What is the typical order of train cars on the Empire Builder? How close to the dining car will car 832 be? What’s a car number or a line number? Why are there different train numbers for the one train called the Empire Builder? What’s up with the food service cars, what’s available when?
The Empire Builder consists of two level passenger cars Amtrak calls Superliners. Passengers board on the lower level, use a staircase to walk up to the upper level, and pass between cars at the ends of the upper level.
Description, Line (or Car) Number (East/West), Notes
Begin Seattle Section
- Baggage Car
- Transition Sleeping Car, 732/832, Typically 4 to 8 rooms are sold in the 32 car
- Sleeping Car, 731/831, The 31 car is added during the peak summer and winter travel seasons
- Sleeping Car, 730/830
- Dining Car
- Coach, 711/811
- Coach, 712/812
End Seattle Section
Begin Portland Section
- Sightseer Lounge Car, Added eastbound / removed westbound at Spokane, WA
- Coach Baggage, 2714/2814, Added eastbound / removed westbound at Spokane, WA
- Coach, 2715/2815, Added eastbound / removed westbound at Spokane, WA
- Sleeping Car, 2730/2830, Added eastbound / removed westbound at Spokane, WA
End Portland Section
Begin St. Paul – Minneapolis Section (Seasonal)
- Coach, 0709/0809, Added eastbound / removed westbound at St. Paul – Minneapolis, MN
End St. Paul – Minneapolis Section (Seasonal)
So, what’s a line number?
Well the line number is a four digit number that refers to a specific car of the train. The line (or car) number should not be confused with the five digit roster numbers permanently lettered on the car sides and ends. Amtrak uses the term “car number” in their reservations and tickets. Please notice in most cases the line (or car) number contains the train number.
For sleeping car passengers, the line number indicates which sleeping car you occupy. Sleeping car attendants mostly remember to change the four digit numbers in the light up boxes near their platform doors. For coach passengers it helps the coach attendants and conductors communicate about which car(s) they will open for passenger pick-up and drop-off.
Splitting and Combining Sections in Spokane, WA
The Empire Builder consist is unique because the train splits or combines in Spokane, WA. Westbound trains 7 and 27 travel together as one train from Chicago, Illinois to Spokane, Washington. After arriving in Spokane, Spokane bound passengers in both sections, 7 and 27, are discharged. A boarding call is made for Seattle bound passengers on train 7. After completing the boarding of passengers on train 7, HEP (head end power) is turned off and the Amtrak crew separates the train in the middle between the last Seattle Coach and the Portland bound Sightseer Lounge. The Seattle section moves forward a few feet, restores HEP to the Seattle section only, and then completes a brake test. The Portland bound cars, train 27, sit on the track without HEP; air handling, cooling, and sanitary systems are temporarily shut down. Emergency lighting and reduced heat is provided by batteries in the individual Superliner cars. The Seattle section, 7, is scheduled to leave first, pulls out of the station at the departure time. Next an Amtrak locomotive from the storage track in Spokane backs up to the train cars of Portland section, train 27. The Amtrak crew couple the locomotive in front of the Sightseer Lounge, connect brake hoses and HEP cables and then restores head end power to the Superliner cars, normal air handling, cooling, and sanitary functions return. After a successful brake test, a boarding call for Portland bound passengers is made. Once station work is complete the Portland section departs at the scheduled departure time.
In the opposite direction, eastbound trains 8 and 28 depart separately from their origins in Seattle (8), and Portland (28). Train 28 is scheduled to arrive in Spokane first. The Portland section pulls into the platform at Spokane and the locomotive detaches and the coaches and sleeping car lose HEP. The Portland locomotive pulls away and is placed in a storage track for use on the next train 27 bound for Portland. The Seattle section arrives second and pulls past the station, backs up into the arrival track, immediately coupling onto the rear Portland section. HEP goes out in the Seattle section, electrical connections are made between the two Empire Builder sections and then HEP is restored simultaneously on both the Seattle and Portland sections. A boarding call is made for all points east and the two sections of the Empire Builder depart together and travel the rest of their journey towards Chicago, Illinois.
The lonely, locomotive-less train 27 sitting on the eastbound track at Spokane.
One of the most frequently asked questions about the Empire Builder is the availability of food service depending on whether you’re in the Portland or Seattle section of the train. Food service options are the same for both trains east of Spokane, it’s west of Spokane that the options become confused.
The westbound train 7, the Seattle section, operates with the Dining Car. Full service breakfast is available the morning before arrival into Seattle. The westbound train 27, the Portland section, operates with the Sightseer Lounge Car, providing microwave breakfast fare at a cost, and a cold complimentary breakfast to sleeping car guests. The cold breakfast I’ve eaten consisted of a croissant with ham and cheese, small breakfast cake/roll, yogurt, fruit, choice of juice, and coffee. You can eat the cold breakfast in the sightseer lounge car or carry it back to your sleeping accommodations. Walking with a tray of food, yogurt, juice, and coffee can be challenging while the train is moving!
The eastbound train 8, the Seattle section, operates with the Dining Car. Full service dinner is available the evening of departure from Seattle. The westbound train 28, the Portland section, operates with the Sightseer Lounge Car, providing snacks, beverages, and microwaved sandwiches at a cost. A complimentary dinner is served to sleeping car guests directly in their rooms. The sleeping car attendant will come to your room to ask if you’d like the beef, chicken, or fish option for dinner. I would say that with most attendants they’ll check with the Bedrooms first, then Roomettes. The cold dinners are surprisingly good, better than their cold breakfast counterparts. Complimentary beverages for the cold meal service include: champagne, sparkling apple cider, orange juice, apple juice, coffee, and bottled water. There are no complimentary sodas offered to sleeping car passengers for the train 28 cold dinner service. For sodas you’ll need to walk up to the Sightseer Lounge and pay.
The beef cold dinner option on Train 28
In the picture above I’ve done some unpacking and rearranging of the dinner tray. Items included in this beef option are: mixed green salad with ranch dressing, potato and green bean salad, rolls of sliced roast beast, roll with butter, fruit medley, and Oreo-cookie cheesecake. The Pepsi was purchased in the Sightseer Lounge. The meal is served with disposable utensils and napkins.