OMAHA, Neb. — Twenty-five years ago on Aug. 16, the first Union Pacific and former Chicago & North Western (C&NW) coal train moved out of Wyoming’s Southern Powder River Basin (SPRB) coal field over a new 107-mile rail line connecting Union Pacific to the region. The C&NW merged with Union Pacific in 1995.
Since the line was opened between Joyce, Neb., and Shawnee Junction, Wyo., in 1984, several milestones have been met including the operation of the 100,000th train March 17, 2001, and the movement of the 200,000th loaded coal train May 10, 2009, out of the SPRB.
“Capital investment in our coal corridor clearly has paid dividends for our customers over the past 25 years and has brought abundant, low-cost, low-sulfur coal to U.S. electrical power plants. Operating the 200,000th train over the connector line during the 25th anniversary year of our entry in the South Powder River Basin is a thrilling milestone for our company,” said Doug Glass, Union Pacific vice president and general manager – Energy.
One rail car of coal provides the energy to generate enough electricity for more than 20 homes for a year. Union Pacific’s 200,000 trains out of the SPRB have carried enough coal to power all the homes in the United States for five years. Approximately 50 percent of America’s electricity comes from coal, one of the most affordable and reliable energy sources.
Southern Powder River Basin Fast Facts
- Burlington Northern Railroad and C&NW became interested in developing Wyoming’s coal fields in the early 1970s following the first Arab oil embargo and the anticipation of inexpensive low sulfur coal.
- Union Pacific helped underwrite the C&NW’s entry to the SRPB coal fields by more than $325 million. The project was code named “Project Yellow” because of UP’s signature armour yellow locomotives.
- C&NW’s first SPRB coal train moved August 16, 1984, from North Antelope, Wyo., to Newark, Ark.
- In 1985, Union Pacific’s first full year, the railroad moved 19 million tons, averaging almost five trains per day.
- In 1985, an 11,000-ton coal train was average.
- In 1995, Union Pacific averaged 23 trains per day and average train size had grown to almost 12,000 tons.
- Today, Union Pacific averages more than 30 trains per day and average train size has grown to more than 15,500 tons.
Union Pacific’s Major Capacity Projects on the Corridor
- The completion of a four-year construction of a 108-mile third main line track between North Platte and Gibbon, Neb., in 1999.
- In 2000, completing a four-year project constructing a second main line track between Gibbon, Neb., and Marysville, Kan.
- Also in 2000, Union Pacific began to construct 37 miles of second main line track on its line between South Morrill, Neb., and Shawnee, Wyo. As part of the track construction, 24 bridges were built at various locations.
- Union Pacific increased the capacity at its South Morrill rail yard and built a new bridge at South Bayard, Neb.
- Union Pacific acquired the 107-mile rail line between Upland, Kan., and St. Joseph, Mo., from RailTex, Inc., in August 1998 to add additional capacity between Marysville and Kansas City. The line between Upland and Hiawatha, Kan., handles primarily empty westbound coal trains.
- In 2003, the second main line was completed on Union Pacific’s South Morrill line between South Morrill and North Platte, Neb.
- A third main line was added in North Platte in 2006.
- In 2006, the Marysville, Kan., bypass opened to expedite the movement of loaded and empty coal trains.
Other Technology Investments and Developments Helping Union Pacific Increase SPRB Productivity
- An in-train wheel repair process started in late 2006 at Bailey Yard in North Platte, Neb., trimmed the time in which defective coal car wheels were changed from several days to a matter of 10 minutes.
- Use of new high-horsepower locomotives and distributed power in coal trains have helped increase train efficiency as well as the ability to increase the train size from 110 cars in 1984 to an average of 132 today.
- The combined Union Pacific/BNSF coal train dispatching operation has been a great success. By having both railroads’ train dispatchers in BNSF’s Fort Worth, Texas, dispatching center instead of hundreds of miles apart, train movements on shared track in Wyoming are better coordinated.
“SPRB coal volume has increased 11 percent annually between 1985 and 2008,” Glass said. “Demand for coal is off this year due to the global recession, lower demand for metallurgical coal and reduced industrial output. However, Union Pacific is delivering SPRB coal to a recently constructed power plant in Nebraska and expects to deliver SPRB coal to a new plant currently under construction in Texas. Another coal-fired power plant planning to burn SPRB coal is under construction in Arkansas.
“Cap and Trade legislation under consideration by Congress has temporarily stymied development of conventional coal-fired power plants and if passed in its current form, threatens to raise energy prices for household electricity and many types of manufactured goods. However, support and development of new power plant technologies capable of capturing CO2 could result in increased demand for coal, help address the United States’ desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and continue to provide cost-effective electricity to U.S. industry and consumers. There currently are two new coal fired power plants under review in Texas that will use technology to capture most of the carbon dioxide emissions and use the gas in secondary oil recovery. If these plants are approved, we expect SPRB coal to be their primary fuel source.”