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Chicago, IL To Seattle, WA On Amtrak's Empire Builder
 Monday, October 18th, 2010:
 After our boarding call was made, we had to walk out and to our left from the Metropolitan Lounge up to one of the northbound tracks out of Union Station as we would be riding on Metra Track towards Glenview, IL heading north out of Union Station. I boarded Superliner I Sleeping Car #32054, the "0730" car. I was assigned Roomette #2 which is in the middle of the car on the upper level. My attendant was super friendly and was there to help in any way possible, she later told me she has worked for Amtrak for 25 years! After putting my luggage away, I went back outside to go get a quick picture of the head end and to take down car numbers. I ended up meeting another one of the sleeper attendants on the platform who said he remembered me! It turns out this particular attendant was a coach attendant on the Seattle section of the Empire Builder when I rode the train back in 2006!!! I distinctly remember he was very well liked by everyone on that trip!!! At 2:15pm, we departed Chicago Union Station on time. The consist for today's train is shown below:
Power (To Seattle)
Power (To Seattle)
Heritage Baggage
Baggage Car (To Seattle)
Superliner II Transition Sleeper
Crew/Sleeping Car (To Seattle) (0732)
Superliner I Sleeping Car
Sleeping Car (To Seattle) (0731)
Superliner I Sleeping Car
 Padre Island*
Sleeping Car (To Seattle) (0730)
Superliner II Dining Car
Dining Car (To Seattle)
Superliner I Coach/Baggage
Coach/Baggage (To Seattle)
Superliner I Coach
Coach (To Seattle)
Superliner II Sightseer Lounge
Cafe/Lounge Car (To Portland)
Superliner I Coach
Coach (To Portland)
Superliner I Coach/Baggage
Coach/Baggage (To Portland)
Superliner II Sleeping Car
Sleeping Car (To Portland) (2730)
  Inside my room was a small bag filled with toiletry items courtesy of Amtrak and the attendant also offered us bottles of champaign or sparkling cider. I chose the Champaign which was J. Roget and was very good. We made our first station stop at Glenview, IL and departed there at 2:41pm, 2 minutes late. I would find out right away that the AC outlet in my sleeper would be almost useless as there is some trim around it that makes it impossible to fit a surge protector over it. I like the interior of this sleeper as it looks nice but that AC outlet is not positioned in the right place which can cause problems. This would prove to not be too big of a deal though. I had the GPS going in my sleeper and it charted the course the train took as we headed to our next stop at Milwaukee, WI. We arrived in Milwaukee at 3:45pm and a smoking break was granted there. I took a few pictures and got some air before we left at 3:55pm, on time. I went to the lounge car after leaving Milwaukee to get a candy bar and just relaxed in the room as I was very tired. We ended up having to stop somewhere near Watertown, WI to weight for a Canadian Pacific freight to pass us as the railroad we were headed for was single track ahead. We ended up being stopped for about 20 minutes because of this. I dozed off and slept through the stop at Columbus, WI and we made our next stop at Portage, WI at 5:54pm. Our next stop was Wisconsin Dells where we made a double spot and left there at 6:14pm now 22 minutes late. We would pass a very late eastbound Empire Builder near Wisconsin Dells. That particular train was late due to a freight derailment in Montana. The residual freight traffic that was delayed on the BNSF due to that derailment would have an impact on our train later on.
  I had a dinner reservation for 6:30pm. We made our station stop at LaCrosse, WI during dinner. I was seated with a couple headed to Minneapolis as well as a passenger who talked about his many world travels, all conversation was great! I would have the New York Strip steak with a baked potato and salad with a Diet Pepsi and a delicious chocolate peanut butter pie for dessert. I'll admit the service during dinner was only average, about on par with what I experienced on the Texas Eagle, though it would appear that it was just one employee in the dining car whose level of service wasn't as good as others. We made our next two stops at Winona, MN which was a smoking stop, as well as Red Wing, MN. Red Wing was the location where a drunk was removed from the train the last time I rode this route in 2006. I eventually went back to the lounge car to continue this travelogue, back up pictures and get some gadget batteries charged. I had an interesting conversation with a passenger from Minneapolis who was a railfan. I stayed in the lounge car until arriving in Minneapolis.
