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Trip Report

Empire Builder Chicago-St. Paul (MSP)
with #8 detour over BNSF
MSP to Chicago

October 9-10, 2005


This trip is an example of why I love three day weekends during the school year. The last weeks had been hectic, and I was feeling frazzled and grumpy. In early October, I checked the trains magazine website news page as I do on a nearly daily basis, and discovered that the eastbound Empire Builder would be detouring between Minneapolis and Chicago over the BNSF due to CP track work in Wisconsin on certain dates in October. A quick look at the Calendar, and I saw that October 10th was Columbus day. No School!! I had been aware of this detour being done in past years, but the CP's work schedule and the CPS (Chicago Public School calendar) could not get on the same page. Within minutes I had the trip booked, and was ready to go.

Sunday, October 9

Arrived Chicago Union station about 11:30. I had upgraded to a sleeper on train #7 (west bound Empire Builder) and needed to exchange the ticket. I had already booked a sleeper for train #8 (east bound Empire Builder), but for some reason, the price for sleepers on 7 had decreased, so I upgraded. This was accomplished fairly easily, and I checked into the Metropolitan lounge. The attendants were polite, and did not notice that I rolled my modest bag to a chair by the TV that was playing the Bears game. I conversed with a group of football fans, and "coached" the Bears who were playing terribly. All eyes were on me at least three times as I yelled instructions.

The Empire Builder boarded at 1:40, and pulled out on time at 2:15 p.m. The refurbished sleepers are the real deal. The seats have been replaced, and it is much easier to push the pedal and set up the lower berth. The bathrooms were well lit, attractive, and functioned well. As we rolled through the northwest side of Chicago the attendant gave us choices of sparking cider, wine, etc. A nice touch. The dining car steward made her rounds and I had my 5 pm reservation before Glenview.

I had room 11 on the lower level on the left side, so had a view of the other track and the afternoon sun all the way to Milwaukee. At Milwaukee we switched over to the other track until after Columbus.

At 5, I positioned myself at the end of the sleeper so I could get into the diner and nab a window seat. I figure that if I am first, then they cant say no. I was first, and got the window seat. Then I noticed that the lead attendant was mumbling to herself about correctly matching parties of 3 with 1 and 2's with 2's etcetera. One single lady was moved twice, eventually losing her window seat. All of this was to no avail. The other waiter randomly sat passengers, and the LSA ended up muttering to herself.

Amtrak menus are on the Amtrak web site. I had the prime rib. It was standard Amtrak fare, but the meat quality was excellent. The apple pie alamode was good, but I forgot to get the pie heated and the waiter forgot to ask. My table companions were enjoyable, so overall it was a nice dinner.

7's time keeping is detailed below:

dp Chicago 215 pm ot dp Glenview 241 2 min late ar Milwaukee 340 dp Milwaukee 355 ar Columbus 455 dp Columbus 505 dp Wisconsin dells 557 5 min late dp Tomah 641 11 min late dp Lacrosse 724 10min late dp Winona 800 10 min late dp Red Wing 907 15 min late ar Minneapolis St. Paul 1017

I stayed at the Four Points Sheraton St. Paul Capitol, a $7 cab ride from the station. I called Amtrak and #8 was reported on time.

Monday, Oct. 10

I got a 6 am wake up call, and then called Amtrak. 8 was still on time. I ordered a cab for 6:45, showered, and got ready. The cab arrived at 6:55 and I got to the station by 7:05. The train rolled in at 7:20. Passengers going to Red Wing, Winona, Lacrosse, Wisconsin Dells, Columbus Portage, and Milwaukee were instructed to board buses. Chicago passengers were directed to board the train. I boarded the Portland sleeper, 2830. I had room 2. The porter's manner was brusque, and I immediately dismissed the idea of giving him a tip. I placed by bag in room 2, and hustled up to the diner. I was hungry. Fortunately, I got window seat on the right side for river viewing. The waiter was very accommodating. I used my room allowance to order the French toast. I was still hungry, so I ordered eggs too. I paid for those. The wait for the eggs was somewhat long, but this was an advantage since I was enjoying the view.

After breakfast, I situated myself in the sightseer lounge. On the Empire Builder, one half has tables that can seat four. The other half has traditional sightsee lounge seating. Those seats looked plusher than usual. I spent the morning at a table on the right side by the river. I like the tables better than the traditional seating. I had my BN employee timetable, my camera, and my Ipod spread out in front of me. There was still room for my mid morning snack.

At St. Croix, less than 30 minutes out of MSP, the Empire Builder entered the detour. The BNSF is double track most of the way to Savanna, Il. For the most part, the train ran at about 60 miles per hour. The BNSF tracks follow the shore of the Mississippi river for 90 percent of the route to Savanna. Thus there were many fabulous views of the river with boats on it, trees changing colors on the other bank, as well as rocky bluffs on both sides of the river. My apple IPOd provided the perfect sound track to this get away from it all experience.

The morning started out sunny, and then there was fog on the western side of Lake Pepin. The fog completely blanked out the bluffs on the west side of the river. On our side, it was still sunny. Moments later, we were in a fog. An hour later, it was sunny again. Throughout, we were treated to views of the Mississippi river.

At 11:30, lunch was served in the diner. I hustled up and again got a window seat on the river side.

The Angus burger with cheese was delicious. So was the key lime pie. Everyone at my table liked trains, so the conversation was interesting throughout lunch. Everyone liked the food, and I commented that the French toast on the train was better than the French toast at any 5 star restaurant simply because it was getting eaten on the train.

I returned to my room to read and look out the window as we approached the Wisconsin-Illinois border. The porter had stocked my room with water and the gift package. No sparking water was offered. I am not sure if I was entitled to it anyway. We met two or three freights between Savanna and Aurora. Overall, the dispatching was pretty good except for two meets that cost us a total of an hour. It took only 5 minutes to change crews in La Crosse. We arrived into Chicago at 6 p.m., 2 hours and 20 minutes late.

The details of the 8's timekeeping are below. Note that the town names are from the BN employee timetable. I listed the town, the time, and the milepost number which is miles from Chicago.

ar msp 720 dp msp 745 10 min late Prescott 834 mp 407 Maiden rock 905 mp 378 Pepin 916 mp 366 Alma 935 mp 351 Cochrane 950 mp 343 Winona jct 1008 mp 328 stop outside lacrosse 1040-1048 ar North LaCross1055 mp 301 crew change dp North LaCrosse 1100 Prairie du chien 1205 mp 239 East Dubuque 106 mp 185 Savanna 152 mp mp 143 Milledgeville 214 mp 122 take siding for freight dp 252 Stratford 307 mp 107 take siding for freight dp 331 Oregon 343 mp 98 Hinckley 457 mp 55 ar Chicago 558 pm
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