Amtrak Empire Builder
Amtrak Empire Builder

The Amtrak Empire Builder: A new passenger’s helper

The Empire Builder is a daily Superliner train in each direction, connecting Chicago with Seattle, WA, and Portland, WA, with a unique move. Check out this train’s intermediate stops, including popular ones like Chicago, St. Paul/Minneapolis, Spokane, and Portland/Seattle.

A quick look at the Amtrak Empire Builder

Learn more about this train and find more details about each point.

Amtrak Empire Builder route overview

The Empire Builder takes you alongside the mighty Mississippi River, providing glimpses of charming small towns and expansive farmlands.

As the train ventures westward, it climbs into the rugged beauty of the Rocky Mountains, treating passengers to stunning mountainous vistas. The journey through Glacier National Park in Montana is a highlight, showcasing snow-capped peaks, dense forests, and pristine lakes. Watch for wildlife; the park is home to various animals, including bears and elk.

Who owns the tracks the Empire Builder uses?

Amtrak does not own all the tracks it uses outside of the tracks around end stations; they use host railroads, and here are the ones this train uses for 15 miles or more:

The Empire Builder’s on-time performance

No one wants delays, but any seasoned traveler will tell you that they happen regardless of the transportation. Sometimes, they’re Amtrak’s fault; other times, they are acts of God or someone is where they shouldn’t be.

  • From January 2023-2024, the Empire Builder averaged making on-time station stops 43.8% of the time with an average delay of 119 minutes.
    • It is not uncommon for the train to be late in the middle of the route but still arrive at the end stations close to on time.
  • Some faults fall on the host railroads; here are the top two reasons they delayed Amtrak.
    • Metra: commuter rail traffic interference and slow orders.
    • CPKS and BNSF: freight train interference and slow orders.

Accommodations Offerings for the Empire Builder

Besides knowing the Empire Builder Schedule, it is helpful to understand your booking options, for this train offers economical and private accommodations.

Coach Seating

  • The Empire Builder offers coach seating with:
  • Comfortable reclining seats with ample legroom
  • A fold-down tray and seat back pocket
  • Foot and leg rest.
  • Individual reading lights
  • 120v grounded (three plugs) electric outlets.
  • Upper and lower seating
  • The bathrooms are on the lower level.
  • No middle seat!
  • There is storage above your seat and luggage storage on the lower level.

Empire Builder coach car layout

There are a few different layouts, but this is the basic one.

Sleeper Car (Rooms)

If you want to sleep flat, have privacy, and enjoy a few other treats, an Amtrak sleeper car accommodation could be what you need.

All rooms include:

  • Traditional Dining meals
    • Train 27 and 28 will get other meals between Portland and Spokane for that section.
  • Lounge access is available in Chicago, St. Paul, and Portland, OR.
  • Dedicated car attendant
  • Seats by day and beds by night.
  • Drapers on the windows for privacy and to block out light
  • A closet or hook to hang up clothing, and Amtrak provides hangers!
  • There are also cupholders, a table between the seats, and night and reading lights.
  • Amtrak provides
    • Pillows, sheets, and blankets
    • Towels and washcloths
    • Soap
  • Upper and lower level bathrooms and showers on the lower level.

The sleeper car accommodations offered on the Builder

All accommodations can be reserved for one or two people, and if you book a room as a single, no one will share it with you.

  • Roomettes
    • Smallest of the rooms
    • Rooms 1-10 on the upper and 11-14 on the lower level.
  • Bedrooms
    • Twice the space of a roomette
    • These rooms are only on the upper level.
  • Family Bedroom
    • For two adults and two smaller kids.
    • On the lower level, with access to a shower down the hall from this room.
  • Accessible room o
    • Accommodations for passengers with mobility issues.
    • On the lower level.

The layout can vary, but this is the basics, and if your roomette number is 20 or larger, you could be in a transdorm car.

Luggage: Carry on and checked

  • Amtrak’s checked baggage service allows:
    • Two bags up to 50 lbs and 75 linear inches per person for free.
    • Charges apply for additional and oversized luggage.
    • Up to four bags can be checked.
    • Not all locations can handle checked baggage.
      • Your first and last station must offer checked bag service to check a bag.
    • Click the station links below to see if they provide checked baggage service.

Each passenger may carry on:

  • One personal item, 25 lbs. (12 kg) and 14 x 11 x 7 inches, and 
  • Two carry-on pieces of luggage, 50 lbs. (23 kg) and 28 x 22 x 14 inches each
  • If you transfer to the Pacific Surfliner at some point along your journey, the baggage size for that train is up to 28 x 22 x 11 inches each. 

