnie sums up their experience by saying: "I'm very grateful that Amtrak exists as a travel option. Airlines or bus lines don't provide what Amtrak offers people with a mobility impairment. Without Amtrak, how could people with special needs make a long-distance trip like this?"

10:20 am - Seattle, Washington

The end of the line: King Street Station in Seattle.

Inside King Street Station, I say good-bye to new acquaintances. In the process, I run across a man I'd only said hello to before. His name is Gordon Gill and, as it turns out, he's a noted expert on the railroad industry. So I ask him what he thinks makes the Empire Builder unique.

"It allows passengers to readily appreciate the whole North American continent," he observes. "On the Empire Builder, you can see the Rocky Mountain peaks in Canada and ocean-going freighters in both Lake Michigan and Puget Sound, thus linking in your mind the Atlantic, the US heartland, and the Pacific."

And, as in my case, a ride on the Empire Builder can be a nice mini-vacation.

But that's just my perspective. I encourage you to ride the Empire Builder for yourself and see what kind of unique "play" unfolds for you.

Right now, though, please excuse me, because Seattle's colorful Pioneer Square neighborhood is just outside and I'm ready for the next leg of my journey. And since I'm downtown instead of out at the airport, that next leg isn't going to be a long, tedious cab ride, but a short, pleasant stroll to my hotel.

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