Rail Ties 2020

Photos courtesy of Lincoln County Historical Museum’s collection of U.S. Army Signal Corps footage An African-American service member boards his departing Union Pacific Railroad troop train after visiting North Platte’s World War II Canteen in the former U.P. Depot in August 1945.

Permanently tied together North Platte and Bailey Yard remain synonymous, even after more than 70 years Kent Sievers / BH News Service The Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard, the world’s largest rail classification yard, stretches for more than eight miles through and west of North Platte.

tion period, to plat North Platte as a railroad “division point.” The geography behind Dodge’s decision and Bailey’s post-World War II development hasn’t changed, Person said. “Why is it here?” he said. “Location, location, location.” A July 18 statement by Union Pacific chief operating officer Jim Vena during a quarter- ly shareholder “earnings call” reiterated Bailey’s long-term im- portance to the railroad. “I think North Platte is go- ing to be there for a long time. We’re asking it to work harder, though,” Vena told the call’s lis- teners. “We’re putting more rail cars in there, and the cars they have, they (the workers) have to do them efficiently and we move them out.

on local estimates. Even so, the railroad remains North Platte’s largest employer — with something around 2,000 jobs today — as it has been since track gangs building America’s first transcontinental line ar- rived in November 1866. Bailey’s 2,850-acre area and daily volume of 14,000 railcars remain exponentially larger than the other seven remain- ing major classification yards in U.P.’s 23-state network. And in the northern half of that network — the part ac- counting for most of U.P.’s overall footprint before its 1996 merger with Southern Pacific — Bailey Yard remains one of a kind. It was the vast expanse of the valley near the forks of the Platte River that led Grenville M. Dodge, U.P. chief engineer during the 1865-69 construc-

of full-time-equivalent jobs during 2019, says Gary Person, president and CEO of the North Platte Area Chamber & Development Corp. Even with the impact of the Unified Plan 2020 efficiency drive, a key U.P. leader told him recently that “when you look at their entire system across the nation, 10% of it is at Bailey Yard,” Person said. “Therefore, it remains a criti- cal part of their operation. Look at the other yards that have closed. That just makes this a lot more valuable.” Anxiety grew among U.P. families and other residents as Bailey Yard’s workforce shrank by some 250 jobs last year, based

By TODD VON KAMPEN todd.vonkampen@nptelegraph.com A North Platte without Bailey Yard would seem almost incom- prehensible. Not quite as unimaginable, perhaps, as a city without any trace of the Union Pacific Railroad that platted it and made it a key servicing center from its moment of birth. But the presence of the world’s largest rail classification yard, which evolved between 1948 and 1980, has long been deemed pow- erful insurance that the city and Union Pacific will remain linked as long as railroads run. The evidence supports that belief even with U.P.’s system- wide elimination of thousands

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Todd von Kampen / The North Platte Telegraph During the second half of the 20th century, “pole lines” like these between Sutherland and Paxton accompanied both Union Pacific Railroad trains and U.S. Highway 30 motorists throughout Nebraska. The wires connecting the bottom crossarms carried U.P. “centralized traffic control” signals, while the two wires linking the short top cros- sarms transmitted electric power to keep the system working over the railroad’s sparsely populated stretches.

Like visiting old friends

If you visit the Lincoln County Historical Museum in North Platte, you’ll see a linked pair of three-tiered poles, brimming with insulators, next to the old Brady Island U.P. depot in the historical village. It’s a classic railroad pole-line setup, even though it doesn’t sport the Union Pacific “look.” My 2001 story quoted longtime railroad spokesman John Bromley as saying U.P. expected all the old pole lines to be gone by 2020. This year. But those iconic U.P. poles still stand, with wires still connect- ing most of them, from Sutherland west to Ogallala and beyond. A couple also can be seen near down- town North Platte. The single-tiered poles on the U.P. mainline’s south side, which disappeared years ago, carried telegraph and teletype messages. What accounted for the unique-looking pole lines on the north side? From their debut in the 1940s, they carried Union Pacific’s “centralized traffic control” sig- nals, connecting points from the Missouri River to the West Coast to dispatchers in Omaha. That short crossarm on top wasn’t a matter of style. But it was unique. Its wires carried 2,300 volts of electricity to power the CTC sys- tem along U.P.’s wide-open lines in the southwest deserts, an old Omaha signalman named Ray Lowry told me. By 2001, Bromley had said, buried fiber-optic lines were re- placing the bottom crossarm and newer rails, able to transmit elec- tricity, were taking over from the top crossarm.