Charges apply for additional and oversized luggage; check out Amtrak’s carry-on bag policy for more information.

Pets and service animals on the Empire Builder

  • Amtrak allows dogs and cats:
    • Up to 20 pounds combined weight of pet and carrier,
    • For trips up to seven hours.
    • Your pet needs to be on your reservation.
    • Paperwork is required to be completed before you arrive at the station.
    • The paperwork and more info are found in Amtrak’s pet policy.

If you have a service or comfort animal, please read the Amtrak service animal policy before booking.

Wi-Fi and the Empire Builder

This train does not have Wi-Fi, and cell service dead spots will be along the route.

Accessibility on the Builder

A Wheelchair Ramp is available to assist passengers in boarding and detraining with a wheeled mobility device. There are lower-level coach seating and accessible bedrooms for those with mobility needs.

Food offerings on the Empire Builder

Two food cars are on the Empire Builder; one offers grab-and-go food, while the other offers sit-down dining.

Food from an Amtrak Cafe Car
Amtrak cafe attendants use cardboard trays to make transporting your food more accessible.

Amtrak Empire Builder Cafe Car

  • You can find the Cafe on the lower level of the Sightseer Lounge
    • Towards the train’s rear, between the coach and Portland sleeper cars.
  • The car offers:
    • A variety of hot and cold meals
    • Snacks
    • Hot, cold, and adult beverages
  • It is available for all customers from early morning until late at night. Not available from Seattle to Spokane.

Check out my Amtrak Cafe Car post for more info and current menus.

Amtrak Empire Builder Dining Car

Dining car meals are complimentary for customers with sleeping accommodations or at set prices for coach passengers. Amtrak can limit seating for coach passengers based on availability.

  • The Empire Builder offers traditional dining.
    • They are chef-prepared meals with table service.
    • Sleeping passengers can have meals brought to their rooms.
  • Breakfast, lunch, and a three-course dinner with selections for kids
  • Complimentary non-alcoholic beverages with your meals.
    • Your first drink with dinner is on Amtrak!
  • A wide array of wine, beer, and spirits are for sale. Consume them with your meal or take them back to your room.

For more information and menus, check out my post on Amtrak Traditional Dining.

Note: Traditional dining is unavailable on train 27/28 between Portland, OR, and Spokane, WA. Sleeper passengers will receive food from their car attendant or get further instructions.

Dining car meals available by day

This graph shows you what meals are offered during the trip.

DIRECTIONCITY SECTIONSDAY OF TRAVELMEALS OFFERED
#7/#27 WestboundChicago, IL – St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN1st dayDinner
#7/#27 WestboundSt, Cloud, MN – Sandpoint, ID2nd dayBreakfast, lunch, & dinner
#7 WestboundSpokane, WA – Seattle, WA3rd dayBreakfast
#27 WestboundSpokane, WA -Portland, OR3rd dayBreakfast*
#8 EastboundSeattle, WA – Ephrata, WA1st dayDinner
#28 EastboundPortland, OR – Pasco, WA1st dayDinner*
#8/#28 EastboundSpokane, WA – Devils Lake, ND2nd dayBreakfast, lunch, & dinner
#8/#28 EastboundGrand Forks, ND – Chicago, IL3rd dayBreakfast & lunch
*Your meal is handed to you by your car attendant.

How does the Empire Builder have two West Coast ending/starting points?

How does the Empire Builder have two West Coast destinations or starting points? It is easy; the Builder runs as two trains between Spokane and Seattle/Portland. It is one of Amtrak’s trains that split/come together during its route.

For Trains 7/27 and 8/28, traveling between Chicago, IL, and Spokane, WA, the Empire Builder schedule is the same for both trains.

Amtrak Empire Builder Schedule

See where the Empire Builder can take you (and when you get there too)!

