Upon pulling into town we discovered that the Midwest town of North Platte, NE just so happens to be home to the largest railroad yard in the WORLD! This deserves a visit! The Union Pacific Rail Road (UPRR) has had its Bailey Yard here for decades (Trains started coming through North Platte officially in 1867). Named after a former UPRR president, some of the stats on the Bailey Yard are staggering:
- Handles 14,000 rail cars every 24 hours
- The yard is 8 miles long by 1.5 miles wide
- At the widest part of the yard you’ll find 301 sets of rails
- The yard employs over 200 people which I actually find to be a small number given the scale of this place
- There is a service center area in the yard for working on the rail cars and it tends to 9,000 locomotives each month!
- As you can imagine this sort of operation can’t just shut down, so it operates 24 hours a day, every day.
The rail yard has a wonderful visitor center that incorporates an eight story tower with an observation deck so you can get up above it all for a good view. As we looked out over the entire yard, we were surprised at the lack of movement among the trains. With that much going on you would think there would be trains moving everywhere, but I think the key to this sort of operation is slow and steady. There wasn’t a lot moving, but there was always something moving. And when you are dealing with that many trains at an average length of 100 cars per train, you can be sure they know exactly which ones are moving and when. One of the coolest discoveries was the way this yard changes cars between trains. Naively I tend to think that a train pulls into a yard and maybe switches tracks but then heads out in another direction just as it came in. Well this doesn’t sound very effective. In reality, different cars come from different areas and need to be mixed into other trains to get to their final destination. The Bailey Yard uses “hump” yards to disconnect cars from one train and send them off on a different track (“bowl” track) to hook up to another train. And all of this happens without the train coming to a complete stop! And most of the process is computerized! It was fascinating to watch.From the historical information at the visitor center to the various accounts from past and current employees, it was easy to see that the Bailey Yard was and continues to be a huge part of the North Platte community. In an age where the average worker changes jobs multiple times over his/her career, it was refreshing to see numerous accounts of folks retiring after 40-50 years with UPRR and taking some much deserved time off after a very rewarding career.
- A locomotive has a small nozzle in front of its wheels that sprays sand on the tracks so the wheels can get added traction on the slippery rails.
- The large diesel engines that are part of modern locomotives are just a part of why the trains can move. These diesel engines power a main alternator which provides the electric power responsible for turning the wheels. Not too unlike the small train sets that we set up under our Christmas Trees which just run off of electric.
- This picture was hanging on the wall in the Visitor Center and illustrates just how heavy one of these engines is…wow!