One side of the tracks had gar- den-variety, single-crossarm poles. The poles on the other side had a unique short, two-“eye” crossarm above one or more long bars. In western Nebraska, Wyoming and many other places, the eyes on the short crossarm were mostly close together. From Gibbon east, for whatever reason, they were at or near the edges. But no matter where you were, you’d see fewer eyes between towns and increasing numbers of eyes and additional crossarms as you neared a town. What were they all for, I would wonder, besides carrying electri- cal signals? As an Omaha World-Herald re- porter 20 years ago, I found a professional excuse to find out while I still could. The World-Herald’s front page on April 6, 2001, carries a story of mine on what pole lines meant to railroads, why Union Pacific’s were unique and how they were slowly disappearing as radio and microwave signals, underground fiber-optic lines and even the rails themselves took their place. I found I wasn’t alone in being fascinated all those years. It all started, as one might ex- pect, with Samuel F.B. Morse’s first telegraph in 1844. Strangely enough, he had first tried under- ground cables — which needed more years to perfect — before turning to pole lines to transmit his signals. I talked to old U.P. and Burlington railroaders and folks who collected the green, brown and clear “eyes” that act as elec- trical insulators. I saw some of the old poles and crossarms preserved on farms and in museums.

I’m glad Union Pacific hasn’t totally gotten rid of my old child- hood friends. That needs a little explaining, even for readers older than me. From the late 1960s into the 1980s, our family in Ogallala of- ten drove U.S. Highway 30 along the U.P. mainline to shop in North

Platte or visit rel- atives in and near Grand Island and Hastings. Though we used still-new Interstate 80 for most of those trips, at least part of every drive — including on one vacation all the way to Oregon — took us along U.P. tracks somewhere. We loved the

Todd von Kampen

Todd von Kampen is the special projects reporter for the Telegraph.

trains, of course. But I was mesmer- ized by the “pole lines.” They weren’t unique to rail- roads, naturally. Telephone poles are basically gone now, but elec- trical poles still run through open land and along highways and county roads where they can share public rights of way. To me, at least, they had person- alities. The crossarms were the fac- es. The support brackets holding them on the poles were mouths. Glass “eyes,” whether few or many, carried the wires. I’ll let your imaginations run wild from there. But Union Pacific’s pole lines were unique among all the railroads I saw. And if homes or businesses sported U.P. calendars, their spec- tacular full-color train photos displayed them, too.

Todd von Kampen / The North Platte Telegraph Many of the Union Pacific Railroad’s distinc- tive trackside poles still stand in western Nebraska, though the march of time and 21st-century technolo- gy continue to reduce their number. Wires that once carried “centralized traffic control” signals droop from the insulators on this unusually tall pole on the edge of a roadside park along U.S. Highway 30 in downtown Sutherland.

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A day at North Platte’s Canteen

mander of Nebraska’s triumphant 134th Infantry Regiment. On July’s last day, a U.S. Army Signal Corps film crew arrived to capture a typical day’s serving at the Canteen. The photos here, also featured in The Telegraph’s 2019 book “Canteen: As It Happened,” were drawn from their work. They stuck around hoping to film North Platte’s celebration of victory — and were re- warded Aug. 14, when this newspaper’s “extra” banner headline shout- ed: “PEACE!” North Platte turned to serving the troops returning home. The Canteen’s daily customer count reached as high as 8,000 that fall. Its doors didn’t close until April 1, 1946. For 51 months, North Platte, the Union Pacific and an entire region joined to give some 6 mil- lion Canteen visitors the simplest of gifts: kind- ness. No one touched by the experience ever forgot.

