There have been several railroads in North Omaha throughout the years. With their tracks, trestles, bridges, roundhouses, switching yards, maintenance shops and more, the railroad industry left an indelible history throughout North Omaha. Some of the companies in the community included the Missouri Pacific, the Omaha Road, the Union Pacific and several others. Today, aside from a few tracks and empty rail beds, hollowed out industrial areas and a couple decaying bridges and trestles, there is barely anything left of their impact, except for stories. This article is a lowdown of the history of railroads in North Omaha. Share your stories in the comments section that follows.


Missouri Pacific Railroad in North Omaha

Originally started by the Missouri Pacific, or MoPac, Railroad, the Belt Line railway was once a passenger service, then an industrial line for 75+ years. Today, there’s nothing left of it besides an empty rail bed.

Omaha Belt Line Railway
This NorthOmahaHistory.com graphic shows approximately where the Omaha Belt Line Railway ran through the community.

Of all the railroad-related history in Omaha, there are two things that excite me most. The first are the labor struggles in the industry, and the second is the Belt Line Railway owned by the Missouri Pacific Railroad. After starting at a station downtown at N. 15th and Webster, it went north along the bottom of the bluffs east of N. 14th to Locust Street, then crossing N. 16th on a trestle at Commercial Ave. Then it crossed Commercial before Ames Avenue, going between Taylor Ave and Ames (along a street called Boyd that doesn’t exist there anymore). There was originally a depot at 4351 N 22nd St along this section. Then, the Belt Line shot west and across 30th to a depot at 32nd and John Creighton Blvd, then to a depot at 40th and Lake, then a depot at 43rd and Nicholas, then a depot at Military and Hamilton, then south over Dodge and beyond.

Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in North Omaha

Debolt, North Omaha, Nebraska
A 1917 railroad map showing the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad through Debolt, as well as the northern connector to the Omaha Road through Briggs.

The railroad heading up the modern-day Sorensen Parkway was the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad, which was bought by the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. Starting downtown, the railroad travelled through the North Omaha Yards to Locust Street, eventually going west through the ravine now used by the Storz Expressway to North 30th, which it cross with a trestle. It then went to a station by Fort Omaha called Briggs Depot and onward to Debolt, Bennington, Irvington, Fremont and beyond.

The Omaha Road in North Omaha

Another railroad headed north from the Webster Street Station north to Florence and points beyond. It was the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railway, aka the Omaha Road.

Florence Depot Museum, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is the former Florence Depot, once located along the Omaha Road. Today, its a museum for Florence’s heritage.

After coming north along the bluffs, it went to a roundhouse north of Locust and west of Carter Lake Drive. It then went north to a trestle over Minne Lusa Boulevard and past the Minne Lusa Water Works, then to the Florence Depot at North 28th and Tucker. After that, it went to Briggs, Nashville, Blair and beyond.

Illinois Central Railroad in North Omaha

This is the old Illinois Central Railroad double-span swing bridge over the Missouri River in East Omaha. Locked open and poorly maintained today, it was once the widest double-span swing bridge in the world.

The Illinois Central Railroad crossed the Missouri River at East Omaha. Its more than 500 feet long, and was the longest swing bridge in the world from when it was completed in 1915. The IC then came east to a roundhouse at in old Sulphur Springs by North 13th and Wirt Streets. That roundhouse was demolished, and the railroad from East Omaha to North 13th was removed.

With the impact of the IC and other companies following its lead, by the 1920s, East Omaha was packed full of railroads. In addition to the bridge and the roundhouse, the IC had a terminus in East Omaha and maintenance yards at North 13th Street north of Locust.

Railroads in East Omaha, Nebraska circa 1900
This is a map of East Omaha in 1900 with the railroads highlighted. The UPRR, IC, CSPM&O, and the OBSTRR were all present at the same time! What isn’t show here are places like yards and roundhouses, of which there were several in the area.

The Omaha Road had a roundhouse and small railyards there, too, along with the UPRR line that ran to factories on the north side of Carter Lake. The IC spurs to the East Omaha Factory District was busy, and railcars constantly hauled ice from massive icehouses on the lake as late as the 1930s. While almost all of that infrastructure is gone today, its easy to imagine how busy the area was.

