Writing that its "broken," an article in the Kalispel, Mont.-based Flathead Beacon chronicles
how the Empire Builder, once Amtrak's premier passenger service to the West, is regularly late—very late—when it rolls across Idaho's Panhandle for its only stop in the state
. In fact, only five years ago, the Empire Builder, which runs between Chicago and Seattle and Portland, Ore., had some of Amtrak's best on-time performance rates; but now "delays of three to five hours are commonplace." The Flathead Beacon
said things got worse last winter when the train was sometimes 12 hours late.
Which doesn't bode well for the train's future. Ridership has dropped 19 percent in the past year alone.
"When you go from being the number one on-time performance train on the entire system to being dead last, it's a shock," said Amtrak route director Jim Brzezinski.
The culprit? A dramatic increase in freight trains along the same line, particularly crude oil from North Dakota.
Ross Capon, the president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, wrote a letter to the U.S. Transportation Department saying crude oil was being given a priority over people. When bad weather strikes, as it did last winter with particularly harsh conditions, avalanches can cause delays and even derailments, resulting in unreasonable delays. Things aren't much better in the summer. This June, the eastbound train had a zero percent on-time rate.
The Flathead Beacon
writes that NARP's Montana representative, Barry Green, called the situation "disheartening and disgusting."