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Golden Spike Tower
No town in the United States can associate itself with Union Pacific more than North Platte. The large Nebraska town owes its economy to the UP, the area's largest employer. Its the site of the world’s largest train yard spanning 8 miles long, on 2,850 acres. For many years, Union Pacific had an outdoor observation deck at the west hump. I have always enjoyed my time at that deck, watching train after train get humped, and rows of Union Pacific locomotive being shuttled to and from the diesel shop. The yard and shop is as busy as ever, but what has changed is the observation deck has been replaced with a tourist attraction, The Golden Spike Tower.
For old timers such as myself, I miss the old deck, being one-on-one with the action, it was free and open to visit 24-hours a day, the yard is just as interesting at night as it is during the day. The new tower puts you 8-stories above the yard, it’s a bit less personal and limited hours, and oh, yes...you have to pay. But enough with my whining. I have to admit, I frowned upon the new structure, but all in all, it’s enjoyable to visit.
What does the tower offer that the outdoor deck didn't? A nice restroom, gift shop (which sells drinks and light snacks), air-conditioning, paved parking lot, history of the yard, museum type collectables, and wheel chair visitors will have no problems since there is an elevator. In addition, volunteers (many being retired railroad workers) are located on the enclosed deck, and are able to answer most if not all questions. An outdoor deck allows you to hear all the sounds the yard has to offer, and will give you an edge on taking pictures.
Can you railfan in North Platte after the tower closes for the day? Union Pacific guards this yard like Fort Knox, don't even think of driving onto UP property. As a matter of fact, I was parked one day at the west end of the yard next to a public grade crossing, in a dirt area just off the road, and about a good 100 feet from the closest track, and a UP guard stopped and gave me the 3rd degree, including asking for my drivers license. I didn't get a fine, but was told to scat, and scat I did! I never returned to that site again, and didn't return to North Platte for several year after that, it was just a bad taste in my mouth. Today, other then the Golden Spike Tower, the only other place in North Platte that is tolerated is on the east end of the yard, in downtown North Platte. Located where the North Platte train station once stood where a monument honoring the retired workers of the UP. Located between two free city parking lots, this is where I watch trains in North Platte. There is a 7-foot tall chain link fence guarding the mainline, as bad as that is, its possible to situate your camera either through a link of the fence, or craft fully maneuvering your camera around a separated joint, or a rip in the fence. Once you succeed at your handy camera set-up, you will be able to snap some really nice pictures of UP trains passing the large grain mill in town. Rather you take pictures or not, this is a busy location for trains arriving or departing the yard.
If you plan on traveling east or west to / from North Platte, I highly recommend driving on Route US30. This road follows the UP mainline more or less all across the state (usually more than less)! The road is 65 MPH between towns across the state, so you will not loose too much time as compared to during the parallel I-80.
Town / City: North Platte, NE
Location Name: Golden Spike Tower
Railroad(s): Union Pacific
Rail Traffic: Very Heavy, 120+ trains daily
Site Details: Built as a tourist attraction so visitors can witness the world's largest train yard, from 8-stories high. Serious railfans can spend a day, there is a lot to see from the tower, bring your binoculars, zoom lens and video camera, you will not be disappointed, or board, the scenery is always changing. If you want to step out for lunch, get you hand stamped at the door so you can return later in the day.
Restrooms on site: Yes.
Food: Drinks and Light Snacks sold in the gift shop. You will have to drive for anything else (nothing within walking distance).
Picnic Area: Yes.
Parking: Free parking in parking lot.
Lighted for evening railfanning: Usually closes before dark, during special events the tower has extended hours. The tower and train yard is well lit at night.
Motels / Hotels: There are no railfan motels in North Platte. The cloest motel to the yard is Travelers Inn (an "Americas Best Value" property), I stay here often, its very clean, and well kept. Other motels are located on South Jeffers Street down by I-80 interchange (I-80, Exit # 177).