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Amtrack Delays Hurt Whitefish Businesses

Loco Steve, flickr

Businesses in Whitefish are taking a hit because of problems with Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which runs between Chicago and the West Coast. 

Monday afternoon the westbound Empire Builder was running over 90 minutes late into Whitefish. That’s actually an improvement over delays of more than eleven hours earlier this year.

Amtrak says it’s working to fix the problem. Marc Magliari is the Amtrak spokesman in Chicago. He admits ridership is down over past years.

“If there’s a way to get this train back on its normal schedule before the end of ski season certainly, we’re gonna do all we can for that to happen, because it’s a critical transportation link.”

The Empire Builder has been a popular way for skiers to travel to Whitefish Mountain Resort.

But the westbound Empire Builder coming from Chicago often arrives in Whitefish hours late. The National Association of Rail Passengers says the North Dakota oil boom is partly to blame. The BNSF railroad ships crude oil on the same tracks Amtrak uses. Federal law gives priority to passenger service, but BNSF owns the tracks, and schedules the trains. Amtrak is hoping that BNSF completes its rail improvements in time for service to return to normal before the end of the ski season.

The Chicago-bound trains now leave Portland and Seattle three hours earlier, and drop skiers off in Whitefish at 4:30 in the morning. Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari admits it’s far from ideal.

“Especially in this season, when there’s a lot of ski business that comes from the Portland and Seattle sides of that train, we know people want to get there at a time that is convenient for that," said Magliari.

You can track the progress of the Empire Builder and other Amtrak trains.

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