Rail yard

Night view of part of Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway yard at Kansas City, Kansas. March 1943.
A large Amtrak and Metra coach yard in Chicago, IL. About 25 percent of all rail traffic in the United States travels through the Chicago area.
Yard for Amtrak equipment, located next to the Los Angeles River. The two tracks on the left are the mainline.

A rail yard, railway yard or railroad yard is the US term for a complex series of railroad tracks for storing, sorting, or loading/unloading, railroad cars and/or locomotives. Railroad yards have many tracks in parallel for keeping rolling stock stored off the mainline, so that they do not obstruct the flow of traffic. Railroad cars are moved around by specially designed yard switchers, a type of locomotive. Cars in a railroad yard may be sorted by numerous categories, including railroad company, loaded or unloaded, destination, car type, or whether they need repairs. Railroad yards are normally built where there is a need to store cars while they are not being loaded or unloaded, or are waiting to be assembled into trains. Large yards may have a tower to control operations.[1]:46

Many railway yards are located at strategic points on a main line. Main line yards are often composed of an Up yard and a Down yard, linked to the associated railroad direction. There are different types of yards, and different parts within a yard, depending on how they are built.

Freight yards

For freight cars, the overall yard layout is typically designed around a principal switching (US term) or shunting (UK) technique:

Sorting yard basics

Main article: classification yard

In the case of all classification or sorting yards, human intelligence plays a primary role in setting a strategy for the 'switching operations', the fewer times coupling operations need be made, the less distance traveled, the faster the operation, the better the strategy and the sooner the newly configured consist can be joined to its outbound train.  

A hump classification type of yard the photographer is positioned near where cars are decoupled and begin to accelerate down hill past a scale, the speed regulation (retarder brakes and speed sensors) device shown in the foreground adjust the car speed for the calculated soft-coupling on arrival along the sorting track for the consist it is being routed to join.
Smaller local hydraulic "Dowty retarders" finesse the speed of a car being sorted as it approaches a switch or the new consists to which it is being joined.

Yard nomenclature and components

A large freight yard complex may include the following components:

Freight yards may have multiple industries adjacent to them where railroad cars are loaded or unloaded and then stored before they move on to their new destination.

Major freight yards in the U.S. include the Bailey Yard in North Platte, Nebraska, operated by Union Pacific Railroad; Conway Yard near Pittsburgh, operated by Norfolk Southern Railway; and the Corwith Yards (Corwith Intermodal Facility) in Chicago, operated by BNSF Railway.

Major U.K. goods yards (freight) include those in Crewe, Reading and Bescot, near Walsall; which are operated by DB Schenker and Freightliner.

Coach yards

A coach yard in Shanghai, China

Coach yards are used for sorting, storing and repairing passenger cars. These yards are located in metropolitan areas near large stations or terminals. An example of a major U.S. coach yard is Sunnyside Yard in New York City, operated by Amtrak. Those that are principally used for storage, such as the West Side Yard in New York, are called "layup yards"[3] or "stabling yards."

Major U.K. coach stabling yards include those in Crewe and Longsight, Manchester; which are operated by various regional train companies.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Edwin Kraft, "The Yard: Railroading's Hidden Half." Trains Magazine, Vol. 62, No. 6, June 2002.
  2. The Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad was builder and operator of Mountain Top Yard, whereas both were leased to the CNJ, rents and ownership being retained by the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company.
  3. Chicago-L.org. "42nd Place Terminal." Accessed 2013-08-30.

Further reading

  • Armstrong, John H. (1998). The Railroad: What It Is, What It Does (4th ed.). Omaha, NE: Simmons-Boardman. ISBN 978-0-911382-04-4. 
  • Farrington, Jr., S. Kip (1958). Railroads of the Hour. New York: Coward-McCann. 
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