  Once arriving at St. Paul-Minneapolis Station (arrived 16 minutes late at 10:47pm), my plan was to do a night photo of the train. I decided that since I would need to use a tripod and this was a busy station, that it would be a good idea to contact Amtrak Media Relations before taking this photo just to make sure there would be no problems. I was given a verbal approval to take this photo from them as I was a ticketed passenger. I advised them that I would only be using a tripod and cable release on a consumer grade Digital SLR camera, no umbrellas or extra lighting was necessary. Once the train arrived, I grabbed the camera & tripod and ventured out to the platform to get set up to take the night photo. I wore my valid press credentials from TrainWeb's Rail News Division and would initially be told by one Amtrak employee they didn't want photography there because if one person goes to take a picture, more will follow! After showing my press credentials, as well as explaining that I had spoken to Media Relations about this, as well as some additional pleading with this person, he finally let me take the picture! You've already seen it, its at the top of this page! By the way, for the record, nobody followed me up to the head end to take a picture either! While there, I also got photos of the Puget Sound and Gritty Palace private cars that were parked at the station, you'll see them a bit later. There are several private cars parked at the station. Had there been more time, I would have gotten photos of all of them as they were absolutely beautiful cars! Night Photography is a very time consuming thing however, so shortly after getting the photo of the Puget Sound car, I reboarded the train and we left Minneapolis 1 minute late at 11:16pm. I put away the camera and had my bed turned down for the night. I then took a shower and called it a day, and what a day it was!!!  
 Tuesday, October 19th, 2010:
  I woke up around 7:30am and had breakfast. This morning, it was the pancakes with pork sausage and a Diet Pepsi, all delicious! I was seated with 3 people from different parts of the country, all good conversations! After breakfast, I grabbed the camera and took a bunch of pictures at our next stop, Minot, ND. This is a service stop for the train though photographing the head end of the train here was not possible. I was told by an Amtrak employee that a good place to get a picture would be in Havre, MT, thus I decided to just get some roster photos of several cars in the train before we departed on time at 9:06am. Eventually, I switched my bed back to day use and brought out the computer to the lounge car to continue writing this travelogue. One very pleasant surprise in the Sightseer Lounge on this train was that the car on this train has AC outlets!!! YES!!!!! This is something that has been sorely needed in these cars! We made it through our next stop at Stanley, ND then Williston, ND. A brief smoking break was permitted there and they have a very nice Great Northern steam locomotive on display there! Williston was the last stop in the state of North Dakota. Our train would be stopped in Bainville, MT (not a station stop) due to trackwork. We then had a 10mph speed restriction that lasted some 15 minutes. An announcement was made that there would be wine and cheese tasting in the dining car for sleeping car passengers and our attendants came by to figure out how many people wanted to participate. I'm really not much of a wine drinker (if I'm gonna have wine, it better be sweet wine!) but I figured this was free and I wasn't driving, so why not? We later ended up on a siding in Blaire, MT to wait for 2 freights to pass us. We had to contend with a lot of freight traffic likely left over from the delayed freight trains after the aforementioned derailment that happened a few days ago here in Montana. There was no doubt that these delays were definitely slowing us down. I originally decided to have lunch after we got to our next stop at Wolf Point, MT but because we were running so far behind schedule and an announcement was made that a waiting list would be formed due to high demand for lunch, I just went and had lunch! Lunch today was the angus burger with bacon and potato chips with a Diet Pepsi and another slice of that delicious chocolate peanut butter pie!!! I was seated with a couple who were newlyweds and this trip was paid for by the groom's father. I figured if they were both railfans, then good, there's hope for me yet!!! It turns out they weren't "railfans" but were enjoying the trip nonetheless. The other passenger seated with us had had breakfast with us that morning. We left Wolf Point at 1:07pm, down 1 hour and 26 minutes, ouch! We ended up waiting on a siding in Bowdoin, MT for another freight to pass us. It was now pushing 3pm, time for wine tasting!!! Two of the sleeper attendants conducted the events and they did a world class job with it. The wines and cheeses we tasted are listed below: 
Pacific Rim Chenin Blanc, Columbia Valley, WA
Willamette Valley Vineyards Riesling, Willamette Valley, OR
Castle Rock Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, WA 
Snoqualmie Syrah, Columbia Valley, WA 
 Grand Cru Gruyere, Wisconsin
   Buttermilk Blue, Wisconsin
 Alp & Dell White Cheddar, Wisconsin
  Trivia questions were asked and lots of free wine was given away as well! The wine tasting was described as a way for Amtrak to say thank you for riding in the sleeping car, and though I'm not a wine connoisseur myself (though I like a good Riesling!), I thought it added a nice touch to the train ride experience. We made our next station stop at Malta, MT during the wine tasting. A backup move was necessary to make this stop for reasons unbeknownst to me. After wine tasting, I headed back to my sleeper and an announcement was made that there would be two actual stops in Havre, MT, our next stop. The first one would be to refuel with the second being the passenger stop. After refueling, we made our stop at Havre and I had just enough time to sprint up to the head end to get a quick picture! We made a 7 minute stop at Havre and were out at 4:47pm now running 1 hour and 43 minutes late. The Border Patrol paid a visit to the train today, and the train had to be stopped a 3rd time to let one of their agents off! Rumor has it that 2 passengers were removed from the train at Havre, though I never saw this happen. I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in my sleeper and got a nice sunset photo just outside of our next stop at Shelby, MT. We made our station stop at Shelby where a brief smoking break was permitted. I then went to the dining car for dinner.