Train 7/27
Westbound
Communities ServedTrain 8/28
Eastbound
Read DownDaily TrainMilesLast Stop
3:05pChicago, IL
Union Station (CHI) (CT)
04:45p
3:29pGlenview, IL (GLN) (Metra)174:12p
4:35p | 4:45pMilwaukee, WI
Downtown (MKE)
852:57p | 3:05p
5:55pColumbus, WI (CBS) (Madison)1501:47p
6:24pPortage, WI (POG)1781:17p
6:42pWisconsin Dells, WI (WDL)19512:58p
7:20pTomah, WI (TOH)24012:16p
8:04pLa Crosse, WI *
Amtrak Station (LSE)
28111:37a
8:34p | 8:40pWinona, MN (WIN)30810:54a | 11:01a
9:42pRed Wing, MN (RDW)3719:44a
10:56p | 11:13pSt. Paul-Minneapolis, MN*
Union Depot (MSP)
4108:33a | 8:50a
1:09aSt. Cloud, MN (SCD)4866:32a
2:10aStaples, MN (SPL)5525:27a
3:06aDetroit Lakes, MN (DLK)6144:27a
4:13aFargo, ND (FAR)6623:21a | 3:29a
5:34aGrand Forks, ND (GFK)7372:10a
6:59aDevils Lake, ND (DVL)82212:44a
7:53aRugby, ND (RUG)87911:49p
9:06a | 9:51aMinot, ND (MOT)94010:08p | 10:53p
10:46aStanley, ND (STN)9948:22p
11:59aWilliston, ND (WTN) (CT)10617:21p
12:34pWolf Point, MT (WPT) (MT)11684:32p
1:20pGlasgow, MT (GGW)12173:44p
2:20pMalta, MT (MAL)12832:43p
3:54p | 4:15pHavre, MT (HAV)13701:05p | 1:24p
6:21pShelby, MT (SBY) *147511:28a
6:51pCut Bank, MT (CUT)149910:27a
7:28pBrowning, MT (BRO) W15329:52a
7:48pEast Glacier Park, MT (GPK) W15479:36a
8:44pEssex, MT (ESM)
Izaak Walton Inn
15768:37a
9:27pWest Glacier, MT (WGL) (Apgar)16037:57a
10:06p | 10:21pWhitefish, MT (WFH)16267:11a | 7:26a
12:05aLibby, MT (LIB) (MT)17285:11a
12:55aSandpoint, ID (SPT) (PT)18132:20a
2:44aSpokane, WA *
Amtrak Station (SPK)
189712:37a
Train separates or comes together.
Train 7Train to/from Seattle
Skip this section for 27-28
MilesTrain 8
3:19aSpokane, WA *
Amtrak Station (SPK)
18791:15a
5:28aEphrata, WA (EPH)19989:58p
6:35a | 6:45aWenatchee, WA *
Amtrak Station (WEN)
20508:51p | 8:57p
7:18aLeavenworth, WA
Icicle Station (LWA)
20728:17p
10:03aEverett, WA (EVR)21715:55p
10:35aEdmonds, WA (EDM)21885:27p
11:29aSeattle, WA *
King Street Station (SEA) (PT)
22554:55p
Last StopStationsMilesRead Up
Train 27Train to/from PortlandMilesTrain 28
3:49aSpokane, WA *
Amtrak Station (SPK)
187912:17a
6:40aPasco, WA (PSC) *20259:06p
8:35aWishram, WA (WIH) (The Dallas)21506:59p
9:10aBingen-White Salmon, WA (BNG)21806:24p
10:35aVancouver, WA (VAN)22545:09p
11:17aPortland, OR
Union Station (PDX) (PT)
22554:45p
Last StopStationsMilesRead Up
This schedule is a guide; check with Amtrak for current times. ‘

Abbreviations

R = Receive passengers only; this means you can board the train, but you cannot buy a ticket on this train to this station.

D = Depart only; you can buy a ticket to this station but not from this station, and this train may leave early from this stop.

W = Seasonal station from October to April.

* = Stations with Amtrak Connecting Services.

Printable Amtrak Empire Builder Schedule

Amtrak offers you custom schedules for free! You can get the needed times or a schedule that includes connecting trains or services. Learn how to print Amtrak schedules! You can also learn how to print out route schedules from that link.

Kev’s thoughts on the Empire Builder

The Empire Builder is a great way to travel between the Northwest and the Midwest. I have taken this train a few times and had a great time, and I even met a local celebrity in the dining car.

If you are in the sleeping car on the Portland sections of the train (27/28), it is a little bit of a hike to get to the dining car. The same is valid for Seattle sleeper car passengers if they want to go to the cafe car (between Chicago and Spokane). So, if you are not going all the way, consider that when booking.

This page has more information that can help you, including thoughts on boarding Amtrak, ways to save money when booking, and things to consider when you get a sold-out message.

Thanks for reading and allowing me to help you do your research! If you enjoyed this post and got something out of it, consider helping this site by supporting Travels with Kev.

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Kevin Monteith

Kev Monteith has been traveling on Amtrak since 2012. With over a decade of experience, he has been on over 800 trains, covering over 200k miles of rail. Kev enjoys helping others achieve their travel dreams by providing support and information. Outside of travel, Kev enjoys making music as an organist and outings with family.

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