Eureka County contains a portion of one of the Union Pacific Railroad's major east-west routes. The Department of Energy (DOE) has indicated that transportation of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste (HLRW) to the proposed Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository will be conducted with a combination of rail and highway routes. DOE has considered the construction of a rail corridor route through Eureka County - the "Carlin Spur" - leaving the Union Pacific main line at Beowawe in Eureka County and running southwest through Crescent Valley, as an alternative for waste transport. While in 2005 the DOE selected an alignment leaving the main Union Pacific tracks at Caliente, in Lincoln County, as the only route currently to be studied for rail transportation to Yucca Mountain, there still is a possibility that the Carlin route might be used if the Caliente route proves unfeasible.

With the possibility that nuclear waste will be transported along the existing Union Pacific corridor, either to a Carlin Spur or to a proposed Caliente route, Eureka County wishes to understand the current operations of the railroad within and adjacent to the County so that impacts of potential waste transport in Eureka County can be assessed.

Study Procedure and Information Sources

The County wishes to develop information on railroad accidents, on the effects of weather on railroad operations, on existing and historical train frequencies, on the physical features of the line, and on the regulatory structure governing railroad operations. The County wishes to develop this information for the portion of the Union Pacific Railroad between Battle Mountain and Maggie Creek, a section approximately 60 miles long.

This information was obtained from a number of sources. (A detailed list of information sources is in Appendix A.) For railroad accidents the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) was the principal source of information. FRA also provided information regarding railroad operations and train frequencies. A search of Union Pacific Corporation's website provided maps and information about overall operations and programs. Repeated attempts were made to directly interview a Union Pacific representative regarding rail operations in the county, but telephone calls and email massages asking for information were not returned.

Information on route profiles, overview of Nevada railroads, waste transportation issues, and the regulatory structure was obtained from previous reports commissioned by Eureka County, the State of Nevada, the DOE and by searching various websites, followed by research in the Code of Federal Regulations and other federal government sources. Information on Humboldt River flood flows and Eureka County weather was obtained from the U.S. Geological Survey, the State of Nevada, and the Desert Research Institute. Maps were obtained from NDOT and Eureka County. A physical, on-the-ground survey of the rail line was not conducted, although the Program Coordinator of Eureka County's Yucca Mountain Information Office did take extensive photographs of the rail line in the Palisade Canyon and Carlin area. Several of these photographs are included in this report.

The Union Pacific Railroad

The Union Pacific Railroad was chartered by Congress in 1886 to build part of the nation's first transcontinental railroad line. Under terms of the Pacific Railroads Act, Union Pacific was authorized to build a line westward from Omaha, Nebraska, to the California-Nevada line, where it was to connect with the Central Pacific Railroad, to be built simultaneously from Sacramento, California. Construction of the Union Pacific was begun in Omaha in 1865, and after a succession of construction problems, Indian troubles and delays, on May 10, 1869, the Union Pacific joined the Central Pacific northwest of Ogden, Utah, thus completing the nation's first transcontinental railroad.

Fraud, mismanagement and overextensions left the Union Pacific with heavy financial burdens, and in 1893 the company went into receivership. The railroad was reincorporated in 1897 as the Union Pacific Railroad Company in Utah and, under the management of Edward H. Harriman, the railroad was expanded, improved, and stabilized.

Harriman added several railroads to his empire, eventually controlling railroads in much of the Northwest. Acquisitions continued through the twentieth century, with acquisition of the Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific Railroads in 1982, the M-K-T Railroad in 1988, the Chicago and North Western Railroad In 1995, and the Southern Pacific in 1996. By 1997 the much-expanded railroad was "plagued by accidents, late arrivals, and congested rail lines; federal regulators intervened, allowing two competing railroads to share Union Pacific's tracks, to keep shipments moving (the track-sharing order was lifted in 1998). Today the railroad is a subsidiary of the highly diversified Union Pacific Corporation..." (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. "Union Pacific Railroad" )

Union Pacific is one of seven Class 1 railroads in the nation . Measured by revenue, UPRR is the largest U.S. railroad, with revenues of over $1.5 billion in 2003. (American Association of Railroads, Class 1 Railroad Statistics) In the 2000's, UPRR reports "surging freight demand." The railroad reports that this demand "strained our network resources and slowed our system velocity, leaving us short of train crew personnel and locomotive power."

The Railroad has initiated programs to met this demand, reporting in the 2004 Annual Report: "We graduated nearly 5,000 new conductors into service and acquired almost 400 new locomotives during 2004, but record volumes continued to overwhelm our system even as we added these resources."

According to Union Pacific, the steps being taken in 2005 meet this "unprecedented" high demand include a "comprehensive redesign of our transportation plan...The new plan is intended to simplify our operations, improve network velocity, and better manage the volume of traffic flowing on our network in the face of continued strong demand." (Union Pacific Corporation, 2004 Annual Report.)

Union Pacific in Nevada and Eureka County

Two Union Pacific main lines cross Nevada. The first one runs across northern Nevada, linking central California with Salt Lake City. This is the line that runs through Eureka County. The other runs through the southern part of the State, including Las Vegas. That line connects Los Angeles-Long Beach with Salt Lake City and UP's transcontinental line to eastern destinations.

The railroad reports that major commodities handled by the railroad in Nevada include coal, chemicals, aggregates, lumber and consumer goods. The railroad's top customers in Nevada include Nevada Power, Pioneer Chlor Alkali, and General Motors. (Union Pacific Corporation, U.S. Guide to the Union Pacific Railroad, Nevada.)

In Reno and Sparks the railroad has participated in the growing warehousing industry made possible by the State's freeport laws. In southern Nevada, Union Pacific plays a key role in Las Vegas's construction boom, since the railroad is the primary conduit for building materials. Union Pacific is an important link to markets for the industrial complex at Henderson. Union Pacific also serves coal-fired power plants at Valmy in northern Nevada and Moapa in southern Nevada. The table below summarizes Union Pacific operations in Nevada:

Figure III-a
Union Pacific Operations in Nevada

Miles of Track




Annual Payroll

$44.4 million

Purchases Made

$8.1 million

SOURCE: Union Pacific Corporation

Before Union Pacific acquired Southern Pacific in 1997, the two railroads operated separate tracks across northern Nevada. Between Weso, just east of Winnemucca, and Alazon, to the east of Elko, the two railroads operated dual trackage, with westbound traffic moving on one line and eastbound on the other.

When Union Pacific acquired Southern Pacific, the east-west traffic separation continued. Eureka County is on this dual-track section. The two sketch maps reproduced below show the Union Pacific lines across northern Nevada, with place names along the routes. The area of paired track also is shown. The lines through the Eureka County study area are described in more detail in Section E: Physical Features.

SOURCE: Hill, C.V., et al, The Nevada Railroad System: Physical, Operational, and Accident Characteristics, U.S. Department of Energy, September, 1991

Note: Site specific maps of rail routs in Eureka County are presented in the Exhibits Sections of this report as well as on the YuccaMountain.org website Atlas Maps of Eureka County.

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