Monday – August 26, 2013
Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard
We visited the Golden Spike Tower and Visitors Center today. This visitor center, eight stories high, provides a panoramic view of the Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard in North Platte, Nebraska. It is considered the world’s largest train yard. Whether you are a railroad buff or not, this is a fascinating place to visit. Admission fees are $7.00 for adults, $6.00 for senior citizens and $5.00 for children.
Bailey Yard’s massive rail network handles 10,000 rail cars every day on 2,850 acres of land stretching out eight miles. Over 100 separate trains roll through this massive area every day.
Bailey Yard never closes. Mondays and Tuesdays are it’s busiest days because the largest number of East Coast-bound and West Coast-bound trains start their cross-country journeys on Fridays. In general, trains will stop through Bailey Yard for about an hour to be refueled, to pick up sand that is used to gain traction on slippery steel tracks, and to get maintenance service.
One of the most important operations at Bailey Yard is separating rail cars coming from a wide variety of destinations into others heading for a large number of other destinations. If, for example, a train pulls into North Platte from Salt Lake City, each of its cars may have a different destination, with cities like Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, and others on the manifest. That's where the East hump comes into play.
On one side of Bailey Yard, a 34-foot-mound rises to a small plateau. There, locomotives push trains full of rail cars to the top, where workers manually separate the cars and send them slowly, and individually, downhill onto one of 64 different "bowl" tracks. Each track has a designated destination, and the cars roll gently, at 4 miles an hour or less onto those tracks where they connect with other cars heading to the same cities.
There's a similar hump for west-bound traffic, but because the bulk of the cargo Union Pacific hauls is heading east, the West hump is a smaller operation. Its mound, for example, is just 20 feet high.
Some trains don't need to be sorted. Known as "unit cars," these are trains carrying a single kind of cargo going to a single destination. Instead of being routed through the hump, they are put through Bailey Yard's giant service track, where they are re-fueled, filled with sand, and sent on their way.
The average train that rolls through Bailey Yard is about 100 cars long, hauling all kinds of cargo. If it travels by rail, the people who work at Bailey Yard have seen it. Even the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus comes through several times a year.
Bailey Yard is so large that it has 315 total miles of track and 766 turnouts. Each month, it services 8,500 and repairs 1,200 locomotives, and uses 18 million gallons of diesel fuel. It has 18 tracks for nothing but coal trains that have to sit idle for a while.
The massive locomotives actually run on electricity. The big diesel engines aboard the locomotives turn a generator, which in turn produces electricity. The electricity runs the electric motors that turn the wheels. Much like an electric train set, the engineer adjusts the amount of the electricity going to the wheel motors to control engine speed.
Bailey Yard is a wonderful place to visit. The sheer volume of trains inside the yard at any one time is mind boggling, yet every day, this facility manages the logistics of servicing hundreds of trains.
Our adventure continues!