What Are Hump Yards?

Railways have used hump yards for many years to help sort rail cars. What is a hump yard?

A hump yard is an artificial hill in the middle of a train yard. Cars are pushed up the hill and uncoupled at the top, and they roll down by themselves onto a preselected track to join other rail cars to form trains. This is a faster way of sorting cars than the traditional “flat” switching, where a crew has to place every car on every track.

There are devices called “retarders” on the “downhill” side of the hump that automatically slow rail cars so they roll gently to couple onto existing cars on the selected track. These retarders detect the rail car speed and basically press on the sides of the car’s wheels to slow the car down. The idea is for the car to roll far enough to couple up to other cars on the track without slamming into them.

Hump yards can sort cars much faster than flat switching yards, but they require more people and are only worthwhile if there is a lot of switching being done at a yard. In recent years many hump yards have been closed as railways are trying to avoid switching cars where possible. With the increasing use of unit trains, there is less need to switch cars in and out of trains.

Canadian Hump Yards

The following are some of the few remaining active hump yards in Canada:

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