Issaquah Trip Report, days ten and eleven

day −1
day 0
days 1 and 2
day 3
general remarks about the meetings
days 4 to 6
days 7 and 8
day 9

2023-02-12 00:37-8:00

I stayed up to watch the switching moves in Spokane (because I’m a grain geek).

Train 8 from Seattle arrived first, and 28 from Portland pulled in behind it.  After detraining the passengers bound for Spokane, 8 pulled forward and switched to another track where it was out of the way; then 28’s engine pulled ahead out of the way.  8 shoved back and tied on to 28, and 28’s engine shoved back and tied on to the combined train.  We now have Siemens 313 in the lead and GE 77 second.

Once we had the full train put together, they boarded the passengers getting on in Spokane.

We got under way at 01:24, only nine minutes late which, on Amtrak, approaches zero. 😎


We’re on mountain time now.

Amazingly, we stayed on time all day, even waiting for departure times at several stations.  The only operational thing that surprised me is that we didn’t make the usual fuel stop in the yard just east of Havre.

The fellow who shared my table for supper in the diner was another programmer.  We had fun commiserating about the sorry state of code these days. 😎

ca. 21:00-6:00:  We arrived in Minot almost an hour early, so we’ll be here for a while.  The engines were refueled from a fuel truck, so I guess that’s the new thing rather than making the fuel stop in Havre eastbound.


We departed St. Paul on time at 08:50, but then we were stopped for a while because of a freight train in the way.  Me’re moving again at 09:05.

We stayed between ten and twenty minutes late all the way through La Crosse; but that can change on the SOO Line through Wisconsin to Milwaukee.  We’ll see…

Nope, no problems there.  We departed Milwaukee at 15:12, only seven minutes late.  We might even be early into Chicago thanks to schedule padding.

16:02:  oops, I knew it couldn’t last…emergency brake application…the conductor made an announcement on the PA saying that “a brake hose came apart” and he would have to “put it together again”.  Let’s hope that’s all it is.

16:10:  that wasn’t bad…we’re pulling again.

I heard on my scanner the engineer informing the dispatcher that “everything’s independent”.  I’m guessing that that means that they’re using the independent brakes, air brakes that apply only the engine’s brakes, to pressurize the regular train line, the brakes on all the cars.  I suppose that’s OK as a temporary fix since we’re less than one hour from our final stop.

For non-train geeks, the way air brakes on trains work is that air pressure in the brake line holds the brakes off, and brakes are applied by reducing the pressure.  That’s why anything that dumps the brake line quickly, like parting of the line for any reason, applies all the train’s brakes as hard as possible.  That’s the “emergency brake application”, and it can cause a derailment because of later cars that haven’t had their brakes applied yet ramming into earlier cars that have.  (The “signal” that applies the brakes is an air pressure wave that travels through the brake line somewhat slower than the speed of sound, and freight trains can be miles long these days.)  That’s usually not a problem for passenger trains which, aside from being much shorter, have couplers that don’t give as much; but conductors still have to walk the train to look for any problems that might have been caused.

We made our final stop in Chicago at 16:53, only eight minutes late.  For some reason, they spotted the engines four or five car lengths north of the entrance to the north boarding lounge, so even folks in the Seattle sleeper, the first revenue car on the train, still had an extra city block to walk.  It seems to me that there was no reason for that.

This was a most enjoyable trip on the Empire Builder, in large part because of the crew who had been working together for over a decade and liked each other, and also liked their jobs.  A happy crew makes for happy passengers.  I hope I left big tips all around.

On arrival in Chicago, I made a bee line to the Amtrak ticket counter and changed tomorrow’s final leg to St. Louis from business class on train 319, one of the “Lincoln Service” corridor trains, to a roomette on train 21, the Texas Eagle, and then promptly checked the bag that I had just claimed off train 8.  (The corridor trains have no checked baggage service.)  This old back will no doubt appreciate my not having to deal with it until I get home.

My back also appreciated taking a taxi to my hotel rather than walking the three blocks to the Holiday Inn just south of the station.  The taxi fare was just about five bucks, so I gave the driver another fiver as a tip for getting stuck with my short fare.  I’ll probably do the three block walk tomorrow morning since I’ll be rested and ready to go.

This hotel has been completely renovated, and the restaurant won’t be ready for supper until next month, so I just had some junk food.  I didn’t want to go out anywhere for supper.  Instead, I wanted to get to my room so that I could get these blog posts back in sync. 😎  I was assured that the restaurant will be open for breakfast in the morning.

I’ve also added a link to the group photo that I mentioned in the days 7 and 8 post.  These are most of the folks with whom I have the pleasure of being associated in my small way.


  1. Katydid says

    Just a thought: delays on a train are so much less tortuous than delays on an airplane. You can stand up, move around, and you’re not shoulder-to-shoulder with the other passengers.

    Have you tried bringing some healthy food with you when you travel? A protein bar, some water?

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