Mr. Norman stated:
"The Milwaukee Road is used from Chi to Midway Station, StPaul."
**Actually, the Milwaukee Road was used from Chicago to Merriam Park, just west of downtown St. Paul. The Amtrak station was on the Minnesota Transfer Railroad, now Minnesota Commercial Railroad.
"River viewing is available for 115 some miles La Crescent to Mississippi Jct. "
**Well, I have a Milwaukee Road timetable covering this area, and can't find "Mississippi Jct.", so Mr. Norman will have to educate me. In any event, his statement is not entirely correct. It's 131 miles from La Crosse to St. Paul and the river is visible most of the way. There are places, like Winona and Lake City where the track is not by the river, but this is the general area where the river is visible. As information, Chicago-St. Paul passenger trains via La Crosse do not (nor have they ever) regularly operated via La Crescent. Westbound trains, upon departure from La Crosse, immediately have a river view as the train crosses the Black and Mississippi Rivers. Once they're crossed, the first station on the Minnesota side is Bridge Switch, which is the junction with a freight-only line to La Crescent. The next station is River Jct., and then so on up the river. La Crescent is on the ex-MILW (now ICE) line from River Jct. to Marquette, IA.
"I guess I note that today, the Milwaukee is part of the Canadian Pacific, but allow me to note that during my years (1970-81) with the MILW, "WE" were often recognized as the best Amtrak contractor out there!!!"
**As Paul Harvey would say: "Now for the REST of the story." I don't know what "best Amtrak contractor out there" entails because Mr. Norman chooses not to elaborate. Assuming he is speaking of OnTime performance, I would say this could be true in the 1970s, but by 1981, the Milwaukee Road was having dire financial problems (and its line west of Miles City, Montana had been abandoned). Track conditions systemwide suffered, and by this time the Empire Builder was not punctual. By the end of the 1980s (when it was then operated by the Soo Line), the Chicago-St. Paul track, especially west of Portage, Wisconsin, was definitely the Empire Builder's "weakest link"....so much so that during this time Amtrak actually threatened to operate the train via a faster, more stable Burlington Northern (ex-CB&Q) route via Aurora and East Dubuque, Illinois. While the first Amtrak Empire Builder in 1971 was allowed 7 hours 55 minutes for the 421 miles between Chicago and the ex-GN station in Minneapolis, by 1989, the schedule for the 417 miles between Chicago and St. Paul Midway Station was nearly 9 hours, and still this schedule was rarely met (the eastbound train at St. Paul was much more likely to be on time than the westbound even though it traveled over four times the distance). Because of this, patronage suffered along the whole route. For instance, arrival times for train 8 at the two busiest intermediate stations on the train's route, Whitefish and St. Paul, were prior to 600 AM in order that the train still arrive in Chicago in time for important connections to eastern trains. In the past decade or so, timekeeping has stabilized to the point where Canadian Pacific (which now operates most of the Chicago-St. Paul route) has excellent on time performance, though the westbound Empire Builder's 8 hour, 15 minute schedule between Chicago and St. Paul/Midway is hardly anything to brag about given the timing of the first Amtrak run on this route and that of Milwaukee Road's Hiawatha's which ran from Chicago to St. Paul in 6 hours 30 minutes to 7 hours, depending on the year.
One strength of the Chicago-St. Paul routing used today is patronage. The ex-Milwaukee route was chosen over the ex-Burlington Northern (CB&Q) route to serve Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but ridership is also strong at Columbus, Wisconsin Dells, La Crosse, and Winona. Interestingly, on the day before Amtrak Day (May 1, 1971), the former BN route actually enjoyed superior service as well as faster running times. While the Milwaukee Road line had but only one full-service passenger train in each direction daily, plus a coach-only mail train eastbound, BN offered two full-service passenger trains daily in both directions, plus an extra full-service westbound train on Fridays and Sundays.