April 2002

My essay, Why Watch Trains?

I present here are a few photos from my trip to Union Pacific's Overland Route, the historic segment of railroad that handles most of UP's traffic from Chicago to the West Coast. The trip started in Omaha, with a visit to the Harriman Dispatching Center, guided by a friend who is a train dispatcher there. Union Pacific controls a good portion of its 38,000 miles of U.S. trackage from the HDC, which features an underground concrete-lined bunker that houses the UP dispatchers and support personnel. The HDC is worth an essay in itself, and I would like to write more about this aspect of the trip when I get more time.

From Omaha, the journey proceeded west through North Platte and Cheyenne, following the railroad most of the way along US 30. Powder River coal is the main commodity here, making the triple-track CTC mainline between North Platte and Gibbon, Nebraska, one of the busiest in the world.

A westbound UP empty coal train approaching Missouri Valley, IA. The two main tracks here are both CTC, supporting traffic in both directions, but westbound trains coming off the Chicago and Northwestern are often still running the left track.

Empty coal train at Ames, NE.

On the triple track near Overton, NE. These two trains, both traveling at about 60 MPH, paralleled each other for roughly 15 miles before one was finally slowed by traffic ahead.

A manifest and intermodal train pass at Cozad, NE. The triple track has new concrete ties, which are supposedly more cost effective and last longer than wood ties.

A westbound coal train east of North Platte.

Westbound intermodal train near Bushnell, NE.

Westbound auto train east of Cheyenne.

The Overland Route features lots of coal traffic with intermodal, mixed freight, and grain traffic thrown in as well. Being passed by an intermodal train gliding across the barren landscape at 70 MPH serves as a reminder of the continuing importance of rail transportation to our nation. The railroads are a success story of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, and in few places is that more apparent than the breadbasket of central Nebraska.

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