Dan Czech clearly remembers the first time he laid eyes on Union Pacific's Bailey Yard. "I flew out here at night. I looked out the window and said, 'That must be the city of North Platte.' They said, 'No, that's the rail yard.'" The young terminal manager, who once taught Navy SEALs how to parachute, was speechless. "We do in this yard what other railroads do in three to four terminals."
Running this giant complex requires a city of 2,600 engineers, mechanics, welders, inspectors, and more. Its status as the "world's largest" railroad classification yard is well-known, but with a train bearing down on the terminal every 14 minutes, nothing dare sit on those 300-plus tracks for too long. If this yard starts to clog, problems will ripple out across the entire north half of the Union Pacific Railroad.
If Omaha, Neb., is the brains of Union Pacific, then Bailey Yard — 8 miles long and 2 miles wide — is the railroad's heart, pumping out 120 to 140 trains a day. It sits in the middle of a big "X," where traffic from Chicago and Kansas City comes together (feeding into the yard on a 108-mile, triple-track line across Nebraska), then fans out to Wyoming's coal fields or population centers on the Pacific Coast.
One out of 10 road freights run each day by the Union Pacific passes through Bailey Yard, either to be broken up and reclassified, or serviced, inspected, and sent on its way under schedules as tight as 90 minutes. Half the westbound coal trains get a fresh set of power before heading to the mines, and any ailing cars or locomotives are swapped out and nursed back to health. "Nobody says, 'What do we do next?'" says one track department employee.Railroads included in this map:
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