- Associated Press - Monday, December 8, 2014

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - Eight months after Amtrak adjusted its schedule through northwest Montana to curb delays, the long-distance passenger train is still struggling to stay on time during trips between Chicago, Seattle and Portland.

Passenger rail advocates have blamed the delays on an increase in freight rail traffic across the northern part of the country, particularly oil trains coming out of North Dakota. Freight and passenger congestion in Chicago are other contributing factors.

In October, the westbound Empire Builder, No. 7, was on time just 6.5 percent of the time. The eastbound train, No. 8, was on time 19.4 percent. That’s a big improvement when compared to June of this year, when it had a zero percent on time rate.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said the length of delays has dropped slightly, especially when compared to last winter, when delays of 12 hours were not uncommon.

“The magnitude of the delays has been reduced, but we’re still not comfortable going back to the old schedule yet,” Magliari said.

On April 15, trains began leaving Seattle and Portland three hours earlier at 1:40 p.m. Railroad officials hoped the additional time would help the train arrive at its destinations closer to its advertised schedule.

However, the change has been frustrating to local businesses, according to Dylan Boyle, executive director of the Whitefish Visitors and Convention Bureau. He said the new schedule means early morning arrivals in Montana that are inconvenient for visitors, and fewer people are riding to Whitefish.

“We’re still the most popular station stop in Montana but our numbers are decreasing,” Boyle said.

Magliari said Amtrak understands the concerns of area businesses and said the railroad plans to re-evaluate the schedule after the holidays.

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Information from: Flathead Beacon, https://www.flatheadbeacon.com

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