Rail yard facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Chicago (3)
A large Amtrak and Metra coach yard in Chicago, IL. About 25 percent of all rail traffic in the United States travels through the Chicago area.
Railyard LA river
Yard for Amtrak equipment, located next to the Los Angeles River. The two tracks on the left are the mainline.

A rail yard, railway yard or railroad yard is a complex series of railroad tracks for storing, sorting, or loading and unloading, railroad cars and locomotives. Railroad yards have many tracks in parallel for keeping rolling stock stored off the mainline, so that they do not obstruct the flow of traffic. Railroad cars are moved around by specially designed yard switchers, a type of locomotive. Cars in a railroad yard may be sorted by numerous categories, including railroad company, loaded or unloaded, destination, car type, or whether they need repairs. Railroad yards are normally built where there is a need to store cars while they are not being loaded or unloaded, or are waiting to be assembled into trains. Large yards may have a tower to control operations.

Many railway yards are located at strategic points on a main line. Main-line yards are often composed of an up yard and a down yard, linked to the associated railroad direction. There are different types of yards, and different parts within a yard, depending on how they are built.

Freight yards

For freight cars, the overall yard layout is typically designed around a principal switching (US term) or shunting (UK) technique:

  • A hump yard has a constructed hill, over which freight cars are shoved by yard locomotives, and then gravity is used to propel the cars to various sorting tracks;
  • A gravity yard is built on a natural slope and relies less on locomotives; generally locomotives will control a consist being sorted from uphill of the cars about to be sorted. They are decoupled and let to accelerate into the classification equipment lower down.
  • A flat yard has no hump, and relies on locomotives for all car movements.

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Rail yard Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.