Today, the Canadian National Railway owns the East Omaha bridge, it is closed and locked open, and is poorly maintained.

Union Pacific Railroad in North Omaha

In this picture from the newspaper, Lee Wesley Gibson shakes hands with 66-year-old Willie James, a retired Union Pacific chef on Feb. 29, 2012. 101-yr.-old former Union Pacific porter, Lee Wesley Gibson, visits Union Pacific headquarters in downtown Omaha, Nebraska.
In this picture from the newspaper, Lee Wesley Gibson shakes hands with 66-year-old Willie James, a retired Union Pacific chef on Feb. 29, 2012. 101-yr.-old former Union Pacific porter, Lee Wesley Gibson, visits Union Pacific headquarters in downtown Omaha, Nebraska.

I’d be remiss to neglect the Union Pacific Railroad’s role in the history of North Omaha. They had no trunk line or bridge that spanned any part of North Omaha. They didn’t build a shiny station to benefit the community, or pour tons of money directly into the area.

Instead, north of Dodge Street they had a single line that wrapped around the north side of Carter Lake. And a massive rail yard north of Cuming Street beside North 11th Street, and their massive shops near at North 9th and Cuming Streets.

The Union Pacific Railroad also employed many North Omahans. From the early years of the railroad through the 1960s, African Americans were hired almost exclusively to work as cooks, waiters, and porters for the railroad. Other Blacks were hired by the Union Pacific as strikebreakers, and many migrated to Omaha from The South for these jobs in the late 1870s. Despite being paid menial wages and struggling to stay employed, by the 20th century a growing number of African American employees of the Union Pacific managed to maintain a middle class lifestyle in the Near North Side.

As the veil of white supremacy and workplace racism began lifting in the 1960s, African Americans achieved higher roles in the company. Eventually, some became stewards, inspectors and engineers for U.P. Today, there are Black managers throughout the company in Omaha and beyond.

However, when the working class Union Pacific jobs left Omaha en masse in the 1960s, North Omaha was adversely affected too. With remarkably fewer employment opportunities, youth found themselves without visions for the future and the immediate prospect of relieving tension and forcing attention to their situation led to rioting and protests in the community. Along with industries like the packinghouses and stockyards, and poor city leadership, the Union Pacific, along with the smaller rail lines in the city, was responsible for this.

Today, the heritage of African Americans working for the Union Pacific is celebrated at their museum in Council Bluffs, and by the Union Pacific Railroad’s Black Employee Network, or BEN. BEN began in Omaha in 1979 with five employees, with more than 700 today. There are BEN chapters in St. Louis, North Little Rock, Kansas City, Memphis, Los Angeles, Fort Worth, Houston, Omaha, Chicago and Addis, Louisiana. The mission of BEN is to increase the recruitment, retention and advancement of African-American employees within Union Pacific, by promoting and facilitating personal and professional growth, and working with UP senior leadership on diversity issues. BEN also provides scholarships, encourages post-secondary education for high school graduates, and supports local African-American communities.

Depots and Stations in North Omaha

I’ve found at least nine stations in North O affiliated with various railroads. The Belt Line Railway began as a passenger transport, and required depots for pickup and drop off. They included the Webster Street station, the Oak Chatham depot, the Druid Hill depot, the Lake Street depot, the Nicholas Street depot and the Walnut Hill depot.

Missouri Pacific Lines Yard Office, North 15th and Grace Street, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is the Missouri Pacific Lines Yard Office at North 15th and Grace Streets.

There were several other railroad depots in North Omaha, too. The Omaha Road had two stations in North Omaha, including the Florence Depot and the Briggs Station. After leaving north from downtown, the CNW used the Omaha View depot and the DeBolt station.

By 1876, there was also a separate stop for the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad (later the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad) to serve Fort Omaha called the Briggs Depot. Located at 3190 Grand Avenue, it served the area for almost forty years until a grand crash demolished the building.  

Other Railroad Infrastructure in North Omaha

MoPac Roundhouse, North Omaha, Nebraska
In this 1926 pic, you can see the Holmquist Elevator on North 16th at Commercial Ave; the MoPac Roundhouse to the right; and the Ames Avenue bridge over Carter Lake. I’m not sure what that elevator is to the right; it would’ve been along the Omaha Road, maybe nearby the ice house?

