Serving Seattle or Portland, Spokane, Havre, Fargo, Minneapolis, Chicago, and intermediate points
Amtrak train numbers: 7 and 8 (Seattle section), 27 and 28 (Portland section)
Predecessor railroad train numbers: Great Northern 31 and 32
"The passenger train is like the male teat -- neither useful nor ornamental." -- James J. Hill
Despite that quote, after Great Northern Railway founder James J. Hill died in 1916, his nickname, "The Empire Builder," soon wound up as the name of the railroad's flagship passenger train, running between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest, with part of the train ending up in Portland and the other part going to Seattle.
Only the Seattle section survived into the Amtrak era. In order to serve Milwaukee, Amtrak moved the Chicago-Minneapolis portion of the route from the former Burlington railroad route to the Milwaukee Road's tracks; also, the train was switched to the former Northern Pacific Railway's tracks between Spokane and Seattle via Pasco, Washington. Throughout the 1970's, it was an adventure to ride the Empire Builder during the winter, due to the plumbing and electrical lines on Amtrak's then-antiquated equipment freezing in the cold. As a result, in 1979, it became the first train to use the new bilevel Superliner cars.
Towards the late 1970s, due to budgetary restrictions, the Empire Builder ran only four days a week, with Amtrak's other Chicago-Seattle train, the North Coast Hiawatha, running on the other three days. Following the discontinuance of the Hiawatha in 1979, the Empire Builder went back to daily and was routed over the Hiawatha's former Northern Pacific route between Minneapolis and Fargo.
The Portland section was reinstated in 1981, running through Pasco and Vancouver; the Seattle section was then rerouted back to the former Great Northern trackage that ran through Wenatchee and Everett between Spokane and Seattle.
Partly because the Empire Builder provides an almost essential transportation role to some towns in Montana and North Dakota, it is one of Amtrak's best-performing long distance trains, from a fiscal standpoint.
Condensed historical timetables:
READ DOWN READ UP
(1956) (1972) (1984) (2002) (2002) (1984) (1972) (1956)
3:30P 1:45P 4:50P 4:45P Dp Seattle Ar 10:20A 9:15A 11:20A 7:55A
3:00P ----- 4:50P 4:40P Portland 10:10A 8:35A ----- 7:15A
11:15P 11:15P 12:40A 1:15A Spokane 2:15A 1:50A 1:50A 11:55P
12:05P 11:25A 12:35P 1:32P Havre 3:43P 3:30P 3:35P 12:25P
1:30A 1:35A 2:04A 2:10A Fargo 3:49A 3:47A 3:50A 1:50A
6:30A 6:30A 7:15A 8:00A Minneapolis 11:15P 11:05P 11:00P 9:40P
2:00P 1:59P 3:08P 4:20P Ar Chicago Dp 2:10P 2:45P 3:00P 2:00P
The Amtrak Train Names Project