• Built by the Rails
    Built by the Rails

    The rails reached Grand Island first in 1866, the city quickly became a significant hub for the Union Pacific.

  • Wealth by the Rails
    Wealth by the Rails

    The 1918 Union Pacific depot in Grand Island was considered one of the grandest small-town depots. It was a very sad day when it was demolished.

  • Local Lines
    Local Lines

    Essentially a part of the Union Pacific, the St. Joseph & Grand Island Railway ran between Grand Island and Hastings starting around 1880.

  • Thrive By the Rails
    Thrive By the Rails

    Here, the CB&Q tower stands next to Union Pacific 9009 in Grand Island in the 1940s.

  • Grand Island's relationship with the rails has changed with the years; this video from the 1960s shows the demolition of the roundhouse.

A Railroad Town on the Prairie

Grand Island has been a railroad center since the Union Pacific Railroad first reached here in July 1866, building westward as part of the original transcontinental railroad. 146 miles west of the starting point of the Union Pacific (UP) at Council Bluffs, Iowa, Grand Island became a major engine and crew change point. A depot and locomotive maintenance shops were built and added as the city and railroad prospered. Grand Island’s business trade territory expanded as other Union Pacific rails were laid from 1879-1891, connecting Grand Island to regional markets and distant cities.

Grand Island became a crossroads for rail traffic in 1884.

Grand Island literally became a crossroads for rail traffic in 1884 when the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad reached Grand Island, pushing a line northwest from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Billings, Montana (This later became the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy.). The Union Pacific and Burlington crossed at grade on the city’s east side for more than 100 years.

In 1885, the UP locomotive shop in Grand Island was converted to freight car construction and maintenance, a role it maintained for many years. UP’s Grand Island roundhouse provided local employment as workers carried out repairs and maintenance on the steam locomotives. At its peak in the 1920s, the roundhouse consisted of 40 stalls where engines could be serviced.

To eliminate the crossing of the two lines at grade, which had reportedly become the busiest railroad intersection in America, a new Burlington overpass of the Union Pacific main line was completed with the first train over the new line on July 27, 1995.

The city’s former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Depot remains, known as the Plum Street Station. This 1911 passenger depot was saved and renovated by the Hall County Historical Society. It retains the original floor and wall tiles, woodwork and bricks. The passenger building is now a reception hall and small parlor with restrooms, and the freight building is home to the Tri-City Model Railroad Association. Sadly, none of the Union Pacific depots remain, including the stunning 1918 depot considered one of the finest small city depots in the United States.