Traveling daily between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest, Amtrak's Empire Builder provides the perfect way to experience the rugged splendor of the American West. By taking the train, you can reduce your carbon footprint to approximately 1/10 the emissions produced by flying.
The mighty Empire Builder takes you on an exciting adventure through majestic wilderness, following the footsteps of early pioneers. From Chicago, you'll have magnificent views of the Mississippi and see the glowing night skyline of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Awake the next morning as you cross the North Dakota plains and travel over the spectacular Gassman Coulee Trestle. Skirting the Missouri, you'll cross into the Big Sky country in Montana. As you pass Glacier National Park the panoramic windows of the Sightseer Lounge make for the best seats in the house. You gotta give credit to Amtrak: the Empire Builder is timed so that travelers can see Glacier in the best possible light --both coming and going.
Just a few generations ago, the route of the Empire Builder was wilderness, roamed by Indians and buffalo. Later, it was visited by fur traders and gold miners. And still later, it was developed by merchants, timberman, farmers and -- most dramatically -- by railroads.
In this northern plains country, the greatest railroader of all was James J. Hill, a freewheeling, big-dealing tycoon who linked St. Paul and Seattle with his Great Northern Railway. He acquired the land, built the tracks and even encouraged home-steading along the route. In the process, "Empire Builder" Hill came to govern the fate and fortunes of a good part of this powerfully beautiful area.
The original Empire Builder was inaugurated by the Great Northern on June 11, 1929. The service was altered to carry additional passengers during World War II. After the war, new streamlined, diesel-powered trains were placed into service. This postwar service began on February 23, 1947. The train was fully re-equipped again in 1951.
The schedule of the route was optimized to allow riders views of the passing Cascade Mountains and the Rocky Mountain landscapes of Glacier National Park, a park that was established through the decisive lobbying efforts of the Great Northern. After it was re-equipped in the 1950's passengers viewed the route through its three dome coaches and one full-length "Great Dome" car for first class passengers. The train was named in honor of railroad tycoon James J. Hill, who reorganized several failing railroads into the Great Northern Railway and extended the line to the Pacific Northwest in the late 19th century.
Since its inception service has run from Chicago to Spokane, and split into Seattle and Portland sections (except during the Amtrak era between 1971 and 1981, when there was no Portland section). Prior to 1971, the Chicago to St. Paul leg of the train's route was operated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad via its mainline along the Mississippi River through Wisconsin. The Spokane-Portland section of the train was historically operated by the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway.
After 1971 Amtrak assumed operation of the train and shifted the Chicago to St. Paul leg to the Milwaukee Road mainline route through Milwaukee.