Riding Amtrak on the Empire Builder

We board the Amtrak Empire Builder at Chicago’s Union Station which is the hub for all public rail in Chicagoland. We will be on this train for 2 nights and 3 days for the 2200-mile journey.

It’s mid-afternoon when we follow the other sleeping car passengers from the Metropolitan Lounge to our track. It’s hard to describe how much fun we had riding the trains across the country.

From this shot, you might think its night time in the caverns below Union Station where the trains arrive and depart.

I have to shoot out of the car windows as we pass through downtown Chicago on our way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This is the entrance to the car on the lower level. Just around the corner are the very, very narrow stairs leading up to the 2nd floor. There are some roomettes, bathrooms and shower rooms on the lower level.

Upstairs is our bedroom and 4 other bedrooms along with some more roomettes. The upper level is the route used to get to all the rest of the cars in the train particularly the dining car where the food was very good.

Here is a view of the train from Glenview, Illinois. There were a number of these stops along the way that allowed passengers to get off and stretch their legs while others boarded or de-trained.

Here the train has stopped in Minot, ND after traveling all night through Wisconsin and Minnesota. This town is home to Minot Air Force Base which houses the Stratofortess B-52s. This town also was home of bootleggers during the years of Prohibition.

This is a view inside the Minot Amtrak Depot. It seems functional and very attractive

As you may know North Dakota is experiencing an oil boom due to new ways of extracting the “black gold” from the ground. We saw lots of tank cars running by or stopped and getting loaded to help make America energy independent.

Here is the interior of the Havre, Montana depot. It’s amazing how much open land there is in Montana and North Dakota. We would go for miles and not see any people or cars, only vast open spaces. This is truly “Big Sky” country.

This Great Northern 4-8-4 relic is just outside the Havre depot. Don’t you just love the Vanderbilt tender?

After our overnight travel the Empire Builder stops at Pasco. Washington. During the night the train was split at Spokane with the front half and diner going on to Seattle and our back half along with the lounge/snack car going to Portland, Oregon.

This is the interior of the Pasco depot. Another nicely maintained Amtrak facility. By the way the Burlington Northern Santa Fe track used by the Empire Builder is very smooth.

This is the Columbia River with the train in Washington and the windmill farm across the way in Oregon. Along this route the Empire Builder negotiated at least 13 tunnels.

This is the Columbia River again with cliffs of Oregon across the way. Notice the complete lack of vegetation in this part of the desert.

As we get closer to the Pacific coast the scene along the Columbia River changes to a multitude of conifers and other vegetation.

Again, I have to shoot through the car window. Here the Empire Builder crosses the Columbia River from Washington into Oregon on the way to Portland.

The final stop is Portland Oregon Union Station which opened in 1896 and now hosts commuter trains and buses in addition to Amtrak. Atop the tower is the famous “Go by Train” Sign.

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7 Responses to “Riding Amtrak on the Empire Builder”


    Nice to see those wind farms helping to make the USA become energy independent! Great pics.

  2. jimeye69

    same trip I took had a great time

  3. Chad P

    I remember taking this same route from Chicago to Whitefish, Montana with my son and his Boy Scout troop in 2009. The train ride was great, however there were some hiccups along the way. Apparently, there was some pre-contract work slowing going on, so our train "broke down" twice. Once heading out - in the middle of nowhere, in the hot July sun, with no power for AC, and a storm ignited a fire in the field to our north. Eventually the fire was rained out, a B-N train arrived to tow us onward, and we arrived some 9 hours later. On the return trip, we broke down again, but this time at a station. It may have been Havre, because I have a picture of my son standing in front of the 2584 loco. By the time we got another engine to hook up, we were well behind our allotted times for the rail routes, so we had to take different tracks back (I could watch it on my GPS). We spent a lot of time waiting, and ended up in Chicago 12 1/2 hours late. We missed our connecting train home, so they put us on a charter bus for the 3+ hour ride home. Even with all the chaos that Amtrak caused, we still had a fantastic time and I'd do it all over again, even if I knew we would have the same issues. The experience was well worth the disruptions.


    Love the picks and the info with them. Keep up the great work. When's your next trip?

  5. Jim Williams

    Love to read about people’s travels on the RailRoad,some day I want to tell people about my travels on the Railroad !!!

  6. Harry Horgan

    The train does not represent the E B as I know it. The heavyweights and green and orange streamliners of yester/year are still very strong in my mind. The S2 Northern you call a relic? Sacrilege Man, one of the best of the 4-8-4's ever graced the hi-rails of the world. The Great Northern is my modelling rail. Particularly the Havre/Great Falls region. Pete Ellis, my GN mentor, of Treasure State hobby fame lives in Cascade Montana and really got me going. I model in 'O' having a good range of early years GN motive power and rolling stock. My structures tho' are representive of Aussie structures around the 1890/1925 period, tho' I do Have an American Howe half truss bridge of four spans built on the layout, 1890's vintage

  7. Alonso De Avila

    You just got to love train travel. It brings back lots of memories.