The purpose of the first part of this section is to describe how the railroad system works. The capacity of the rail line, rail operations, safety, inspection, handling of hazardous material, security and emergency response procedures are described. In July, 2005, the DOE issued a policy statement stating that dedicated trains will be used for the shipment of waste to Yucca Mountain, so this section also includes a description of dedicated trains. The second part of this section describes the regulatory structure: which agencies are responsible for various regulatory or oversight activities, and what they do to carry out these responsibilities.

Operations - Union Pacific Railroad

Capacity of the Rail Line

The graphic on the following page, reproduced from the Union Pacific website, shows the allowable gross weight on the UPRR lines through Nevada. As the graphic shows, both lines are capable of accommodating the heaviest trains.

Figure III - y: Allowable Gross Weight on Union Pacific Tracks in Eureka County

Train speeds are affected by alignment, consist1 , and signal systems, but many miles of the Union Pacific lines in Nevada allow freight train speeds of 70 mph and passenger train speeds of 79 mph. According to previous reports, (Hill, 1991) "The line probably has the capacity to handle 50 or more trains per day," almost double the estimated current (2003) volume of 27.

Union Pacific has recently made changes to its computer system that allow it to more closely identify the heaviest shipments. All cars are reviewed along routes in order to determine whether gross weight limitations for that route are exceeded. If a car exceeds the gross weight limit for its requested route, it is placed on hold at the place of origin, and the shipper can either reduce the weight or change the route to one that will accommodate the weight. According to the railroad, this new system "helps address safety issues and to prevent damage, or potentially catastrophic failure, to track or a bridge structure." (Union Pacific Corporation, 2004 Annual Report)


Trains through Nevada (and throughout the nation) are operated according to regularly published timetables, supplemented by special orders or instructions. Any train needs to have some sort of permission to occupy a main track.2 The required permission depends on the type of operation in effect for that main track; the type of operation for each section of track is listed in the timetable. The timetable also lists milepost-to-milepost speed limits and other information. Special orders or instructions supplement the timetable. These might include, for example, a requirement for a lower speed limit in a certain area - a "slow order" - due to track defects spotted during a track inspection. The main categories of railroad operation are:

  • Centralized Traffic Control (CTC)

  • An occupancy permission system, either

    • - Track Warrant Control (TWC)
      - Direct Traffic Control (DTC)
      - Occupancy Control System (OCS)
  • Automatic Block Signaling (ABS), often in conjunction with an occupancy permission system

  • Restricted Limits (RL)

On the dual Union Pacific tracks through the study area, train movement is controlled by an Automatic Block Signal (ABS) system, with warrants from a dispatcher. In an ABS system the railroad is divided into sections known as blocks. Two trains are not allowed to be in the same block at the same time. A train cannot enter a block until it is permitted, generally by a signal that the block ahead is empty. The lines through the study area are block signaled only for the direction of traffic, and reverse movements are rare. Train crews are in radio contact with a Union Pacific dispatcher in Omaha, Nebraska.

In addition to the timetables and special instructions, railroads also operate according to a General Code of Operating Rules (GCOR). Federal regulations (49 CFR 218) contain detailed operating practices which railroads are required to follow, but each railroad can also prescribe additional practices in its operating rules, timetables, or special instructions. Railroads are required to carry out regular programs to instruct employees in the railroad's operating rules. Timetables, special instructions, codes of operating instructions, and any amendments to them must be filed with the FRA.

Train Crews

Union Pacific maintains crew change points and related facilities at Sparks, Elko, Winnemucca and Las Vegas. North Reno is the site of a switchyard and intermodal facility.

Freight trains traveling through the Eureka study area have two-person crews, an engineer and a conductor.The engineer is responsible for operating the train in compliance with operating procedures, signals, timetables, and special orders. The conductor is responsible for tracking the cars on the train. Cars taken onto and taken off of the train are entered into a computer, which relays the information to dispatchers in Omaha, Nebraska. The conductor also is responsible for inspection of the train in response to indications of potentially hazardous situations from trackside detectors (see below).

In addition to the two-person crews, freight trains have electronic boxes at the rear of each train.These boxes receive electronic signals from trackside detectors and relay the signals to the train crew. These boxes have replaced the former cabooses, and carry out the functions formerly carried out by human caboose crews.

Train crews travel between Sparks and Elko, or Elko and Sparks. Once at either crew change point, the train is handed off to other crews whose home terminals are to the west or east. Crews are required to rest for at least eight hours before taking charge of another train. Depending upon the direction and flow of traffic, a crew member will either work a train or "deadhead " back to his home terminal.

The railroad also stations other employees along the routes. These employees, called maintenance and way inspectors, are responsible for inspecting and maintaining sections of the rail route. (Garro, pers. com.)

1 Consist is a railroad term for any configuration of one or more connected rail cars and/or locomotives, either in motion or not, on rail tracks. A consist may or may not include a locomotive

2 A Main Track is a track that must not be occupied without a permission to do so. Other tracks are Secondary Tracks. A Track used for meeting or passing trains is called a Siding. Sidings can be Main or Secondary tracks. (Lundsten)

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