Monday, November 17, 2014

The Largest Rail Yard in the World!

I really enjoy airplanes, autos, trucks and trains… Laurie and I have visited many, many automotive, aircraft and train exhibits or museums and we’ve taken photos of a plethora of railroad depots. 

Some time ago we visited Folkston Georgia.  Folkston is one of the premier train watching locales in the USA…and its home to the “Folkston Funnel”.   The "Funnel" is a double track which serves as the main artery for railroad traffic into and out of Florida.  There is a public viewing platform for true ‘railheads’.  Check it out at

On this trip, we were wandering around south central Nebraska.  My research into sights and attractions had revealed a major ‘railhead’ site in North Platte!

Yes…that is a giant viewing tower or platform.  The upper level is glassed in and the level just below the top is open.  From this tower, visitors can view the Union Pacific Railroad’s “Bailey Yard” in action.

The structures shown comprise the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center.   The upper level is 8 stories high.  The Visitor Center itself includes Union Pacific Railroad and Nebraska memorabilia and educational displays as well as a gift shop with a large selection of souvenirs.

This is Union Pacific’s locomotive service, maintenance and repair facility at this enormous rail yard.   This locomotive fueling and servicing center handles more than 8,500 locomotives per month.  It has a locomotive repair shop that can repair 750 locomotives monthly, and a car repair facility that handles nearly 50 cars daily.  The car repair shop replaces 10,000 pairs of wheels each year.


·       UP developed a method for changing wheels in the field on empty westbound coal trains, which enables 3 workers to use a hydraulic jack under the couplers between 2 cars and exchange the trucks (wheel assemblies). This has reduced the time needed to replace trucks from up to 12 days to just 8–12 minutes.

·       Locomotives can be serviced in a NASCAR-like pit stop facility staffed by five crew members—an electrician, machinist, fireman, oiler and car inspector.  Locomotives are serviced in 45 minutes without detaching them from their trains.

This is the Golden Spike dining car #4613 which is located just to one side of the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center.  It’s a beauty…  This vintage dining car is currently being renovated.  When it’s completed, the car will take visitors back to the romance of passenger trains with both the look and feel of a real railroad dining car with all the amenities.

The name “Golden Spike” was chosen because North Platte is where East meets West on Union Pacific’s rail line – just as East met West in Promontory Summit, Utah when the Transcontinental Railroad was built.  It was there that the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads met and drove the Golden Spike to open up the west.

The idea of the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center was first conceived in the mid-1990's as Union Pacific’s viewing platform was falling into disrepair. North Platte community leaders thought it would be a good idea to erect a tower that would allow visitors to get a birds-eye view of Bailey Yard. The Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center opened in June, 2008.

The Bailey Yard is huge! (You really need to enlarge these photos to appreciate its size) This massive rail and classification yard covers 2,850 acres, and it reaches a total length of eight miles.  Put end-to-end, Bailey Yard’s 315 miles of track would reach from North Platte in western Nebraska east past Omaha on the Iowa border along the Missouri River.  This Union Pacific rail yard has over 2,500 employees…in a town that has a population of roughly 25,000!

This huge rail yard and rail car sorting facility is called the “Bailey Yard”.  It was named after Edd Bailey, whose leadership led to the expansion and development of this rail complex. Bailey started with the Union Pacific in 1921 as a helper in the car repair shop.  He worked as a blacksmith, loaded mail cars, served as a brakeman, conductor, special police agent and trainmaster as he rose up through the ranks.  In 1965, he was named as the President of the railroad.  He retired from the Board of Directors in 1974, after 53 years of service!

The numbers that are involved when talking about this rail yard are staggering.  Every 24 hours, Bailey Yard handles at least 10,000 railroad cars and 150 trains!  Among the other traffic, each day 34 loaded coal trains head east and 34 empty coal trains head west for another load.

Of the rail cars, 3,000 are sorted daily in the yard’s eastward and westward yards, nicknamed “hump” yards.  Using a mound cresting 34 feet for eastbound trains and 20.1 feet for those heading west, these two hump yards allow four cars a minute to roll gently into any of 114 “bowl” tracks where they become part of trains headed for dozens of destinations.  Together, these two yards have 18 receiving and 16 departure tracks.

This postcard gives one a better idea as to the vast expanse of Union Pacific’s North Platte rail yard and classification facility.  At its widest point, 301 tracks run parallel to each other!  

If you’re interested in railroads, transportation or just massive man made complexes, this is a must stop when passing through Nebraska.  Docents and employees at the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center are mostly retired Union Pacific employees or employees of ancillary businesses.  They are really ‘into’ this important part of their lives and they are eager to share their knowledge.

The Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center is located at 1249 North Homestead Road in North Platte, Nebraska.  Phone: 308-532-9920.  To learn more about the Bailey Yard and the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center, go to   This attraction is also on Facebook at:

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit! 

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave   


  1. thanks for all of the info Dave- it is huge and I like that they have a tower for visitors. That last shot is awesome. With 2500 employees and the other services the RR buys, I can envision North Platte being a well off town.

  2. Informative post. I had to tell Bill about this since he worked for the RR for 37 years and traveled to all the railroads and numerous rail yards. He says the most scenic one then was the DRGW Railroad in Salt Lake City, Utah.

  3. Look really amazing David, Beautiful shots!!