The Empire Builder In Style
March 23, 2017
By Kevin R. Tam, President
Here at Uncommon Journeys, we believe that luxury train travel does more than just connect two points on map, we believe it spans time and by boarding a train, you are immersing yourself in a cocoon that blocks out today’s world and can take you to a place that those who don’t travel by rail can never understand. The Empire Builder is one such train.
When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out to explore the West and lead an expedition to the Pacific, they paved the way for millions of settlers and the emergence of a nation. We all know the story by now. They were joined by a 15-year old Native American woman named Sacagawea, endured immeasurable hardships and eventually reached coastal Oregon where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific. Their journals chronicling the geography, flora and fauna enlightened a nation as to what lay beyond the Mississippi River.
Eventually, early settlers followed in their path with covered wagons and as our nation grew, so did the desire to head West. Eventually, the railroads straddled the nation and portions of Lewis and Clark’s epic journey became part of one of the most famed rail routes in America.
Appropriately, the train on that route became known as the Empire Builder, for the vision of Lewis and Clark had, indeed, laid the foundation for an American Empire that stretched from the Caribbean far out into the Pacific. But when Great Northern Railway launched the first Empire Builder on June 11, 1929, the name was not intended to honor Lewis and Clark but instead James J. Hill, an old-time railroad man who had consolidated a number of weak railroads into the Great Northern Railway and then had the foresight to run the line to the Pacific Northwest back in the late 1800s. The advent of World War II provided a steady stream of passengers for the Empire Builder as military men moved between the Midwest and the industrial plants of the Pacific Northwest.
With the shortages caused by war rationing behind them, Great Northern introduced sleek diesel-powered locomotives in 1947 and by the 1950s, a scenic dome car had joined the train for the use of the first class passengers. Just like today, the Empire Builder was scheduled to travel through the most scenic areas of the Cascade ad Rocky Mountains during daylight, particularly Glacier National Park which Great Northern had a big part in getting established through extensive lobby efforts in Washington.
Running from Chicago to Spokane with ongoing service to both Portland and Seattle by other trains, the Empire Builder today is Amtrak’s busiest route and single busiest train, carrying nearly a half a million people every year with two trains daily, one headed in each direction.
Why is the Empire Builder so popular? As lovers of train travel can appreciate, the elements that combine to make a “Great Train” are composed of a dollop of history, a dash of elegance and comfort and a big spoonful of majestic scenery. On all three counts, the Empire Builder delivers. In fact, several of our trips include a night or two on the Empire Builder in our private rail cars.
There is no more rewarding feeling than to curl up next to the expansive windows of your private streamliner and watch nature’s wonders unfold before you, new vistas around every bend, towering mountains to one side, raging wilderness rivers or expansive prairies to the other. If you press your ear to the glass and listen carefully, you just might hear the echoes of Lewis & Clark more than two centuries ago as they expanded the bounds of what America believed to be possible. Let us do the same for you today.
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