Amtrak Builds on a Good Thing: Empire Builder to Get Fresh New Look

Coming August 2005 … A New Experience

WASHINGTON, July 12 /PRNewswire/ — The Empire Builder, long one of America’s favorite trains, will get a fresh new look beginning August 2005. The changes are the start of a major initiative at Amtrak to improve passengers’ on-board experience on long-distance trains and improve the trains’ financial performance, as well.

Passengers will soon be treated to a new on-board experience as the Empire Builder travels across eight states, from Chicago to Seattle and Portland. The new look will include refurbished rail cars, new on-board services and improved passenger amenities.

“We’re pleased to dedicate Amtrak’s newly refurbished train equipment to the Empire Builder as part of our overall effort to enhance long distance train travel,” said Amtrak President David L. Gunn. “The result will be even stronger demand for the service and a better financial performance. The Empire Builder is already one of Amtrak’s most popular trains, serving nearly half-a-million passengers annually.”

The Empire Builder travels through some of America’s greatest scenery. The train traverses portions of the upper Mississippi River valley, crosses the northern plains and offers superb vistas as it wends its way through the Rocky Mountains, Washington State’s Cascades Range and miles of seascapes along Puget Sound and the Columbia River Gorge. Along the way, top leisure travel destinations abound, including Wisconsin Dells, Glacier National Park and Montana’s Big Mountain ski area.

“The Empire Builder’s scenic highlights and popular destinations, combined with strong community support all along the route, will be a major marketing boost for the overall enhanced service of an already popular train ride,” said Barbara Richardson, Amtrak Vice President, Marketing and Sales.

From Departure to Destination, a Unique Experience

All passengers will notice a difference the moment they step on board the Empire Builder. First class passengers — those with sleeping accommodations, which include dining car meal service — will be welcomed aboard with a complimentary glass of sparkling wine or cider.

As a new feature, on the second day of the trip, passengers will be invited to attend on-board wine and cheese tasting events in the lounge car featuring Wisconsin and Minnesota cheeses and Washington State wines.

Dining aboard a moving train is an experience rich in history. Aboard the Empire Builder, several special menu items have been created by the Amtrak culinary team to closely match the original recipes of the Great Northern Railway. At supper time, along with the delicious regular Amtrak menu items, passengers will be invited to enjoy special entrees recalling the train’s lore: Braised Salmon Shank with horseradish and cauliflower puree, Great Northern Baked Ham with sweet citrus sauce and English Beefsteak Pot Pie with braised tomatoes and white mushrooms.

At night, train attendants will encourage sweet dreams by offering a bedtime treat of a freshly baked cookie or similar goodie to first class passengers.

Coach passengers will receive a higher level of service on board the Empire Builder starting this August, too. Coach passengers will be offered at-seat food and beverage service. In the Lounge Car, an upstairs snack bar is being added in the peak seasons to serve light food and beverages. Passengers will also be invited to check out a wide variety of popular games to play, including Monopoly(R), Trivial Pursuit(R), and Chutes and Ladders(R).

New Equipment

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 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 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.

Expanded Trails and Rails programs

Another on-board enhancement of the Empire Builder service will be the expansion of the Trails and Rails program, presented during daylight hours between Chicago and Seattle/Portland, offering en-route lectures about the culture, geography and history of the Great Plains. Trails and Rails is an innovative partnership between the National Park Service and Amtrak designed to encourage sightseers who are not traditional National Park visitors to explore the natural and cultural aspects of several regions of the country.

In July, a new Trails and Rails program debuts on board the Empire Builder between Chicago and St. Paul, Minn., featuring information on the Mississippi River and the wonderful state and national parks throughout the region. Passengers may enjoy these informational talks delivered by interpretive rangers every weekend through the middle of September.

Beginning in August, the Trails and Rails program will be extended on board the Empire Builder near Williston, N.D., (eastbound) and Browning, Mont., (westbound). Passengers will be offered hot chocolate during a “campfire-like” setting where the Trails and Rails program will continue to discuss the wonders of the surrounding area.

The Story of the Empire Builder

Named for Great Northern Railway founder James J. Hill, the first Empire Builder departed Chicago on June 10, 1929. Originally, the Empire Builder was operated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad from Chicago to St. Paul. From St. Paul, it was operated entirely by the Great Northern Railway (now part of the BNSF Railway) to Seattle and Portland, making the trip in 63 hours. Today’s Empire Builder connects the same cities in just 47 hours.

The Empire Builder is the first train among the railroad’s 15 long- distance train services being upgraded. Already a popular route, last year (FY ’04) the Empire Builder served more than 437,000 passengers, with ridership up 5.1 percent over the previous fiscal year. The Empire Builder offers daily departures from Chicago (2:15 p.m.) and the west coast (Seattle and Portland sections both at 4:45 p.m.)

Celebrations to Mark New Service

Amtrak will celebrate the new Empire Builder with fun-filled festivities at several of the train’s most popular destinations including Seattle, Portland and Chicago on August 21st and Whitefish, Mont., and Minot, N.D., on August 22nd. More information on these events will be announced next month.

About Amtrak

Amtrak provides intercity passenger rail services to more than 500 destinations in 46 states on a 22,000-mile route system. For schedules, fares and information, passengers may call 800-USA-RAIL or visit

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