Santa Teresa Block Swap Expansion

Strauss, New Mexico

When Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) implemented precision scheduled railroading (PSR), expansion of the Santa Teresa Intermodal Ramp (STIR) was elevated to high priority. The project’s goal was to add seven new block swap tracks, a new switching lead, a new receiving and departure track, and several crossovers to this key, high-volume yard.

The expansion of STIR would allow UPRR to accommodate longer trains and reduce terminal dwell time for train cars, which are two key components of PSR. STIR is an important location for UPRR in that it’s located about 700 miles from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California. The goal for STIR’s expansion was to create space where trains arriving from major cities, such as Chicago, Dallas, and Houston, could be combined into longer trains before heading to a port.    

Expansion at STIR would also allow UPRR to reduce dwell time at inland terminals, at West Coast ports, and at the railroad’s Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF) in Long Beach, California. Frequently, train cars were sitting at smaller inland terminals for several days until enough cars could be combined to justify a westbound train. STIR expansion would allow these cars to move out of inland ramps daily by providing an efficient yard to sort them for their next destinations.

A conceptual design for an expanded block swap yard at STIR was prepared during the original design of the yard in 2012, but UPRR decided to pause the expansion project until an ideal time in the future.

In early 2019, funding for the project was approved and UPRR contacted Olsson to begin work on the expanded block swap yard. The project was given an accelerated schedule, so the Olsson project team began mobilizing survey crews the next business day to begin topographic and top-of-rail surveys.

Upon completion of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and conventional GPS survey, engineering design and plan development proceeded very quickly. Once the conceptual design work and the yard layout was approved, the Olsson team picked up the pace with seven-day work weeks for more than two consecutive months to make sure the schedule was kept on track.

During this time, our design teams were split into multiple work groups for concurrent advancement of numerous design elements such as geotechnical and pavement analysis, track design, hydrologic and hydraulic evaluation for drainage and underdrain systems, water main relocation, roadway, yard air, and lighting and electrical design. Communication and coordination with the UPRR team was key to keeping the project moving forward. We planned and coordinated work plans with agencies and several large stakeholder groups within UPRR, including its service unit and teams for terminal design, network planning, civil construction, signal, facilities, and real estate and utilities.

To help accelerate the construction schedule, track materials were updated from wood to concrete ties throughout most of the yard to facilitate construction with a track laying machine (TLM). The final design used wood ties at turnout locations and concrete ties for most other track, allowing faster track construction using the TLM. Additionally, the underdrain, electrical, and lighting construction were emphasized critical-path items that allowed track construction to begin as quickly as possible.

Olsson designed the new block swap yard at STIR to handle 14,000-foot-long trains. The expansion included a block swap switching lead, an additional receiving and departure (R&D) track, seven block swap yard tracks, a locomotive engine ready track, seven crossovers, access roads and at-grade crossings, electrical and power distribution, telecommunications, a stormwater and underdrain systems, high-mast lighting, and a new modular building to handle increased traffic. Other key project improvements included realignment of a primary access road, pipe chicane reconstruction, reconfiguration of parking and sidewalks for the administration building, and reconstruction of a ductile iron pipe force main waterline and hydrant.

New yard air improvements consisted of installing a new power supply and a reinforced concrete slab foundation to support a prefabricated container that houses the motor, compressor, and storage tank. Air piping and stub-ups were designed and strategically positioned for ease of access.

Olsson also took the lead role for permit acquisition, cost estimating, preparation of specifications and bid documents, and bidding.

Ragnar Benson Construction was awarded the construction contract. Construction started in July 2019, and work on the new tracks began in late August. All tracks in the yard were opened for service in December 2019, only nine months after the approval of the 10 percent design. In total, 32 switches were constructed, 73,165 feet of new track was constructed to support the expanded block swap operation, and 81,300 square yards of new roadway or access road paving was completed.  

The timely completion enabled UPRR to launch longer trains to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, reducing terminal dwell time across the network and support PSR initiatives and its Unified Plan 2020.


Ryan Kosola

Omaha, Nebraska


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