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The Seattle Relaunching of the Empire Builder 8/21/2005

by Chris Guenzler

I got to King Street Station about 1:00 PM which allowed me to watch the setting up for today's Relaunching of the Empire Builder.

The first display set up was the Trails and Rails. I met Randall Anderson, from Trails and Rails, who told me it took the display board to visit Seattle to get cleaned.

The fantastic Railroad Artist Craig Thrope. He had a nice display of his work here.

Craig Thrope and Randall Anderson.

Setting up the refreshment table for today's relaunching event.

The band arrived to set up and warm up.

A tour of the Empire Builder 8/21/2005

I asked an Amtrak employee if there would be a tour of the Empire Builder like in Portland today. She asked around and pointed me to someone who might help. A few minutes later, Erik Lawrence, a Cascade LSA, was driving me down to the Amtrak Seattle Yard for a tour of the Empire Builder. Here we met David Gunn, Amtrak's President and CEO who welcomed me to the newly redone Empire Builder. We started with a tour of the Beech Grove by Lew who is the Chef and Car Attendant.

The lounge area of the Beech Grove.

The Beech Grove Galley for preparing meals.

The Beech Grove Dining Room. After we saw the bedrooms we walked into the next car.

The upper level of the Great Dome.

The Empire Builder August 2005 upgrades are to both infrastructure and services with the idea of increasing ridership.

The Sleeping Cars corridors now are walled with rich cherry wood, trim tight and the upholstery smelling new. The sleeper compartments are newly designed, with more room, bigger sinks, bunks that fit easily into the rooms. The room's lighting system has been improved.

The showers are bigger again by half, with etched glass doors with a train replacing those ratty old curtains. Wine-and-cheese social gatherings are held for sleeping car passengers in the dining car every afternoon. There is a new menu for sleeper passengers, cookies at bedtime, board games and hot-chocolate "campfire talks" about the culture, geography and history along the route. The sightseeing lounge had been remodeled with brighter lightning and seats reconfigured so passengers can talk face to face. Coach passengers will also have board games to play. Empire Builder is the first of Amtrak's 15 long-distance routes to benefit from the improvements.

The sink in the bathroom.

Above the sink.

The commode is now in the corner of the bathroom.

The Dining Car. We walked through the coaches then out of the train. After saying my thank you to the crews working, we drove back to King Street Station.

The Relaunching Ceremony 8/21/2005

The festivities started at 3:00 PM with an introduction by Lloyd Flem of the Washington Association of Rail Passengers. The Purple Passion Swing Band entertained at the station and received a warm welcome from the guests and passengers waiting to board the Empire Builder later this afternoon. Cake, cookies and cinder were passed out to everyone at the station. Bob Alkire and Elizabeth Davidge whom I met at the 2005 NRHS Convention in Portland last month joined me for the celebration. Bob earlier had helped me fix my backpack. Mr. Flem then discussed the Empire Builder Art Work done by Craig Thrope. Next a Travel Channel Video on the Empire Builder was shown on a screen to all in attendance.

The Honorable Mr. Ron Sims, King County Executive spoke to the gathering. He thanked David Gunn for all of his hard work at keeping Amtrak alive and well. He also told of the partnership between the State of Washington and the BNSF Railroad that has enabled a growth of ridership. He finished his talk with information about the new Empire Builder.

Judy Gingerburg of the Washington Department of Transportation was the next speaker. She talked about the increase in ridership on the Empire Builder. She talked about the new stations that have been built or improved in the State of Washington.

Ms. Shelia Babb, Executive Assistant to the Honorable Senator Patty Murray. She read a letter from Senator Murray.

David Gunn waits his turn while listening to the speakers.

Dr. John Strauss, Great Northern Historian, talked about this 9th Edition of the Empire Builder. He then gave a brief history of the Empire Builder. He talked about James Hill, the True Empire Builder.

Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn then introduced himself and gave an interesting talk about Amtrak and the Empire Builder.

The Purple Passion Swing Band then played one last number before Lloyd Flem closed the ceremonies. He then told everyone about the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony that would start the boarding of the eastbound Empire Builder out of Seattle.

The Ribbon Cutting before all the passengers boarded the Empire Builder in Seattle as the band played on. Mr. Ron Simms is holding an Empire Builder Bag.

The Empire Builder 8 8/21/2005

The Seattle Section of the Empire Builder had engines 56 and 124, Baggage 1163, Coaches 34136 and 31038, Diner 38043, Sleepers 32001 and 32005, Transition 39046, Great Dome 10031 and the Beach Grove 10001. I boarded Transition 39046 and was assigned Room 17. The Dining Car Steward give me a 5:30 PM Dinner Reservation and I was set for the departure east. We left Seattle on time and I joined David Gunn in the rear of the Beach Grove. We got talking as the Empire Builder went through the downtown tunnel. David and I rode the rear platform as we exited into daylight.

The Empire Builder had exited the Downtown Tunnel.

The Seattle Waterfront Streetcar.

We returned to the Beach Grove lounge to continue talking. We crossed the Ballard Locks Drawbridge. Chef Lew of the Beach Grove then asked me what I would like with my dinner. I said the Dining Car Steward had given me a 5:30 PM Dinner Reservation. David Gunn then told me I was invited to dinner with him in the Beach Grove. I said I was honored to be invited but now I would excuse myself to find the Dining Car Steward since I would not need it after all. I found her and she said it would be quite the honor to have dinner with David Gunn. I returned to the Beach Grove one happy train rider.

I popped outside on the rear platform for a few pictures along the Puget Sound. The Empire Builder then came to our first stop at Edmonds. We were then joined in the lounge of the Beach Grove by Craig and Cathy Thrope along with Janice and Joe Welsh. That started the early evening of fantastic conversation.

