James Eli Shiffer, the Star Tribune’s watchdog and data editor, digs into data and documents to uncover the news. Reach him at 612-673-4116, james.shiffer@startribune.com or follow him on Twitter at @jameselishiffer. Tell us what to investigate. Send your story tips to whistleblower@startribune.com.

Empire Builder offers worst Amtrak on-time performance

Posted by: James Eli Shiffer Updated: July 10, 2014 - 12:34 PM

The return of Amtrak trains to St. Paul's Union Depot in May marked what many hope is a resurgence of passenger rail in Minnesota. It rolled in about an hour late, though. That's what happens with four out of five trains that travel through Minnesota as the Empire Builder, which carries passengers from Chicago through the Twin Cities, the prairies and the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Northwest and back.

The Washington Post's Wonkblog mapped the punctuality of Amtrak in the past year, using data from the train system's web site, and no other route comes close to the Empire Builder when it comes to flunking its schedule. Amtrak has pointed the finger at heavy oil train traffic, which has the right of way on the rails, as well as savage winters. It's also adjusting the schedules to better conform with reality.

My one experience with the Empire Builder dates back to the late 1980s, when I waited for hours or so in the cold at the Midway station. When it finally arrived, the train looked as if it had been flash-frozen, and the icy toilets onboard were inoperable. Conditions have no doubt improved, and despite the delays, passengers boarding the Empire Builder in Minnesota hit a record in 2012.

Here's Wonkblog's map:

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