By TODD VON KAMPEN todd.vonkampen@ nptelegraph.com Until 1945, the “V for Victory” sign — two raised fingers on one’s hand, dot-dot-dot-dash on the telegraph — ex- pressed defiance and hope for the Allied na- tions in World War II. It turned to trium- phant reality 75 years ago across the world and at the North Platte Canteen. In 1945, the city’s Union Pacific Depot and the Canteen’s thousands of volunteers served their highest number of troop trains and marked the biggest events at home and abroad. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt praised the Canteen by letter March 23, a year and a half af- ter President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a $5 bill to young Canteen fundrais- er Gene Slattery. May 8 was V-E Day, the final victory over Nazi Germany. June 25 witnessed a massive pa- rade for North Platte’s own Brig. Gen. Butler Miltonberger, com-

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1. Service members walk west from their Union Pacific troop train along the U.P. Depot platform to reach the North Platte Canteen. 2. After passing through the Canteen room’s dou- ble doors (now used at the Lincoln County Historical Museum’s main entrance), Canteen customers move along the serving line. 3. African-American service members enjoy the Canteen’s trademark coffee. 4. An example of the Canteen’s hearty fare. 5. Even though their train’s water stop was limit- ed to 10 to 20 minutes, service members routinely found room for plenty of home-cooked food from the Canteen’s tables. 6. All too soon, the Canteen’s latest service visitors have to rush from the depot to catch their departing train. 7. The Canteen’s “platform girls,” who boarded trains to serve service members not allowed to disembark, wave goodbye as a train resumes its westward trip.

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Photos courtesy of Lincoln County Historical Museum’s collection of U.S. Army Signal Corps footage

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UP, NP talk about developing rail park

Chamber president: ‘I’m encouraged by a little bit of progress that we’ve had’

— like Powder River Basin coal trains to and fromWyoming — passing through Bailey. PSR was followed by the loss of some 250 jobs at the North Platte yard, based on local es- timates, as the railroad has shed jobs systemwide and shut down some smaller hump yards. Developing a rail park at last, said Person and other chamber leaders, would pro- mote a non-railroad industrial job base to help cushion the lo- cal economy whenever Bailey’s employment dips. Person said local business leaders are seeking “to get some agreements in place” in order to move toward design of a Lincoln County rail park. But “it’s still going to take months down the road to get all this in place,” he said.

Bailey Yard as North Platte knows it took more or less its present form in 1968, though it continued to grow and evolve through the 1970s. Person, who became the North Platte chamber’s chief executive in 2015, said U.P. long feared a local rail park wouldn’t mesh well with Bailey’s structure and mis- sion. It wasn’t a deal-breaker, but “I think it was a (U.P.) philoso- phy that existed that not many people knew about,” he said. The railroad has shown more openness under its current rail-traffic model to lo- cating a rail park somewhere in the county, Person said. U.P.’s Precision Scheduled Railroading concept, unveiled in 2018, stresses “on-time de- livery” and fewer “unit trains”

While U.P. would not devel- op the rail park, its leaders are helping Lincoln County business leaders “explore po- tential locations suitable for an industrial park,” said rail- road spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza. At least unofficially, Person said, the absence of a rail park near North Platte or even in Lincoln County has been the tradeoff for hosting the 50-year linchpin of U.P.’s 32,340-mile system. Bailey Yard’s roots go back to 1948, when the railroad opened its first “retarder yard” on the city’s west edge. Retired U.P. President and North Platte native WilliamM. Jeffers, then still on the rail- road’s board, helped steer that initial investment to his home- town.

dustrial park might go, said Gary Person, president and CEO of the North Platte Area Chamber and Development Corp. About all that can be said, he said, is the obvious: It can’t be at or right next to Bailey Yard, the reason there hasn’t been such an industrial area before now. “What we’re working on right now is smaller than what we usually think of as a rail park. It won’t be like Bailey Yard,” Person said. “But I’m encouraged by a lit- tle bit of progress that we’ve had, and the cooperation (with Union Pacific) has been very good.”

By TODD VON KAMPEN todd.vonkampen@nptelegraph.com Locating industries near rail- road lines — the better to easily unload supplies and load fin- ished products — has been a natural move almost every- where trains run. Everywhere, that is, except in the orbit of the world’s largest railroad yard. That may finally be about to change in Lincoln County, where North Platte-area busi- ness leaders have opened talks with the Union Pacific Railroad about finding a place to develop a “rail park.” It’s too early to even guess where such a rail-connected in-

Todd von Kampen / The North Platte Telegraph Beginning in the 1940s, the Union Pacific Railroad’s uniquely designed “pole lines” beckoned and even inspired the imaginations of train riders and nearby motorists across the railroad’s pre-1980s network from the Missouri River to the West Coast. These classic two-tier poles head westward just outside Ogallala alongside two pio- neering transcontinental routes: the U.P. mainline and U.S. Highway 30, the original Lincoln Highway.

