Railroading North America

October 30, 2010

All Aboard: the Coast Starlight & Empire Builder

In November, we’ll re-trace a major portion of our 2008 sojourn on Amtrak, to include giving alarmingly ghastly Empire Builder a second look — this time from Portland to Chicago, versus the 2008 Seattle to Chicago.

The Empire Builder originates seven days a week in both Portland and Seattle in the west, and in Chicago in the east. The Empire Builder heading west is split into two trains at Spokane, WA, and then heads on west to both Portland and Seattle as separate trains (#7 / #27). Heading east, the Portland (#28) and Seattle (#8) trains meet at Spokane and are merged into a single train (#8 / #28) to complete the trip to Chicago.

We were taking the Coast Starlight in the reverse direction that I took it in 2008 — this time from Los Angeles north to Portland. We will not take the gorgeous additional section from Portland to Seattle since we’ll be boarding the eastbound Empire Builder at Portland instead. In 2008 I flew the section from Los Angeles to Seattle bcause I was on a North American Rail Pass (now gone, alas) and was running short of days. On the Coast Starlight trip we’ll run the coast and miss the Tahachipi Loop. Amtrak does not run the Loop and only ran it because of work being done on its regular line. It was a sheer matter of luck that I was on the Seattle-Los Angeles train on one of the few days it has run that section in more than 20 years.

We’re particularly curious whether the trim masterpiece of a station at Sandpoint, Idaho, survives. We visited the station in June when biking the Hiawatha Trail in eastern Idaho and found it precariously perched on a spit of land between new downtown roads under construction. We photographed the station extensively, and then encountered a construction foreman who lamented with us that Sandpoint citizens had not raised a storm and saved the station. We’ll pass through there in the middle of the night, stopping for only moments — but we suspect that station will be gone, and our pictures will now be among only the memories of the station.

(photo: Sandpoint, ID, train station June 6, 2010)

This site and its photographs are © copyrighted literary property, 2008-2010 of Seine/Harbour® Productions, Studio City, California

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