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April 2010

     In This Issue:

The Empire Builder 

"Just a few generations ago, the route of the Empire Builder was wilderness, roamed by Native Americans and buffalo.  Later, fur traders and gold miners visited it. And still later, it was developed by merchants, timber men, farmers and - most dramatically - by railroaders.

In this northern plains country, the greatest railroader of all was James J. Hill, a freewheeling, big-dealing tycoon who linked St. Paul and Seattle with his Great Northern Railway.  He acquired the land, built the tracks and even encouraged homesteading along the route. In the process, 'Empire Builder' Hill came to govern the fate and fortunes of a good part of this powerfully beautiful area... "

People from around the world travel this historic Great Northern route year round, but it is especially popular in the summer months. The Amtrak train runs daily between Chicago and Spokane where westbound Train 7/27 split into two trains on its way across the Cascades  to Seattle (Train 7) and down the Columbia River Gorge to Portland (Train 27). Eastbound trains 8 and 28 leave Seattle and Spokane each afternoon and join up in Spokane just after midnight for their joint trip back to Chicago.

You'll not find a greater variety of scenery on any other route in the USA. So head on downtown to Chicago Union Station and wait for the announcement...

"May I have your attention please. Amtrak announces the boarding of Train 7 and 27, the Empire Builder, scheduled to depart at 2:15 pm.  Reservations only for Milwaukee, Columbus, Wisconsin Dells, La Crosse, Red Wing, St. Paul, Fargo, Minot, Glacier Park, Whitefish, Spokane, Portland, Everett, Seattle and all scheduled intermediate stops"

Port of Seattle
Empire Builder Small Map Lake Michigan - Chicago
To access our Empire Builder Route Guide
click - 
Empire Builder

Portland Union Station
Columbia River and Mt Hood Riverfront Park - Spokane
Also check out the - Empire Builder - Portland Leg Route Guide
that describes the Spokane to Portland option

James Jerome Hill
James Jerome Hill
the "Empire Builder"

James Hill and his cast of thousands constructed  the Great Northern route from St. Paul across the Northern Plains, the Rockies and the Cascades 
to Seattle in just 7 years, 1886 - 1893.

In August of 1886 they laid 44,000 feet, 8 1/3 miles, of railroad track in one day.

In 1883 he was the force behind completing "Hill's Folly", the old Stone Arch Bridge that crosses the Mississippi in Minneapolis. The bridge was completed  for the then outlandish cost of $640,000 (about $14 M in 2007 dollars).

Nowadays, it often costs $14 M or more just  to study and plan the construction of a couple of hundred miles of new rail line in the USA, and sometimes takes 7 years or more just to get a few miles of light rail built. 

It would be interesting to hear what old Jim Hill would have to say about today's railroad development along his old route.  Here's a brief summary of the first round of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds distributed on January 28, 2010 for rail develpment along or near  the  Empire Builder's route.  

Midwest Regional Rail Plan 

MW Regional Map
Source - Midwest Regional Rail Initiative

The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative (MWRRI) is a cooperative, multi-agency effort that began in 1996 and involves nine Midwest states (Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin). The Empire Builder runs through the states of Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The  High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program (Minneapolis/St. Paul - Madison - Milwaukee - Chicago) runs through the MWRRI region. Click here for the US DOT summary of ARRA activity in the Empire Builder corridor.

Illinois - $ - Chicago to Wisconsin

ILDOT Website   Illinois ARRA Rail Map  Chicago Breaking News

Illinois received $1.23 billion in ARRA funds, primarily for constucting the Chicago to St. Louis high speed rail line. So far, it is unclear to us how much, if any, of the $1.23 M would be used for improvements along the fify miles or so of rail line between Chicago and the Illinois-Wisconsin State Line.

Wisconsin - $823,000,000 - Milwaukee to Madison High Speed Rail and Illinois to Milwaukee

WIDOT Website   Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal - JSOnline

"Wisconsin will receive more than $800 million to build a high-speed rail line carrying passengers between Milwaukee and Madison at 110 mph and recapture a piece of a regional rail system largely abandoned six decades ago".

Minnesota - $1,000,000 - Wisconsin to St. Paul - Study

MNDOT Website   MPR News

"Planning and environmental work will begin to lay the groundwork for connecting the rail line through ... Minnesota at speeds of up to 110 mph. Several route alignments will be considered in the planning process".

Pacific Northwest Rail Development

Pacific Northwest Corridor
Source - Federal Railroad Administration

Designated as a high-speed rail corridor in 1992, this 466-mile route houses Amtrak corridor and long-distance trains, Sounder commuter services in the Seattle region, and the freight trains of the owning railroad companies (Union Pacific and BNSF).

The Empire Builder route utilizes only about 40 miles of this corridor between Everett and Seattle.

The information shown below pertains to rail development  along the entire Washington and Oregon length of the corridor.

Washington - $590,000,000 - Blaine to Portland

WSDOT Website    Seattle Times

"The federal government will spend $590 million in stimulus money to improve rail travel times from Blaine to Portland..."

Oregon - $8,000,000 - Portland Union Station and other Corridor Improvements

ODOT Website    Portland Business Journal

Oregon received $8 million to update the railroad infrastructure along the 124-mile Portland-to-Eugene section of the Pacific Northwest High Speed Rail Corridor. According the the Portland Business Journal  $5.9 million of that will be applied towards a $9 million rehabilitation of the 102,000 square foot Portland Union Station.

Have a great summer folks!!
Ray York
Rail Passenger USA


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Rail Passenger USA is a free website founded by Ramblin' Ray, an old train travel addict who devotes most of his time to mapping USA passenger railroad routes and preparing route guides to share with others via his website.