Lincoln County development leaders are keeping the wheels rolling on their rail park project.
The park would host businesses that would get and send products on Union Pacific’s mainline train tracks. Access to the UP’s mainline is essential for the project’s success and communication between area development leaders and the railroad are ongoing.
The intended site for the rail park is 14 miles west of North Platte in the village of Hershey.
Gary Person, president and chief executive officer of the North Platte Area Chamber and Development Corporation, has been coordinating with Union Pacific and the village of Hershey.
“For the last 40 or 50 years, getting access to rail by other industries was virtually almost impossible to accomplish anywhere in Lincoln County,” Person said. “It somewhat limited our ability to diversify our economy with other industry.”
North Platte is home to the Bailey Yard, the world’s largest classification rail yard. That’s a place where railroad cars are sorted and directed to further destinations.
Union Pacific and other businesses associated with its operations have historically been large employers in the county.
“I strongly believe that it’s going to be a positive addition for the Village of Hershey,” said Thomas Wolfgang, the chairman of the village board of trustees.
Hershey had been home to Greenbrier Rail Services, a railcar maintenance service provider, but after the pandemic took hold last year, the plant shuttered. The park would be located around Greenbrier’s former site.
“Gary Person is the driving force in that whole process, he’s the one that has been coordinating with Union Pacific and with us,” Wolfgang said.
The project is in an early phase now, studies and designs for construction are being contracted by the development corporation. The long-term plan is to build the park while attracting future tenants to lease or buy parcels.
Hershey will have to expand its infrastructure to accommodate the prospective project.
“Obviously there’s some details to work out as far as how the logistics of it would work and what we would need to do to provide service and utilities, and that kind of product for the rail park, but overall I think there’s a great deal of excitement for it,” Wolfgang said.
“The village of Hershey has been phenomenal to work with,” Person said. “They’ll be a big part of this moving forward.”
North Platte has been actively pursuing development over the past two decades. According to a recent report, eight of the 18 tax increment financing projects that the city had approved since 1999 have paid off their project costs before the end of the incentives’ 15-year time frame.
“We’re working with a number of companies, not just those interested in the rail part, but for instance, we now have a proposed beef processing plant that’s just been announced,” Person said.
The development corporation’s CEO noted that the state’s favorable tax incentive policies helped attract the potential processing plant to the Lincoln County area, mentioning the recent ImagiNE Nebraska Act.
“They were looking at eastern Wyoming or northeast Colorado,” Person said. “Without that Nebraska partnership, I don’t think that project would have had a prayer of happening here.”
Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte sponsored LB40, which steamed through first-round approval in the legislature without opposition. The bill would increase state matching funds from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.
“Sen. Groene heard about what we were working on and embraced it and came up with the concept of some funding assistance through the state,” Person said.
Person said that the legislation drew support from senators outside of western Nebraska including Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk.
“He said ‘you know what’s being proposed; there just isn’t enough funding in there to have the major impact we want to see it have,’ so he proposed adding additional funds to it,” Person said. “That was a pleasant surprise.”