Project Yellow

Union Pacific's Entry Into The Powder River Basin

This page was last updated on March 1, 2008.

(from The Mixed Train, Volume 33, Number 9, September 1984, Camerail Club, Omaha)


The United States largest single rail construction project since 1937 completion was signaled August 16, 1984 when the C&NW/UP coal train NANWC001 broke through a paper coal-black banner showing a cowboy hat filled with coal.

Earlier, August 15th, a UP passenger special had left Council Bluffs' Fox Park, laid over at North Platte, leaving Bailey Yard the next morning with stops at Oshkosh, Northport and Gering, Nebr to pick up local officials and press. After crew change at Gering the Special stopped at S. Morrill to change crews again with C&NW's personnel handling the train to the state­line event.

At the Nebraska-Wyoming state lines, train passengers stepped off and the passenger going west to Alsop to meet the first loaded coal train, NANWC001 holding the main track. The passenger special then ran around its train, to follow the first loaded coal train east.

The ceremonies at the state-line began about 1PM with the first train having power of C&NW 6935/UP 2474/UP 2511 breaking the banner, with the Special trailing behind it. Later that noted day in history a second coal train, destined to Wisconsin moved over the new rails, symboled NAWTC.

At South Morrill, the first train then put its lead unit, C&NW 6935 as the trailing unit, with UP 2474 leading, possibly for public relations effect.

Thus the new line began operation, beginning June 27, 1983, and a pawn in the UP-MP merger completion (remember when "Omaha" came up with "private financing" after government money was unavilable and CR and C&NW withdrew opposition to the UP MP merger?) .

Dave Seidel provides statistics:

1. The joint BN-C&NWline: On the southern edge of the Powder River Mining area at Bill (MP 85.4) a track relay project between MP 80.9 and HP 85.5 provides a "holding yard" which is now only one track but calls for more in the future. Also, at this location is C&NW's "coal desk" or coal line dispatcher.

2. The Shawnee leg: This trackage connects the joint line at MP 527.2 with the C&NW's mainline at MP 521.1 near Shawnee.

3. The rebuilt mainline: This track was built next to the original mainline of C&NW and replaces it with 133-pound CWR between MP 521.1 to MP 475.8. Near the town of Keeline a new three mile long sidinq was built and named Myles for a retired C&NW Director­Quality Control, Engineering Dept.

At Lusk, the new line all but bypasses the town with the mainline now a siding off the new line. The depot has been remodeled as a "PR" center for the C&NW with offices. East of Lusk, another new three-mile siding is named Barnes after Mr. J. A. Barnes, retired VP-Engineering.

The mainline meets the new "Project Yellow" line at MP 475.8 (C&NW mile posts begin at Fremont, Nebr) station named Crandall after Mr. M. H. Crandall, former Superintendent of Motive Power and originally with the UP Signal Dept in Omaha.

4. The "Project Yellow" line: Begins at MP 475.8 with two three-mile sidings with a "bad-order set-out" track on each. Braun, for Mr. W. E. Braun, former Senior VP­Sales and Marketing, and Alsop, for a retired C&NW General Manager.

The new line crosses the state line at MP 42.46, meets the UP at MP 56.15 which is at UP's MP 164.2 (miles from O' Fallons, Nebr.) near Joyce.

Work on the UP's North Platte Branch included:

1. Upgrading the track with 133-pound CWR from MP 0 at O'Fallons to the Junction with the new line at MP 164.2. A new siding has been built at the new South Morrill, which is some two miles from the original station to the east. This is to be the "hub" of the line in the future. Plans call for more sidings and an engine service area. The yard is to be manned by C&NW and is the crew change point.

2. Other new sidings: Brockhoff (MP 140) east of Gering; Eastwood (MP 96) east of Broadwater.

3. Rebuilt sidings: Northport (MP 113) to include new construction due to volume of traffic and is to be major meeting point. Also, is the interchange location with the BN and crew change point for that operation; New Oshkosh (MP 67) existing siding extended; Ruthton (MP 52) existing siding extended; Nevens (MP 19) existing siding extended.


A train of empties moves North Platte to North Port. If it is a BN interchange train with crew bused on to Gering or to Gering if a Powder River train. Out of Gering, the crew change point, a turn-around crew takes the train to the C&NW yard at South Morrill. As a rule, the trains will have two or three engines.

At South Morrill, the C&NW adds one or two engines for the trip to the loading area. C&NW has equipped SD40-2s 6925-6935 with Pulse electrical equipment.

At South Morrill, a loaded coal train should be ready to go with the UP turn-around crew taking it back to Gering with a rested crew to take it to North Platte.

Bill, Wyoming, is the crew change point for the C&NW with a turn-around crew to handle the loading of the coal in the mine site. This is subject to chanqe.

All trackage was built to a standard of 60MPH speeds with a few speed restrictions due to hills or curves. What few road crossings there are are largely eliminated by under or over passes, making some great photo opportunities. Currently the entire line from the UP main line at O'Fallons to the mines are by train order, however, block CTC and train order operations is planned.

The first section to get signals is the UP O'Fallons-Northport segment. UP has assigned a trainmaster at Gering and C&NW will have one assigned either out of South Morrill, Lusk or Bill.

Background History

C&NW's original mainline in the above area was built by the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley. When first built in 1886 construction papers show the Wyoming Central Railway that was a dummy firm for the FE&MV operating in Wyoming. In 1885 C&NW assumed the FE&MV and WC consolidated into the FE&MV which in turn consolidated with the C&NW in 1903.

C&NW promoters said the Wyoming route would be the "pot at the end of the rainbow" bringing C&NW untold wealth. The goal of C&NW's planners was to build a route to the Pacific via Lander Wyo., tapping the wealth of the western states. History records however that C&NW was able to only get to the foothills in western Wyoming, and this western segment was later cut back to Riverton, another dream unfulfilled.

It's a bit odd that the "pot of gold" now for the C&NW is the Powder River coal fields along the right-of-way of the original FE&MV (WC) some 100 years later. (Dave Seidel)

[photo caption] Westbound Union Pacific special on the new joint line crossing the Burlington Northern trackage and Highway 26 west of Morrill.

[photo caption] The first loaded unit coal train, symbol NANWC (with C&NW unit in leading position), breaking through the banner at the Nebraska-Wyoming state line as part of the noontime ceremonies.

[photo caption] The first loaded unit coal train in route on the new joint trackage after the grand opening (with UP locomotive in leading position).