Relaunch of Upgraded Amtrak Empire Builder Service
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:
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.
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.
The features of the enhanced equipment include the following:
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.
Upon completion of our tour, we returned to the station, where the speakers were being introduced by Tony Buscemi of Amtrak. Speakers were:
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.
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