  I would be seated with a couple from Tacoma, WA and had some nice conversations with them. Dinner tonight was oven-fried chicken with mashed potatoes and rice medley with a small salad and a Diet Pepsi to drink with the ever popular chocolate peanut butter pie! All of the food was very good! We also made our next station stop at Cut Bank, MT while I was eating dinner. We made our next stop at Browning, MT and left there at 7:40pm. The schedule didn't show a time for Browning as its closed until October every year and the schedule we had was issued back in May. I decided to grab the camera and laptop and get the pictures on it backed up. We will lose the Sightseer Lounge later tonight in Spokane, WA as it will go to Portland leaving me nowhere to plug in the computer without a surge protector. I ended up having a nice conversation with 2 passengers, (one from Western NY) and showed them my web site. We talked at length about Amtrak and such. We then ended up stopping for over 1/2 hour due to a medical emergency that occurred on the train somewhere near Essex, MT. The actual stop at Essex was a flag stop, meaning the train only stops there if there are passengers scheduled to ride to or from there, or if someone is on the platform who plans to ride as they can thus buy a ticket once onboard from the conductor. Once the ambulance arrived and removed the sick passenger, we were on our way, having made no stop at the actual Essex station (which is an area on the property of the Isaac Walton Inn), since it is the aforementioned flag stop only. I then continued backing up pictures and writing this travelogue. We made or next stop at West Glacier Park (Belton) at 10:04pm, now running 1 hour and 41 minutes late. It was now apparent that I was deliriously tired and decided to take a shower and call it a night. I must have been seriously tired because I completely missed the stop and breakup of the train in Spokane, WA!!! I made sure to set my watch back another hour as once we crossed into Idaho, we would be in the Pacific time zone. I went to bed shortly before midnight Mountain time, and so ends today...
 Wednesday, October 20th, 2010:
  I woke up around 6:20am not long after our station stop at Wenatchee, WA and decided to go have breakfast right away as the breakfast seating would be short and early as the dining car crew had to get everything taken down and cleaned before the train arrived in Seattle. I was seated with a couple from Minneapolis and another passenger, not sure where he was from. We all had nice conversations, and I enjoyed the Pancakes with Pork Sausage Patties along with a side of Breakfast Potatoes with a Diet Pepsi and Orange Juice, all was good! We made our next station stop at Leavenworth, WA while eating breakfast. After breakfast, I went back to my sleeper and set it up for day use. I figured the attendant had enough to do so there was no need for me to bother her further since I knew how to figure this out myself! I had spoken with the conductor and confirmed the next smoking break would be at Everett, WA. We were still behind schedule but due to some generous schedule padding, we were making up the time very quickly. We made our stop in Everett, having made up a serious amount of time overnight, now only 20 minutes late at 8:58am. A very quick smoking break was permitted and I darted up to the head end to get a picture only to see the power overshot the platform, oh well! It was very foggy this morning and the photos I did take were, well, very foggy!!!! After leaving Everett, we started riding along the absolutely beautiful Puget Sound! Very scenic! It was at this area that the fog started to burn off and we could now see the real beauty of this area! We made our next stop at Edmonds, WA at 9:35am and it was very brief. We left at 9:37am now 27 minutes late! An announcement was made that we would be entering a mile long tunnel underneath the city of Seattle and at the end of this tunnel would be King Street Station and Seattle, WA our endpoint for the Empire Builder!!! I started to bring my bags downstairs by the door as we went through the tunnel and at 10:03am, running 22 minutes EARLY, we arrived in Seattle King Street Station, the endpoint of what is one of the most fun and scenic rail journeys to be had in America!!! I gave a very generous tip to my sleeper attendant who did an absolutely phenomenal job with everything! (It is my practice on this site to not name names of Amtrak employees but I will say this particular attendant went above and beyond the call of duty and gave great service to all!)
  After a quick final photo of the train, I gathered my bags, headed inside the station and called a taxi to take me to my hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites located on 5th Avenue in Seattle, just a few blocks from the Space Needle. The biggest reason I wanted to come to Seattle was to visit this amazing structure! After a quick taxi ride to the hotel, I was able to get an early check-in and so I dropped off my luggage in the room and walked to a nearby McDonald's for a quick lunch, then to Walgreens to pick up a new surge protector that will fit if I get another sleeping car like the one I had! I also picked up some more consumables for the hotel then walked back. I decided to do my laundry at this time. I also jumped on the internet (This hotel has WIRED high-speed internet, THANK YOU!!!! I don't use Wi-Fi as it's not secure, nor as fast) to catch up on a few things and then backed up new photos taken so as to clean off the memory card in the camera. I also continued to write this travelogue. After the laundry was done, it was time to head for the Space Needle! OK, I know you wanna see the pictures! Check out the links below!!!