But they weren’t in place everywhere in 2001. The pole lines still FRIENDS from Page D2

in place west of North Platte were still carrying electrical power at that time. As I drove U.S. 30 west toward Ogallala recently,

I saw one stretch where only the short top cross- arm remained. But most still have the old look. As I was taking pho-

tos for this story, a man in Sutherland remind- ed me how railroad fans will turn out along the tracks when U.P.’s grand old steam locomotives —

my mother took me to a relative’s funeral near Grand Island. Maybe that’s when I first noticed those pole lines. I don’t recall. But I’m glad they lin- gered long enough to greet our own fami- ly four years ago, when we left Omaha after 19 years to be western Nebraskans once more.

Nos. 844, 3985 and now “Big Boy” 4014 — escape the Cheyenne steam shop to run the mainline. U.S. 30 was the Lincoln Highway in the old steamers’ hey- day. So many motorists saw those pole lines. So many train passengers, too. I got to ride a U.P. pas- senger train once, in 1968, when I was 4 and

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Railroaders link up with the community By TODD VON KAMPEN todd.vonkampen@nptelegraph.com Union Pacific laid out the those who remained to build the railroad’s first round- house, shops and hotel after Jack and Dan Casement’s con- the town’s ultimate railroader made good. But Jeffers never forgot road families deeply involved in churches, service clubs and union halls.

elected at the same time in 2012 and re-elected in 2016, the year Morrell began a four-year stint as school board presi- dent. Nicholson won his school board seat in 2018, just before Baker resigned from the coun- cil after moving outside city limits. For both Baker and Morrell, who isn’t seeking a third school board term, helping

You’ll find the same spirit in North Platte’s 2020 railroad- ers, no matter whether they wear white or blue collars. Three of them were elected to local public office over the past decade: Mike Morrell and Mark Nicholson, both North Platte school board members, and former City Councilman Brook Baker. Morrell and Baker were

North Platte, lending criti- cal aid to both its wartime canteens. Even after retir- ing as U.P. president in 1946, he helped to plant the seeds of today’s Bailey Yard as a U.P. board member. When Wilson rallied North Platte to launch the Canteen — and when she grew ill and Christ took over — they drew on an intimate network of rail-

frame of North Platte, but its people have long pitched in on the finishing work. Whether they grew up here or came from elsewhere, the U.P. employees you’ll find in community groups or lo- cal government continue a 154-year-old tradition of differ- ence-makers. Their roster starts with

struction crews pressed on toward Utah in the spring of 1867. Many North Platte U.P. em- ployees might identify more with World War II Canteen commanders Rae Wilson and Helen Christ — respectively the daughter and wife of rail- roaders — than with 56-year employee William M. Jeffers,

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measure of rail car ar- rival times. It rose from 67% in the last quarter of 2018 to 76% a year later. Over the same peri- od, U.P. reduced the time shipments sat idle in rail yards by 13%, she said. But last year’s closure or curtailment of small- er “hump yards” — and the high-profile suspen- sion of construction on a new one — were driv- en in some cases by both traffic and proximity, Espinoza said. Neff and Armourdale yards in the Kansas City area, shut down in October and January re- spectively, were only 10 miles apart. U.P. trans- ferred their functions to a third Kansas City yard, the 18th Street Yard. A similar shift took place in Houston, where Englewood Yard picked up much of the switching operations of Settegast Yard, also only about 10 miles away. Davidson Yard in Fort Worth, Texas, also is no longer performing hump- ing operations. But 2019’s most notable shift in U.P. strategy was April’s halt in building the $550 million Brazos Yard between Dallas and Houston.

