- Empire Builder
Wenatchee owes its continued existence in part to the railroad. As a stop along the Great Northern Railway (which arrived to the city in 1892), it became one of several important nexuses connecting lines in the US to destinations in Canada. The Cascade and Columbia route, built in 1914, was originally an offshoot of the Great Northern that reached all the way to Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia.
The Empire Builder did not start operation until World War 1, but since its inception it has been one of the most popular routes in the country. Today, it is considered one of Amtrak’s best long-distance lines. When you consider both its luxury (the train is one of the last to still feature a full-service dining car, with meals included in the price of a roomette) and its service to some of the most remote areas of the country in Montana and, say, Washington, it’s easy to see why it remains such a popular train today.
Wenatchee’s LINK transit bus service has emerged as an essential service in the area, serving two Empire Builder stops (Wenatchee and Leavenworth) in the process. When transit service began in 1991, fares were free, which allowed many locals to get a taste for what the service could provide. Gradually, improvements were added. The bus center was built in 1997 and provides a cafe and waiting area for those looking to get out of the cold winters and hot summers typical for the area. Today, a fare is $5 roundtrip to get to the most remote destinations of the service.
When LINK transit was first proposed, one of its revenue sources was supposed to be a motor vehicle excise tax levied by the state. The tax was repealed in 1998, and so the agency implemented a fare in February of 2000. The other major funding stream comes from a local sales tax, which means that the success of the bus service is tied to the local economy as a whole. Luckily, times have been good, and starting at the beginning of July service hours have been extended until about 8 pm. However, there are more improvements still needed, and so LINK hopes to pass a new measure increasing Wenatchee’s sales tax to fund other desired services, like more weekend hours and an expanded footprint in the region.