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Empire Builder Re-launch and Amtrak Cascades Expansion ~ 2005 and 2006

by Elizabeth Guenzler

There have been several events at King Street Station that I attended since becoming a rail enthusiast, and this travelogue will cover the first two, namely the 75th Anniversary of the Empire Builder and its re-launch, and the addition of a new daily round trip between Seattle and Portland on the Amtrak Cascades.

August 21st, 2005

The Empire Builder, introduced in 1929, was the flagship passenger train of the Great Northern Railway and its successor, the Burlington Northern Railroad. It was named in honour of the company's founder, James J. Hill, who had reorganized several failing railroads into the only successful attempt at a privately-funded transcontinental railroad. It reached the Pacific Northwest in the late 19th century, and for this feat, he was nicknamed "The Empire Builder". Following World War II, Great Northern placed new streamlined and diesel-powered trains in service that cut the scheduled 2,211-mile-trip between Chicago and Seattle from 58.5 hours to 45 hours. The schedule allowed riders views of the Cascade Mountains and Glacier National Park, a park established through the lobbying efforts of the Great Northern. Re-equipped with domes in 1955, the Empire Builder offered passengers sweeping views of the route through three dome coaches and one full-length Great Dome car for first class passengers. Amtrak took the train over in 1971 and shifted the Chicago-St. Paul leg to the Milwaukee Road route through Milwaukee along the route to St Paul. Before 1971, the Chicago-St. Paul leg used the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad's mainline along the Mississippi River through Wisconsin. The service also used to operate west from the Twin Cities before turning northwest in Willmar, Minnesota, to reach Fargo. Amtrak added a Portland section in 1981, with the train splitting in Spokane. This restored service to the line previously operated by the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway. It was not the first time that the train had operated Seattle and Portland sections; Great Northern had split the Builder in Spokane for much of the 1940s and 1950s.

The invitation for this event.

When we arrived at King Street Station, we were given this program. I was quite surprised to see Chris Guenzler there, whom we had met the previous month at the NRHS convention in Portland. It was nice to see him again.

We decided to ride the Empire Builder just as far as Everett so we could be on the re-launched Builder for a short distance, and return via the Cascades.

Lloyd Flem, the Executive Director of the Washington Association of Rail Passengers, gave an introduction then showed "Great Train Rides and the National Parks" video. Unfortunately, my flash did not work.

David Gunn, President and Chief Executive Officer of Amtrak, was the next to speak.

David Gunn, Amtrak President, King County Executive Ron Sims and an Empire Builder historian cut the ribbon.

The Purple Passion Swing Band provided music of the 1930's and 1940's which everyone enjoyed. Everyone then walked out to the platform and boarded Train 8. I did not realize that the dome car and Beech Grove observation car were on the rear of the train and that I could have ridden in them. That is something I regret to this day, especially as the weather was fantastic.

At Everett, Sound Transit F59PHI 905 was ready for the Monday morning commuter run.

Also here was F59PHI 911 in the Home Run Service livery. A few Sounder locomotives were painted for various events over the years.

Amtrak P42DC 56 and 129 lead the eastbound Empire Builder at Everett.

Superliner coach 34136.

Superliner coach 38043.

Amtrak full-length dome 10031 1999 (rebuilt as AMTK 9330 "Ocean View", exx. AMTK 9311 "Ocean View", exxx. BN 1391 "Ocean View", nee GN 1391 "Ocean View").

AMTK 100012 "Beech Grove" (ex. Amfleet coach 21222). Built 1976.

The rear of the train as it departed Everett with Chris and Amtrak President David Gunn were on the rear platform.

July 1st, 2006

Amtrak announced the Cascades service (Vancouver, British Columbia to Eugene, Oregon) was going to be expanded with a fourth Seattle to Portland trip. As the event was occurring over the Canadian Dominion Day/American Independence Day weekend, it was very easy for me to take a couple of extra days' holiday and travel from Victoria to Seattle.

My ticket for the first Train 513, as well as the return trip from Portland the next day.

My notated baggage claim tag which is a piece of history.

What is a ceremony without music?

A government official and period-costumed members of a historical group address the assembled.

The historical group poses on the platform just prior to boarding Train 513.

A few railway groups are in attendance today, including the Washington Association of Rail Passengers and noted artist J. Craig Thorpe.

The banner annoucning the new daily round trip between Seattle and Portland.

Amtrak Cascades Train 513 at King Street Station before Bob and I boarded the first trip.

It was a surprise to see Louisville and Nashville business car "Ohio River" at King Street Station and was not connected with the day's events. PPCX 800228. Converted to L&N business car 364 in 1952, acquired by L&N in 1948, nee Pullman 10-section lounge and observation car "Mount Tom" in pool service between Chicago and Florida. Built 1926.

There was no fanfare, to my recollection, upon arrival at Portland. Bob and I enjoyed our time here, riding the Portland Streetcar route in its entirety and visiting Powell's Books, then returning on Train 516 the next day.

It had been fun and historic to attend both of these events and I am glad to have the memories, photographs and souvenirs from these special occasions.