Another Puget Sound picture on the way to Everett.

Mt Baker across Everett Bay.

Canadian National power on the point of the BNSF freight.

The Everett Station.

Bob Alkire and Elizabeth Davidge who in Seattle bought one way tickets to Everett just to ride on the eastbound Relaunched Empire Builder. Joe Deeley and Bill Schulz then came into the Beach Grove lounge.

Sounder Home Run Service unit on the point of an Everett to Seattle train for Monday.

Scene from along the Empire Builder Route into the Cascade Mountains.

Mount Index.

More Cascade Mountain views. At 7:00 PM we all sat down for dinner in the dining room of the Beach Grove. Chef Lew had prepared an excellent steak dinner for us all. Joining David Gunn and myself for dinner were Bill Schulz, Joe Deeley, Joe Walsh, Janice Walsh, Craig Thrope and Janice Thrope.

The train stopped at Scenic behind one BNSF freight in the siding to let this one by on the mainline. After it passed, we backed out onto the mainline to continue east into the Cascade Tunnel. More fantastic conversation was had during our Beach Grove dining experience. It was an incredible meal topped off with a Brownie and a choice of Ice Cream along with a choice of after dinner drinks of coffee or tea. After dinner I went back to the lounge for the inside rear view as the Empire Builder traveled through the night towards Wenatchee. I started to fade before we got there so I said my good night to all in the Beach Grove and returned to my room. I made up my bed and called it a night.

8/22/2005 I was up thirty minutes before Whitefish and rode the last twenty minutes with David Gunn in the Beach Grove. We arrived into Whitefish a few minutes early.

I detrained first getting a picture of NW-3 151 on display in Whitefish.

The Empire Builder at Whitefish. The consist of our train after the Portland section joined it last night in Spokane had engines 56 and 124, Baggage 1163, Sleeper 32037, Coaches 31030 and 34139, Lounge 33027, Coaches 34136 and 31038, Diner 38043, Sleepers 32001 and 32005, Transition 39046, Great Dome 10031 and Beach Grove 10001.

The outside of the Whitefish Station.

David Gunn talking with our invited Whitefish, Montana guests.

A display case with Empire Builder memorabilia.

Another view of David Gunn talking before the guests walked out to board the Empire Builder. They were given a tour of the Beach Grove before they sat in the Great Dome for their trip to East Glacier.

Once on board David Gunn held court once more giving out important information and views on Amtrak. We departed Whitefish on time and headed east towards Columbia Falls. A thought just hit me as I sat in the Great Dome. I would be riding over Marias Pass in a former Great Northern Dome over the former Great Northern route along the southern boundary of Glacier National Park. Later we crossed the Flathead River and rolled into Belton also known as West Glacier. The train went into the Flathead River Canyon east of West Glacier.

A few pictures of the Flathead River Canyon east of West Glacier.

Back lit peaks of Glacier Nation Park.


More peaks.

The Three Suns looking back west.

More views of peaks.

Later the Empire Builder rolled by the Izaak Walton Inn with guests on the porch waving. We pulled into the Flag Stop of Essex.

Larry and Linda Vielleux owners of the Izaak Walton Inn who just boarded in Essex. They told me that they were in the process of selling the Inn.

Shed 12.

Shed 11.

Inside Shed 10a.

Shed 10.

Shed 9.

Shed 8.

Shed 7.

Shed 6.

Shed 5.

Shed 4.

The former location of Shed 3

A picture of me enjoying the Great Dome.

Our Whitefish Passengers enjoying the Great Dome.

Looking back at Blacktail.

Our Empire Builder has reached Marias.

The John Stevens Monument at Summit.

David Gunn returned to the Great Dome to hear Rob Quist sing.

Montana singing legend Rob Quist played his "Roll On Forever" from the Rob Quist and Jack Gladstone CD "Odyssey West". The song was received by all of us in the Great Dome.

Scenes of the descent to East Glacier. After most of the Whitefish Passengers had detrained at East Glacier, I returned to the rear of the Beach Grove.

East Glacier.

A BNSF freight in the siding at East Glacier.

The Two Medicine Bridge.

Scenes as we leave the Rocky Mountains behind and head out onto the Great Plains.

The Great Dome after East Glacier. I walked forward to the redone crowded Lounge Car for several pictures.

The table end of the Lounge Car.

The middle of the lounge car

An Empire Builder Display Board.

Returning to the Dome we were joined by the Kenabec County Master Gardeners of Minnesota an Educational Program of the University of Minnesota extension services. David Gunn spoke to this group who had boarded at East Glacier. He talked about the rebuilding of the passenger cars and the goal of doing the same to all the other Superliner Long Distance Trains. He also stated how great the BNSF does running the Empire Builder. He then took questions from the group. We stopped at Cut Bank then continued to run east to Shelby, our next crew change where we waited on time. At Shelby we had new guests join us in the Great Dome.

The plains of Montana as we sped east towards Havre.

Minnesota State Representatives Judy Soderstrom and Kathy Tingelstad along with Minnesota State Senator Linda Berglin joined us in the Great Dome for more questions and discussion as the train rolled east towards Havre.

M. Kerley our wonderful Dome attendant at the lower level bar. I gathered my belongings and we arrived into Havre early.

David Gunn taking out the trash of the Beach Grove at Havre. David does all the work when he rides the Beech Grove.

The Beach Grove.

A picture of me on the open platform of the Beach Grove.

The rear of the Empire Builder.

The Great Dome.

Some people wanted photos with David Gunn.

David Gunn and me in Havre. This brings us to the end of the Relaunching of the Empire Builder.