locomotives were idled, and U.P. has run fewer “unit trains” of a single type of rail car — such as coal trains to and from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin — in favor of more “mixed trains” assem- bled to bypass at least some yards. Espinoza said the plan’s first-year suc- cess can be measured by U.P.’s system-wide “trip plan car compliance,” a

Brazos, slated to cover 1,875 acres, represent- ed U.P.’s largest single planned capital invest- ment in its history when work started in January 2018, the railroad said at the time. But though Brazos would have been “one of the highest capacity yards” on the U.P. sys- tem, its estimated sorting capacity of 1,300 cars per day would have been less than 10% of Bailey Yard’s average volume. “Brazos Yard is a good example of how plans change based on operat- ing and customer needs,” Espinoza said. The U.P. spokeswom- an said a Jan. 23 Wall Street Journal story in- correctly interpreted the railroad’s public employ- ment figures to mean U.P. expects another round of substantial job cuts in 2020. Railroad officials said during their most recent earnings call that they expect the system to av- erage 34,500 full-time equivalent jobs this year, Espinoza said. That compares with full-year FTE averages of 41,967 in 2018 and 37,483 for 2019, as reported in U.P.’s 2019 annual report

hind Unified Plan 2020, U.P. spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza said, was that “our operat- ing plan made it difficult to meet shipment arriv- al times” before the plan was unveiled in October 2018. To better meet custom- er expectations, she said, the plan shifted the rail- road’s operational focus from trains to rail cars. Trains grew longer as

to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. But Espinoza said the railroad’s FTE average for 2019’s final quar- ter totaled 34,563, only slightly above the 34,500 estimate for all of 2020. She declined to discuss expectations for Bailey Yard employment this year, citing U.P.’s policy against providing loca- tion-specific numbers. But even with last year’s changes un- der Unified Plan 2020, “hump yards make sense when they efficient- ly handle a lot of cars that have to be there,” Espinoza said. Person, who just fin- ished a three-year term on the LincUP board of community members and Bailey Yard leaders, said North Platte’s long record of success as the U.P. system’s linchpin bodes well for its long- term future. “You’ve got a lot of pride at Bailey Yard,” he said. “Those guys have the most efficient yard in the U.P. system. ... “They actually com- pete with other yards in the system, and the more efficiency they have, the more traffic they get through here.”

“They are setting re- cords today on how fast they are able to switch cars and get them through the complex. I expect that to improve substantially. We’ve got some smart people out there who are able to do that.” A major impetus be-

Union Pacific Railroad continues to pump life into Lincoln County

jobs are factored in. » As a percentage of Lincoln County’s 2018 “gross regional prod- uct” — the value added by all local businesses to their goods and ser- vices — the rail industry accounted for 24.8% to 25.2% of the direct total and 30.4% to 30.8% when one counts secondary employment. » The rail industry’s total “cen- trally assessed” real estate and personal property in Lincoln County had a 2019 taxable value of $514,518,692, 10.3% of the county’s to- tal valuation. The industry’s valuation accounts for $1,577,823 in property taxes to support Lincoln County govern- ment, based on the county’s certified 2019 tax rate of 30.667 cents per $100 of taxable value. Except for the property tax fig- ures, NPPD’s estimates are based on information in a database and mod- eling software package it subscribes to. Actual employment figures for the county’s railroad industry were not available, Lemke said. — Todd von Kampen

Even 150 years and more later, the Union Pacific Railroad — signed into being by Abraham Lincoln in 1862 — pumps economic life into the Nebraska county bearing his name. Economists with the Nebraska Public Power District have as- sembled the following figures on the railroad industry’s impact on Lincoln County: » Total direct railroad employ- ment in 2018 was about 1,600, between 6.5% and 7% of the county’s total workforce. U.P. accounts for most — but not all — of the county’s railroad indus- try, said NPPD economist Kenneth Lemke. » Railroad-related employment roughly doubled, to between 13.5% and 14%, when one counts “second- ary employment” arising from sales by businesses in the county to the railroad industry and households employed by it and its suppliers. » The rail industry accounted for 17.5% to 20% of all 2018 wages and benefits paid to county residents. That rises to between 23% and 23.5% when pay and benefits for secondary

