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A large Amtrak and Metra coach yard just south of Chicago Union Station. About 25 percent of all rail traffic in the United States travels through the Chicago area.
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, railroad yard (US) or simply yard, is a series of tracks in a rail network for storing, sorting, or loading and unloading rail vehicles and locomotives. Yards have many tracks in parallel for keeping rolling stock or unused locomotives stored off the main line, so that they do not obstruct the flow of traffic. Cars or wagons are moved around by specially designed yard switcher locomotives (US) or shunter locomotives (UK), a type of locomotive. Cars or wagons in a yard may be sorted by numerous categories, including railway company, loaded or unloaded, destination, car type, or whether they need repairs. Yards are normally built where there is a need to store rail vehicles 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.[1]: 46 

Many 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 direction of travel. 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:

Sorting yard basics

Main article: Classification yard

In the case of all classification or sorting yards, human intelligence plays a primary role in setting a strategy for the switching operations; the fewer times coupling operations need to be made and the less distance traveled, the faster the operation, the better the strategy and the sooner the newly configured consist can be joined to its outbound train.  

The "hump" of a hump yard. Railcars travel past retarders, which control their speed, and are directed onto tracks to be assembled into new trains. The control tower operates the retarders.

Nomenclature and components

This map of Cedar Hill Yard in Connecticut shows a variety of different facilities, including receiving yards, departure yards, classification yards, and a repair yard.

A large freight yard may include the following components:

Freight yards may have multiple industries adjacent to them where railroad cars are loaded or unloaded and then stored before they move on to their new destination.

Coach yards

A coach yard in Shanghai, China
Workington stabling point in 1981, with locomotives from Classes 25, 40 and 47 parked between duties.

Coach yards (American English) or stabling yards or carriage sidings (British English)[2] are used for sorting, storing and repairing passenger cars. These yards are located in metropolitan areas near large stations or terminals. An example of a major US coach yard is Sunnyside Yard in New York City, operated by Amtrak. Those that are principally used for storage, such as the West Side Yard in New York, are called "layup yards"[3] or "stabling yards." Coach yards are commonly flat yards because unladen passenger coaches are heavier than unladen freight carriages.

In the UK, a stabling point is a place where rail locomotives are parked while awaiting their next turn of duty.[4] A stabling point may be fitted with a fuelling point and other minor maintenance facilities. A good example of this was Newport's Godfrey Road stabling point, which has since been closed. Stabling sidings can be just a few roads or large complexes like Feltham Sidings. They are sometimes electrified with a third rail or OLE. An example of a stabling point with third rail would be Feltham marshalling yard which is being made into carriage sidings for the British Rail Class 701 EMU.[5][6][7]

See also


  1. ^ The Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad was builder and operator of Mountain Top Yard, whereas both were leased to the CNJ, rents and ownership being retained by the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c Kraft, Edwin (June 2002). "The Yard: Railroading's Hidden Half". Trains. Vol. 62, no. 6.
  2. ^ [bare URL PDF]
  3. ^ "42nd Place Terminal." Accessed 2013-08-30.
  4. ^ [bare URL PDF]
  5. ^ "South Western Railway's new rail depot at Feltham". 13 May 2020.
  6. ^ "Feltham depot - VolkerFitzpatrick".
  7. ^ "Work progresses on SWR's £60m Feltham depot". 14 May 2020.

Further reading