Next time you’re at a train crossing, waiting on a train, here’s how the track was laid.

Scott’s been in Grand Island, Nebraska, conducting a train on a Union Pacific track crew. They are putting down new track, picking up old track, digging up old wooden railroad ties and laying new concrete ties.

This is the old track and ties (pretty familiar looking, right?) Before the big machines come along, new track is delivered alongside the old. The new track is the rusty-looking track. The old track is shiny due to years of trains sliding over it, polishing the finish.

There are a zillion (only slightly exaggerated) train cars of new, concrete ties. An elevated machine picks up a slab of new ties, zips them down to where the Big Machine is ripping up the old, wooden ties – then the elevated machine brings the old ties back and loads them onto the designated train cars to take them away.

At another part of the train, a machine is picking up the old track (quarter of a mile long track), raising it and loading it onto grooved train cars that will take away the old track.

At yet another spot, the Big Machine is digging up the old ties onto a lower conveyor belt and placing them in a line for the elevated contraption to come pick them up after delivering the new concrete ties which are being simultaneously put in place.

After the big machines have picked up the old track and replaced the old ties, a different machine comes along behind them and picks up every new concrete tie, shakes it (allowing the rock to settle underneath it), and makes sure it is properly aligned.

It’s a process that is miles and miles long and includes hundreds of Union Pacific workers.

In the end, new track and concrete ties are awaiting many years of new service – holding up tons of trains carrying rather exceptionally cute train conductors.

Railroad track is simply laying on mounds of rock. They aren’t fastened or grounded to anything; tracks just sit on top of rock. The railroad ties keep the track in place. After the new track and ties are placed, the next 50 or so trains are restricted in speed to go over the new track slowly which helps sink them into place.

So even though occasionally a train may slow down your commute to work or may make you late for your child’s choir concert – at least now you can look at the train track and know how each of those ties are laid!

Sidenote: These huge track machines travel throughout the United States, laying new track where budget allows and the need is the greatest. Millions of dollars go into this process. When the track crew comes to these areas, it’s a huge boom to the local economy (which is generally a small town), bringing in hundreds of workers to their hotels and restaurants. — Personally, I am thankful for Union Pacific’s emphasis on safety. Trains are enormously heavy and very difficult to slow down. When things go wrong, they go terribly wrong. The safer the tracks the safer my husband!


3 thoughts on “Next time you’re at a train crossing, waiting on a train, here’s how the track was laid.

  1. Thanks for sharing this Greta! Seeing this is so bittersweet to me. I grew up with the RR about a quarter mile from my house. Every time we heard the whistle blow we got on our bikes and raced to the tracks to wave. We even had someone in the caboose throw us peanuts once! =) Then along came the days where the trains stopped coming and then they pulled up all the tracks. =( I live about 10 miles from where I grew up but am still close to the same RR. It makes for a beautiful walking path but I would much rather have the trains chugging along it. I love going downstate to my relatives where the trains still run and hearing their whistles blow in the quiet of the night =)

  2. My grandfather was a BNSF man longer than I have been alive . . . and even after all those years and questions I asked him I never knew how they did this. I do know that as I drive through Parkville and pee my pants when they blow the whistle I think of Scott and say a little prayer for his work.

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