56th and Old Cheney railroad crossing
A car crosses the railroad tracks at the 56th Street and Old Cheney Road crossing in Lincoln.

It takes more than a few days to break old habits.

During the 17-year period that no trains ran along the Highway 2 Railroad Corridor, Lincoln drivers may have become accustomed to not worrying about any delays to traffic or looking out for railroad crossings.

That changed on Jan. 1, when the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company began running a 1.5-mile-long coal train bound for Nebraska City six times per week. One-and-a-half months into the rail track’s resumption, BNSF spokeswoman Courtney Wallace said the trains have been running as expected.

“We’ve heard some inquiries about the train service and the whistles,” Wallace said. “I think for the most part, it’s gone smoothly, and we continue to drive home that safety message of staying off the tracks.”

While BNSF owns the Highway 2 rail from Hobson Yard in west Lincoln to 56th street, Omaha Public Power District operates the remainder of the line to Nebraska City. As such, BNSF and OPPD entered into a contract where a train will deliver coal to OPPD’s Nebraska City plant and return to Lincoln once per day.

In the lead-up to the track’s resumption, the city of Lincoln Railroad Transportation Safety District and BNSF conducted a public outreach campaign reminding Lincoln residents to stay safe around the tracks. RTSD also estimated that about 100 cars could be stopped while waiting for the train to pass depending on the intersection.

Avoiding morning and evening rush hour traffic was a priority for the rail, but BNSF can’t guarantee that the train will miss the busiest parts of the day.

“We do everything we can to minimize the impact on the community, but we can never guarantee the train will avoid peak drive times,” Wallace said. “We do recognize the headaches because we’ve all been stuck at a train waiting for it to go past.”

Local businesses along Highway 2 have become very familiar with the trains since January, but they haven’t seen many rail operation issues. The train passes about 100 feet away from the Amigos on 14th street, and while staff members said the train is loud when it comes, the few minutes it takes to pass isn’t bothersome.

The Garage Sports Bar on 48th street also has a clear view of the rail from inside, and staff member Shelli Wilson said she sees the train come by once or twice per day.

“We all hear it when they blow the whistle,” Wilson said. “Thankfully, I live on this side of the tracks, and I’ve never had to wait.”

It’s a similar story for the many businesses along 56th Street and Old Cheney Road, which is the intersection RTSD identified as having the greatest number of cars waiting for the train to pass. In its initial study, RTSD found that up to 300 cars could be stopped at the intersection thanks to the rail’s diagonal trajectory.

However, Kathy Bassett at Eileen’s Cookies hasn’t seen any traffic problems. Bassett said she hears the train usually during late morning or early afternoon but not when it returns later in the day.

Carol Forbes at Cedar Hill Home & Holiday also hears the train rumble by each day, and she decided to time how long it takes to pass. Forbes said the three to four-minute period isn’t bothersome, and the staff hasn’t heard much about traffic problems.

“We haven’t heard much from the customers other than one day last week that the arms were stuck for 45 minutes and no one could get past,” Forbes said. “I’m always at work before the trains run, so I’ve never been stuck.” 

Among the businesses along Highway 2, the consensus is that the rail line seems to be running well in their eyes. That’s a welcome sign for BNSF, which plans to keep operating the rail thanks to the time it saves transporting coal to OPPD’s Nebraska City plant.

“Freight trains are driven by customer demand in areas of need, and we hope this will continue to serve the Lincoln and Nebraska City communities,” Wallace said.