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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