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The Empire Builder on AmtrakAuthor: James C.
Date of Trip: July 2009
We were greeted at Union Station in Chicago by a gentleman who operated a transporter that carried our luggage and ourselves along a long, long train to our car and helped getting us aboard. The Empire Builder is a "double decker". At the platform level door one finds a large storage area for baggage. Alternately, one may check the heavy baggage into the baggage car (our friendly transporter driver did that for us.
We climbed the spiral staircase to the second level (one, if unable to make the climb, may reserve a room on the first level). Our bedroom was carpeted in an attractive blue with upholstery to match. The folding bed makes a sofa, and there is a chair by the big window as well. The bathroom much resembles one on an airliner, except for a lever that opens up a shower from overhead. Beside the bed, we had an upper berth.
The diner was a well managed joy. Tablecloths, flowers, and a great menu suitable for a variety of tastes, and a friendly, helpful staff. The danger exists that one could become "over-nourished" on this trip.
The Amtrak lounge car is a panoramic dome car on the top level, complete with a small bar. The lower level has a bar/snack bar and restaurant seating. The view is excellent even from there with the large windows.
The BNSF sports new stable track along much of the trip, and the ride is smooth. Along the unimproved right-of-way we were rockin' and rollin'. That annoys some passengers, but I thought it was fun.
Our train ran on time. We got off at the east entrance to Glacier National Park and spent the night at the Lodge. We toured the park in a rental car the following day and that evening caught the next Empire Builder at the west entrance.
While we slept our great, long train had an amputation, and the Portland section was separated from the Seattle section. Our brave, little Portland section sped south west along the amazing Columbia River toward Portland where we arrived on time!
I'd take that great train again in a minute. Glacier National Park is awesome and is unendingly explorable. there's a great restaurant at the west entrance of Glacier National Park, The Belton Chalet, where one may wait for the train while enjoying delicious, sophisticated fare. If you wish, of course, you can wait to dine on the train. Sleeper passengers dine for free on Amtrak.
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