Amtrak is in the midst of canceling five runs of the Empire Builder between St. Paul and Spokane, Wash., citing lengthy delays for hundreds of passengers because of heavy freight traffic along the line and recent extreme cold weather.
The cancellations began Wednesday and will continue through Sunday, said Marc Magliari, a spokesman in Chicago for the passenger rail service.
Three runs have been scrapped heading east from Spokane to St. Paul: Dec. 11, 13 and 15. Two heading west between the two cities also were canceled: Dec. 12 and 14.
Magliari said the cancellations were necessary because trains were running so far behind schedule. The hope is to get the schedule "back in cycle," he said.
Hundreds of ticket holders on each run were being notified and helped in making new arrangements, he said.
Unaffected is service west of Spokane to Seattle and Portland, Ore., and between St. Paul and Chicago, the spokesman said.
Magliari said "extreme temperatures coming earlier than usual" are partly to blame. Ice and snow have built up on the tracks' switching mechanisms, and hoses and electrical connections on the trains have also broken down under the wintry conditions, he added.
The other major factor has been a surge in congestion by freight trains along the tracks, which are owned the BNSF freight carrier.
Amtrak hopes to have its schedule "back into the proper rotation before the week of December 25th," Magliari said, when passenger demand is expected to increase.
BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the rail company also is tackling weather-related complications along with the challenges of increased demand on its northern corridor tracks.
McBeth said improvements in several sectors of the national economy — agriculture, retail, crude oil and automotive — have resulted in surging train traffic that has not been seen since 2006.
"We're investing heavily in [increasing] our capacity" in areas of maintenance and expansion to "help with fluidity and increase capacity," she added.
Paul Walsh — 612-673-4482
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