Its challenging to account for all the railroad infrastructure in North Omaha, if only because there was so much of it. By far the largest place was called the North Yards. It was a massive area of rails, shops and other industry-related places that was located north of the Union Pacific shops, extending roughly from Cuming to Locust Street, from North 9th to North 14th Street.

There were trestles over Cuming around North 40th; over North 30th at Hartman; over Minne Lusa Boulevard near JJ Pershing Drive; and over North 16th Street at Commercial Avenue. There was also a large a viaduct on Locust from North 11th to North 16th, and another over Nicholas from North 13th to North 16th Street.

There were two roundhouses north of Locust Street and east of North 14th. One was operated by the Missouri Pacific, and the other was for the Omaha Road. There were also at two train bridges across the west arm of Carter Lake operated by the Illinois Central Railroad.

Railroads in North Omaha
This is a map of railroad routes, roundhouses, bridges, depots and stations in North Omaha.

North Omaha Railroad Tour

Much the same as railroad infrastructure across the United States, North Omaha’s depots, stations, trestles, bridges, roundhouses and rails themselves have largely faded from the community’s landscape. However, their places don’t have to be lost! Here’s a list of railroad places in North Omaha.

Omaha Missouri Pacific Railroad Passenger and Freight Depots
This Sanborn Insurance map shows the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railroad Passenger Depot and Freight Depot at
  • North Yard, N. 11th and Nicholas St (demolished)
  • Missouri Pacific Freight Depot, N. 14th and Webster St (demolished)
  • Webster Street Station, 1490 Mike Fahey St (demolished)
  • Oak Chatham Depot, 4351 N. 22nd St (demolished)
  • Druid Hill Depot, 4230 N. 30th St (demolished)
  • Lake Street Depot, 2480 N. 40th St (demolished)
  • Nicholas Street Depot, 4360 Nicholas St (demolished)
  • Walnut Hill Depot, 4242 Hamilton St (demolished)
  • Florence Depot, 2800 Tucker St (standing)
  • Briggs Depot, 3190 Grand Ave (demolished)
  • Briggs Station, 5300 Sargent St (demolished)
  • Omaha View Depot, 3200 Grand Ave (demolished)
  • DeBolt Station, 7000 N. 60th St (demolished)
  • Omaha Road Roundhouse, 35 Carter Lake Shore Dr (demolished)
  • Missouri Pacific Roundhouse, 35 Carter Lake Shore Dr (demolished)
  • Illinois Central Bridge, 41°16’44.4″N 95°53’31.8″W (standing)
  • Missouri Pacific Trestle, 4448 Cuming St (demolished)
  • Missouri Pacific Railroad Yard Office, N. 15th and Grace Street (demolished)
  • Chicago and Northwestern Trestle, 4900 N. 30th (demolished)
  • OPPD Trestle, 41°19’39.1″N 95°56’25.6″W Minne Lusa
  • Omaha Road Trestle, 41°19’37.2″N 95°56’58.4″W Minne Lusa (standing)
  • Missouri Pacific Trestle, 4140 N. 16th (demolished)
  • Union Pacific Bridge, 4405 Carter Lake Shore Dr. W (demolished)
  • Locust Street Bridge, 1415 Locust St (demolished)
  • Locust Street Viaduct, 1415 Locust St (demolished)
  • Nicholas Street Viaduct, 1450 Nicholas St (demolished)
  • Missouri Pacific Carter Lake Bridge, 35 Carter Lake Shore Dr (demolished)

Other railroad-related places included the Railroad Men’s Benevolent and Social Club at North 24th and Miami Streets in the 1950s; and the Waiters and Porters Headquarters was located in today’s Blue Lion Center at 2421 North 24th Street from the 1930s into the 1950s. The Sleeping Car Porters Headquarters was located at North 27th and Lake in the 1920s and 1930s, but I haven’t figured out where at that intersection yet.

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BONUS PICS!

