Amtrak changes schedules after train delays


KALISPELL, Mont. - Amtrak delays are so bad, the company has decided to change its schedule.

The Empire Builder runs daily between Chicago, Seattle and Portland. But the company's blaming increased freight trains from the Bakken for some dramatic delays. In one case the train was never on time.

Train travel has been a big part of the valley's history, as many early residents of Whitefish worked for the railroad.

Micki Nonemacher is the co-owner of Flathead Travel. She books trips for people in the Flathead every day. But lately, she's noticed a trend in train travel. The Amtrak passenger train that stops in Whitefish is hardly ever on time.

"If it's something you have to be there for, you need to go the day before to make sure. If you have an appointment at 2 and you're scheduled to get into Seattle at 10 or 11, that's just not a safe bet," said Nonemacher.

But Amtrak is hoping to ease some of those problems. Starting April 15, the plan is to have trains leave anywhere from 90 minutes later to three hours earlier than currently scheduled. The company hopes that will buy them time for any delays.

Tuesday morning we caught up a few people who just arrived from Portland. The train pulled in about an hour and a half behind schedule.

"Our friend was picking us up and we didn't have service at the time, so we couldn't tell her that we were running late, so that was kind of a pain," said Cevana and Ceara Lawche.

What's causing the major delays on the Empire Builder line for the passenger trains is increased freight traffic, with oil trains that are going to and from the Bakken Oil Fields in North Dakota.

But Nonemacher says that it's not all negative. She says some of her clients enjoy their train experience even if they don't arrive on time.

"People who are going to take the train are going to take the train anyway. It's a much better cost, they just need to plan that unknown time factor into their trip and relax and kind of enjoy it," said Nonemacher.

Here's the bottom line on the schedule changes. Trains departing from Seattle and Portland will now leave three hours earlier. That puts an arrival time into Whitefish around 4:46 a.m.

Trains coming from the east, like Chicago, will leave around 90 minutes later, changing that arrival time into Whitefish to around 10:46 p.m.

Amtrak says that the change is only meant to be a temporary modified schedule.