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Relaunch of Upgraded Amtrak Empire Builder Service
from Portland, Oregon
By Fred Dunn
(Edited by Staff)

Click on each photo on this page for a larger image.

Left: Empire Builder Poster (001) ... Right: Great Northern Empire Builder Poster (034)

Left:Portland Union Station (032) ... Right: Musical Entertainment (033)

The inaugural ceremonies for the new Empire Builder service were conducted simultaneously at Portland, OR and Seattle, WA on Sunday, Aug. 21. (The train consists of sections originating in both cities, which are joined in Spokane.) The Empire Builder was named for James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern Railway. The first Empire Builder departed Chicago on June 10, 1929. Amtrak celebrated the train's 75th anniversary in 2004, having taken over the Empire Builder in 1971. The changes and upgrades kick off a major initiative at Amtrak to improve passenger's long-distance travel experience and improve the train's financial performance.

The Upgraded Amtrak Empire Builder Relaunch Celebration in Portland, Oregon, began around 2:45 PM on Sunday, August 21, 2005, after the passengers boarding the southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight (Train #11) had cleared out of the station. The festivities began with ragtime/swing music and serving of cake, cookies and sparkling cider.

Several organizations had set up exhibitor tables for the Amtrak Empire Builder ceremony. Participants included:

  • Pacific NW Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society
  • Operation Lifesaver
  • Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates (AORTA)
  • National Park Service Trails and Rails Program
  • Portland OR Visitors Association
  • Grey Line - RAZ Transportation
  • TriMet
  • FlexCar
  • AAA of Oregon

Some of the Exhibitors (056)

One of the Amtrak representative said that they had an artist who was doing free cartoons of people, and she coaxed me into being the first subject. The artist was Peter X. O'Brien, and he was providing his services at the Amtrak event in exchange for Amtrak travel. I have to compliment his skill in making me look much younger than my actual age.

Cartoon of Fred (035)

I met Vernae Graham, Amtrak Manager of Media Relations, and she escorted me and the other three press representatives (camera men from CBS and NBC and a reporter from NBC) out to the platform to view the Empire Builder equipment. There we were introduced to Mike Dwyer of Amtrak, who gave us a tour through the cars.

Corridor of Sleeping Car revealing new
Blossom Cherry wood grain laminates(036)

The features of the enhanced equipment include the following:

  • The interiors of the sleeping cars have received extensive renovations featuring a new blue and white color scheme and Blossom Cherry wood grain laminates. Blue hues also adorn cushions, carpets and drapery.
  • The bedrooms have newly designed and modern-looking toilet and shower units. These toilet and shower units match the interior color scheme and the sink vanity has a solid surface countertop. The same color scheme provides a much brighter room in the new public area toilets on the lower level of the cars.
  • The public shower for sleeping car customers has been re-designed to better address passenger needs. The new shower has a larger changing area that includes a large seat and vanity with mirror and a seat in the shower area.
  • In the lounge car, one end has been changed to create improved seat groupings. These small seat groups have new small drink tables positioned between them. Dining tables and booths have been added to the other end. The interiors of the coach and dining cars have also been refurbished.

In addition to the enhanced equipment, the Empire Builder service includes passenger amenities such as available meal service at the passenger's seat, and 30-minute pre- boarding in Chicago, Portland or Seattle to visit the lounge car. Additionally, sleeping car passengers enjoy a wine and cheese event, along with a nightly fresh-baked sweet.

The Portland section of the Empire Builder consists of a lounge car, a coach, a coach/baggage car and a sleeper. The Portland section will join with the Seattle section in Spokane. The Seattle section typically includes a baggage car, transition sleeper, dining car, two sleepers and three coaches.

Sleeper with Modified Vanity Countertop (037)

Coach (038) Seat Groupings in Lounge Car (039)

Dining Tables in Lounge Car (040) Portland Section of Empire Builder (041)

Upon completion of our tour, we returned to the station, where the speakers were being introduced by Tony Buscemi of Amtrak. Speakers were:

  • Sam Adams, City of Portland Transportation Commissioner
  • Mitch Greenlick, Oregon House of Representatives, District 33
  • Kelly Taylor, Chief, ODOT Rail Division
  • Robert Lowery, OPRAC Rep NARP

At 4:15, the ribbon cutting ceremony was held, opening the platform to the Empire Builder passengers. The musical trio (banjo, tuba, trumpet) serenaded the passengers with ragtime/swing music as they walked out to the train.

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony (042) Serenading the Boarding Passengers (043)

NBC Reporter Interviewing Tony Buscemi of Amtrak (044)

Click Here
for furthern information about the Amtrak Empire Builder
and the relaunch of upgraded services!

Click here for the trip report & photos of travel to and from this event
from Southern California on the Amtrak Coast Starlight

Click here for more travel reports by Fred Dunn!

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