From the eight-story Golden Spike Tower in North Platte, Nebraska, visitors to Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard, the world’s largest rail yard, watch all the action. Rail buffs can spend hours watching the trains from the seventh-floor open-air observation deck, a perfect place to take photos, or from the enclosed eighth-floor observation deck, where someone is always on hand to answer questions. Trains come into the yard where the cars are reclassified, hooked to a train and sent on their way. To give you an idea of how large the Bailey Yard operation is, here is a breakdown of the numbers:
- North Platte, the midpoint for Union Pacific trains running from Chicago to Salt Lake City or from Denver to Omaha, became a major repair facility in 1867.
- The yard is 8 miles long and 1.5 to 2 miles wide with 301 sets of rails set on 2,850 acres.
- 2600 employees work in the 24 x 7 operation.
- 150 trains come through the yard each day, and 10,000 cars a day are reclassified.
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- Up to 750 engines can be serviced in the locomotive repair shop each month.
- 1500 cars are humped each day. The yard has two humps, each raised 34 feet. Individual cars roll down the hump onto into the bowl tracks, where they are connected to the train for their outbound destination.
- The largest consumer of diesel fuel, the yard uses between 14 million and 17 million gallons of diesel fuel per month. Two fuel storage tanks are fed by a 14-inch pipeline that comes in from Kansas.
- Every locomotive carries nine cubic yards of sand, with some double that amount. The sand is needed to gain traction. A computerized system drops the sand onto the rail during starts, stops and climbing grade in the mountains.
Rail buff or not it’s interesting to see the operation, starting with the orientation film on the first floor of the visitor center. Beware, though, if you have a rail buff with you, it will be difficult to reel him out of the Golden Spike Tower.
The Golden Spike Tower, located at 1249 North Homestead Road in North Platte, Nebraska, is open seven days a week. Check the web site for hours and admission fees.
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