Railroads & Locomotives Hot Spots Hutchinson, Kans.

Hutchinson, Kans.

By Dan Munson | July 6, 2006

Where to go and what to see when you get there

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Hutchinson, Kans., is generally thought of as a town to pass through, not a point of final destination. As rail enthusiasts and photographers head west to Curtis Hill, or follow the Union Pacific’s trackage into the southwest, they’re likely to pass through thinking it’s just a good place for gas and food. But “Hutch” offers a lot more.

Getting around is fairly easy. A copy of the Kansas State map, available at welcome centers, is the best resource. In addition to an excellent rendering of the state and an insert map of Hutchinson, both maps also show rail lines. The city streets are laid out on a standard grid–but watch for changes on the southwest side where city planners had to adjust for the curving Arkansas River.

Railroad access from public locations abound.

Kansas Hwy. 61 parallels the UP from McPherson into Hutch. The UP drops into town on a long cut, then becomes a fill from the northeast to the southwest.

BNSF Railway and Union Pacific intersect at SSW crossing, which can be photographed from Lorraine Street with a telephoto lens. In addition, UP, BNSF, and Kansas & Oklahoma pass through downtown, providing numerous opportunities to watch and/or photograph trains, and the Amtrak and UP depots both are located just off Main Street.

Southwest of Hutchinson, Kansas 61 parallels both the UP and BNSF lines to Partridge, and Kansas Hwy. 96 follows the K&O northwest out of town to and past Yaggy yard.

Only the BNSF’s Way yard is inaccessible without trespassing, but this isn’t a problem because only a single yard engine is based there, and it wanders out twice daily.

Finally, if you want to watch or photograph the Hutchinson & Northern, Mine Road runs right alongside its line, just east and south of downtown. Overall, use good judgment if you’re not sure whether you’re on railroad property.

As is the case in many places, a scanner is an invaluable tool in Hutch. All UP trains have to contact the BNSF’s DS17(dispatcher) to get lined across the diamonds at SSW crossing. (UP trains also will have to get track warrants via radio over their own route.) The same is true for K&O trains crossing the BNSF at West Hutch, or going to and from BNSF’s Way yard. BNSF trains are controlled by track warrant control west of Hutch, which makes for frequent radio transmissions. BNSF uses AAR channel 55 (160.935), UP’s road channel is AAR 96 (161.550), and K&O uses AAR channel 65 (161.085). AAR 19 (160.395) is reserved for local switching.

Road train operations can and do vary, although several local operations are regular. UP is the busiest, running about 20 through trains a day. Daylight and afternoon switchers and a daylight local turn to McPherson provide local train service. All these jobs do on-duty at the former Rock Island depot just off Main Street.

For its part, BNSF offers a daylight and afternoon yard jobs that switch local industries on both sides of town. The afternoon job typically switches the large Cargill Salt plant just southeast of downtown, using industrial trackage that parallels the H&N. The only other scheduled trains are the Newton-to-Dodge City locals that pass through each direction late in the afternoon or evening, and Amtrak’s Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief, both moving through in the early morning darkness. Watch for grain extras and possible intermodel re-reoutes off the transcon and onto UP trackage rights on the west side of town.

The K&O runs a daily switch job working around Hutch serving local industries, delivering cars to the BNSF and UP, and shuttling them back to Yaggy yard northwest of town on Kansas Hwy. 96. The “out one day, back the next” turn to Wichita leaves in the morning and returns the next afternoon. A nightly turn from Yaggy to Lyons operates up to four days a week.

The little H&N operates daily, Monday through Friday, starting in the morning. Make it your first stop in Hutch, because with the small traffic base the crew often can be seen tying up well before noon.

If you do decide to visit, Hutch offers plenty of food, drink, and lodging, mostly grouped on the north and northeast side of town. Heading north on Main Street from the Amtrak depot will take you directly to eating establishments. I recommend the bacon cheeseburger and malt from Braum’s.

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