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He got to know many people as a council- man — “my phone never stopped ringing,” he said — but also became aware how many fellow U.P. em- ployees were part of the community’s fabric. Several belong with him to North Platte’s Disabled American Veterans chapter, said Baker, an Army National Guard veteran who served two tours in Iraq and recently became lo- cal DAV commander. “There’s a lot (who are) members of the oth- er clubs in town,” such as the Elks Lodge, the United Way and youth sports leagues, he added. Among the peo- ple whose U.P. careers brought them to North Platte, some found their way into community activities through an un- usual 20-year-old group. LincUP, founded in 1999, brings six top Bailey Yard leaders together with 19 com- munity members every fourth Monday of the month except in June and December. Lorre McKeone, a North Platte professional training and facilita- tion consultant, has been LincUP’s facilitator since its founding under a con- tract with the railroad. None of the non-U.P. members can serve more than three years, she said. “We’ve cycled through a lot of people from different parts of the community.” Promoting “open dia- logue on health, safety and environmental issues” at the yard re- mains LincUP’s prime mission, she said. “It’s helped the rail- road understand what the community’s all about, and it allows the community to get an- swers from the railroad guys.” But it’s drawn LincUP’s railroad li- aisons closer to North

their hometown was their first motivation to get involved. When he first ran for council in 2010 and suc- ceeded in 2012, “it was more because I’d been here my whole life and wanted to do something for the community,” said Baker, 37, a U.P. machin- ist for nearly 13 years. Four years later, “a lot of guys (at the railroad) talked me into running for a second term,” said the 2001 North Platte High School graduate. Morrell, 45, hired on as a U.P. machinist three years after his 1993 NPHS graduation. Now in Bailey Yard’s risk management division, he and Baker are veteran youth sports coaches. Morrell’s path to public service ran through the former Hall Elementary School. He and his wife, Marcie, served together in Hall’s Parent-Teacher Organization and still work with young people at North Platte’s Berean Church. When former school board member Jean Anderson stepped down, he said, Hall’s principal said at a PTO meeting that “if anyone was in- terested in the school board, it was time to put in for it. “All the fingers point- ed at me,” added Morrell, a past Hall PTO presi- dent. Though he’s stepping back because his two children are nearing adulthood, Morrell has been proud of boosting the school district’s part- nerships with business and encouraging “ca- reer academies” within NPHS, he said. Baker, who has a 12-year-old son, Kayden, said he might run for lo- cal office again though not in 2020.

Photo courtesy of LincUP Seven members of LincUP, a North Platte liaison group between the community and the Union Pacific Railroad, were recognized Jan. 27 for three years of service on the 25-member panel as their terms expired. Shown are (front row, from left) Gary Person, president and CEO of North Platte Area Chamber & Development Corp.; Kelly Bruns, director of the University of Nebraska’s West Central Research and Extension Center; and Jenn Kleewein, who represented the North Platte Home Builders Association; and (back row, from left) Christina Quindt, director of industrial safety, planning and integration at U.P. headquarters in Omaha; rancher and former state Sen. Tom Hansen; Bruce Richman, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Preferred Group; Craig Freeburg, regional manager of Mentzer Oil Co., and John Hall, U.P. superintendent of terminal operations at Bailey Yard. Not shown is Josh Bedlan, a commercial and agribusiness banker at First National Bank of North Platte.

Platte, too. Some were more arm’s- length in the early years, McKeone said, but more recent U.P. members have joined communi- ty boards like those at Great Plains Health and the North Platte Area Chamber & Development Corp. For its part, U.P. helped facilitate develop- ment of the Golden Spike Tower & Visitor Center and has provided grants for community proj- ects through the Union Pacific Foundation, she added. “The management re- ally does see their role not just as running a business but being part of the community,” McKeone said. LincUP’s regular meet- ings at North Platte Community College’s North Campus are open to the public, starting

unique that only North Platte has when it comes to LincUP because of the huge presence of Bailey Yard.” Not to mention the gen- erations of North Platte railroaders who came be- fore.

moved to North Platte from Sidney in 2015. “Their openness about all of the issues sur- rounding the railroad was refreshing. We saw the operation from the inside out,” Person said. “This is something

with a 10-minute public comment period at 5:15 p.m. Chamber President and CEO Gary Person, who just finished his three-year LincUP term, said the group was in- valuable to him after he

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