Larger railroad yards, due to their importance and often times location
also are utilized for other functions aside from just classifying
freight trains. For instance, engine terminals and heavy maintenance facilities are also usually found within these key yards. Engine
terminals provide light maintenance to locomotives, sanding towers,
wash racks, and fueling pads while heavy maintenance facilities provide
all of the major repairs an engine terminal cannot provide. Other
facilities sometimes found in these types of yards include freight car
repair shops and paint shops (although most Class Is have only one designated location for painting locomotives).
Without railroad yards it would be virtually impossible for railroads to
remain efficient in keeping freight exactly where it needs to go.
These large terminals, commonly known as classification yards, take in
freight, usually from all different directions, sort it out and again
send it on its way to either the next yard or final destination. To
keep the freight cars properly sorted yards either use a designated locomotive (known as a switch engine or yard goat), a "hump" which is an inclined plane that allows the cars
to then roll down hill onto the appropriate sorting track, or a
combination of both. Of course, not all railroad yard are massive
classification facilities. Some are no more than a few tracks in size
and are used more for storage than classifying freight cars. Still, railroads often time need these small yards for storage purposes even if they do no type of classifying.
|Chicago West Pullman & Southern crewmen appear ready to start another day of switching at Chicago's South Deering Yard on May 13, 1964. Pictured is NW2 #50 to the left and SW8 #48 to the right.|
In terms of layout railroad yards are either double-ended, which means a
train can enter the yard at one end and exit from the other or
stub-ended which means the yard has no exit. Obviously, the
double-ended yard is much more efficient and most classification yards
of any size are of this type. The tracks themselves are always numbered
or named and are laddered, meaning they are accessed from a main track
that is nothing put switches leading
into these yard tracks. At one end of the yard is the main line,
usually at least two tracks and once a train has entered the yard it is
within the "yard limit" meaning there is a restricted speed at all
times, usually no more than 5 or 10 mph.
At one corner of the yard there is a diverging siding that is
known as the RIP track, meaning Repair In Place for minor issues
involving freight cars. There is also usually another diverging siding from the yard tracks for the wash bay to clean locomotives. The engine
terminal itself can usually be found from one of the main tracks
itself. In the very center of the yard you will almost always find the
yard office or yard tower, depending on the size of the facility. In
any event, not every yard is set up this way but historically most are
in some way similar to this design. Here at the yard office the
yardmaster controls all movements within the yard itself, such as the
switch engine. Also found within the yard limits it the trainmaster,
which controls the actual movement of the trains themselves, such as
when they have clearance to leave and enter the area. These jobs can best be described as hectic and stressful and are almost never dull.
|Green Bay & Western RS2 #304 switches the road's small yard and office in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin on August 23, 1966. Also note the Alco road-switchers in the background. This location sat at the junction of the GB&W's only branch, which reached nearby Stevens Point.|
To explain the hump, if a yard is equipped with the device, it
basically works on a gravity-fed system whereby it is the highest point
in the yard and freight cars pass through a set of retarders, to slow it
down a bit where it is then directed into whatever track it has been
designated for. This system is very simple in nature and basically is
like stacking blocks. As technologies have improved such as switching from steam to
diesel locomotives and mega-mergers which have ballooned the size of Class I railroads, the number of yards has dwindled. Today, Class
Is attempt to centralize as many large classification yards as possible
not only to become more efficient put also reduce the transit times of
freights so that they are spending less time moving through yards and
more time out on the open rails delivering their goods. This is a major
reason for the CREATE plan of Chicago, an attempt to build bypasses for
those freights which are not heading to the city and circumvent the web
of rails and yards located there.
If you're interested in the position as a railroad yardmaster it is a little similar to that of the trainmaster position,
except that you usually will not be directing the movements of inbound
and outbound trains. However,
like a trainmaster, the yardmaster's job
can also be quite stressful and unpleasant at times. While the
technologies have greatly improved over the years the yardmaster basic
role has essentially remained unchanged, to oversee a railroad yard's
operation. In essence the general responsibilities include issuing train orders, guiding trains through yard switches, overseeing hump operations (if the yard is equipped with such) and staying in constant contact with personnel on the ground.
|CSX SD35 #4553 and a Family Lines unit run light through the yard in Hamlet, North Carolina on March 28, 1989.|
The yardmaster essentially carries a smaller role than a trainmaster. While the position
does not hold as much responsibility as a trainmaster (who must
coordinate and direct all train movements in to and out of a yard), he
or she still has a lot of responsibility in overseeing the direction of
rail cars within the yard and assisting with the re-blocking of trains.
This means that as yardmaster you must help in uncoupling individual
cars, or sections of cars, moving
them around the yard and reclassifying/rebuilding them into another
train, which will then transfer the cars to the next terminal (unless it
is a unit train).
Here is what the U.S. Department of Labor says about the position of the railroad yardmaster:
Yardmasters coordinate the activities of workers engaged in railroad yard operations.
These activities, which are also performed by conductors, include
making up or breaking up trains and switching inbound or outbound
traffic to a specific section of the line. Some cars are sent to unload
their cargo on special tracks, while others are moved to different
tracks to await assembly into new trains, based on their destinations.
Yardmasters tell yard engineers
or other personnel where to move the cars to fit the planned train
configuration. Switches many of them operated remotely by
computers, divert trains or railcars to the proper track for coupling
and uncoupling. To search for railroad jobs directly please use the search box from Indeed.com, one of the leading online career services.
|A westbound CSX freight exits the Class I's large yard in Willard, Ohio led by SD40-2 #8237 on September 22, 2007.|
Lastly, for more reading about the classic railroad yard you might want to consider picking up the book The American Freight Train
by the late Jim Boyd. While Boyd's book gives a general, but
excellent, history of freight train operations he has devoted one entire
chapter to the intricacies of how a yard works and operates which is
quite fascinating. Additionally, the book is released by MBI Publishing
and as such offers incredibly vivid photographs that are worth the price
alone! If you're interested in perhaps purchasing this book please
visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through
Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.