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North Yard


With Union Station as the passenger hub of traffic over the Moffat route, North Yard is the key freight origination point for traffic headed up the hill. Originally a part of the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad, this yard was built as the stating point to send trains over the Rocky Mountains with a goal of reaching Salt Lake and the Pacific. The D&SL never made it all the way to Salt Lake, and in 1934 the D&SL was acquired by the Denver and Rio Grande (“Rio Grande”) and ultimately ownership of the yard fell D&RGW. When the Rio Grande merged with Sothern Pacific in 1989, the yard then again transferred owners, and then finally in 1996 Southern Pacific merged with Union Pacific and the yard remains under UP control today.

North Yard circa the Rio Grande era, the same yard office and fuel tanks are modeled on the layout

Today the yard is used in a similar manner to it’s original intentions, building and storing the trains that Union Pacific will send over the Moffat Route, down south to Pueblo or north to Cheyenne. North Yard is UP’s main yard in Denver and handles quite a bit of freight traffic. Crews in the yard will shuffle and sort cars of various materials from grain and coal to wood centerbeams and tank cars. All bound for destinations beyond. For those inclined to get a glimpse of the yard from a birds eye view can take 48th ave just east of Pecos in Denver and walk the sidewalk to get a unique perspective of the active rail yard and any switching or shunting duties taking place.

A shot of North Yard after the UP has taken over ownership, this view is from the sidewalk along the 48th ave bridge.

The Layout Model

The MMRG model of the engine tracks and south side of North Yard

North Yard on the MMRG layout is a hub of freight activity just like the real thing. Modeled to be set in the era of Rio Grande ownership, one can recognize the yard office building, the fuel tanks and the vast array of sorting tracks. The yard has push pins in different colors that correspond to different train builds, each color representing a specific train and destination. Often times you’ll find a member operating the switcher engines moving cars around preparing for an outbound train, or sorting cars that have just arrived. Also common here are crew changes (bathroom breaks for members) and helper changes. Helper engines are designed to help a train up the hill with added power, or down the hill with added breaking. Once down in Denver where the grade if more flat, the helpers are not needed and will be cut off in North Yard. These helper operations were not truly prototypical on the line back in the Rio Grange era but have proven helpful for our layout with some of the extra long coal trains we have.

The engine tracks in the foreground along with the caboose and service tracks, the wye and then classification tracks behind. The mainline is the light grey ballasted track to the right, with the DC line in the pink/red ballast next to it

Take a look at the yard, it’s sheer size and also the array of cars scattered through. While it seems like chaos, it’s a well organized orchestra of switching and shunting to make sure all cars get to their final destination. If you have a second, stop and watch as multiple trains and operators will run through, stop or take crew changes here at North Yard.