Omaha Road Roundhouse, North Omaha, Nebraska
The Omaha Road roundhouse was located in the former Sulpher Springs, north of Locust Street and west of Carter Lake Drive West. It lasted from approximately 1890 through the 1950s. In 1913 it was demolished by the Easter Sunday tornado, and rebuilt later.
Nicholas Street Viaduct, North Omaha, Nebraska
Looking south towards downtown from the top of the Nebraska Consolidated Mills on North 16th, you can see the Nicholas Street Viaduct in the center of the pic. The Missouri Pacific Railroad freight house is on right (west) and the CMO ice house is to the left left (east).
Omaha Road Roundhouse, N. 13th and Locust Streets, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is a 1901 diagram of the Omaha Road Roundhouse at N. 13th and Locust Streets.
North Railroad Yards, N. 13th and Yates Streets, Omaha, Nebraska
This is Omaha’s North Yard in 1951. Located between Cuming and Locust between North 8th and North 14th, it was packed with railroad-related shops, spots and more.
Missouri Pacific Freight Depot, Omaha, Nebraska
This is Omaha’s Missouri Pacific Freight Depot, located at N. 14th and Webster Streets.
This is a 2007 map of active railroads in Douglas County from the Nebraska Department of Transportation.
Railroads in North Omaha, Episode 47 of North Omaha History Podcast by Adam Fletcher Sasse with Steve Sleeper
Railroads in North Omaha, Episode 47 of North Omaha History Podcast by Adam Fletcher Sasse with Steve Sleeper

Published by Adam Fletcher Sasse

I am the editor of NorthOmahaHistory.com, the author of North Omaha History Volumes 1, 2 & 3, and the host of the North Omaha History Podcast.

Join the Conversation

6 Comments

  1. Thank you for your fabulous articles on the history of North Omaha. I write a family history blog and many of my ancestors settled in Omaha, including North Omaha. My North Omaha family were Swedes and railway people. I have learned a great deal from your blogs and will include links to them in my future posts about the Nichols family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks – that’s awesome to hear! I hope you’ve seen my articles about the Scandinavians in North Omaha, Vennelyst Park and the other Swedish-ish things I’ve written about. Thanks again for your note!

      Like

    2. I agree, this is a wonderful article. My grandfather was yard master for the Chicago, St. Paul, Minn and Omaha in Omaha. I have very distant memories of him working in the Yards. I wish I could get more information about him and be able to identify the location of a picture I have of him at the Yards. Like treeklimber, my grandfather was Swedish. I will try to find your other articles. By the way our you familiar with the Golden Rail Bar?

      Thanks

      Like

  2. Good information regarding Omaha’s RR history…… It gort me thinking…..

    I lived at 1709 84th st in the early 1060s. I was just a toddler at the time. I recall seeing a train pass by one night behind the house across the street. Further research shows RR right of way for the CNW RR behind the house across the street (see 1960 arial photo at:http://memories.nebraska.gov/cdm/compoundobject/collection/opl/id/2005/rec/21 page 210 ) . This rail bed looks to be abandoned and is now part of the Keystone Trial.

    My question is, was there ever a RR behind the house across the street from 1709 84th . If so, what is the history around this abandoned stretch of track ?

    Thanks

    Like

  3. I was hoping someone could give me some information about the Nicholas street viaduct. Can anyone tell me when the bridge was demolished? Thank you for your time.

    Like

  4. Hi mr. Roberts. My name is Ray and I worked for mop from 1971 until (after) they merged with the u.p.r.r. ,(figure in a 3 year hiatus for the army). I really enjoyed my time working there. Well.except for the winter storms, 100 plus days & all of the crummy hours. Really though, it was with a great bunch of guys! A reunion would be great, but most of the characters have passed away and it seems like for one reason or another no one ever keeps on touch for long.
    During my career with mopac, I was a switchman brakeman, & a yardmaster.. (or lovingly ? referred to as a yardmonster). So hopefully I can answer a few questions.
    I don’t remember a “golden rail bar” but after work sometimes we’d go to the Broken wheel bar. Might have been the same place. It was just north of the nighthawk cafe and just south of Carter lake drive. Nothing like a shot % a beer at 7 a.m. That was our 5 p.m. Get off work drink, but in those days it sure brought on more than few funny lips at other bars.
    Feel free to ask any other questions. I love the memories!
    P. S. I didn’t do it on purpose but we built our last house right on top of where there used to be mops tracks leading to louisville. The b.n. tracks that ran parallel to mopac’s is literally a stone’s throw away.

    N

    N

    Like

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