Containers filled with cocaine and methamphetamine were found during the Halloween weekend in a railroad grain car in Bailey Yard in North Platte.
The discovery spooked workers, especially because the grain car apparently came from Mexico and was thought to be part of drug cartel activity.
Workers say drug shipments present them with unknown dangers. The lack of official information doesn’t help alleviate fears.
Despite repeated requests by the Bulletin, law enforcement and company spokespersons declined to comment, although the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) said that agents were at the scene on Monday, Oct. 31 and an investigation is underway.
Information that is known comes from a variety of sources who spoke anonymously, fearing job reprisals, as well as photographs that are circulating through Bailey Yard and North Platte.
The car is thought to be an empty from Mexico, bound for Lexington. The car number was possibly altered.
The drugs were in 30 cylindrical containers as well as a half-dozen or so conventional plastic packages, according to photos taken at the scene.
The containers had been put into a channel iron that runs the length of the top of the car. The channel is about 4” x 10” and was temporarily capped.
The containers were tied together with a rope, so someone could remove all the containers by pulling the rope.
Eighteen pounds of coke and 100 pounds of meth were discovered. The street value of the meth could be as high as $3.6 million, based on a cost of $80 per gram, a general estimate from the DEA in 2020.
A Bailey Yard worker reportedly called 911 Sunday morning and said a strange car had been driving around the yard for about 45 minutes.
Local law officers responded to the 911 call. It is believed that they found the vehicle driving around the yard and the occupants were said to be Hispanic, with heavy tattoos, possibly members of a Mexican drug cartel.
No Union Pacific police were reported at the yard.
Soon, the Nebraska State Patrol arrived on the scene and took charge of the situation, reportedly acting at the request of the DEA. The first law officers at the scene departed.
The rail car was on a separate track, as though it had a defect and needed repair. It is unclear if the DEA ordered the car to be set out, or if an UP worker/inspector had tagged it for repair.
At about the same time, a vehicle – car or pickup — with a similar, lone occupant was reported to be parked east of North Platte on North Airport Road, at a vantage point where outbound trains could be watched.
Despite a number of suspects, no arrests were recorded at Lincoln County jail. The DEA specifically declined to say if anyone was arrested.
It is suspected that the occupants were drug runners who were watching for the car. When the rail car didn’t appear on trains east of the yard, the runners went in looking for it.
It is nerve wracking for rail workers, who point out the lack of law enforcement.
According to the Union Pacific website, the company is budgeted for 126 sworn police officers who are commonly referred to as special agents.
As a Bailey Yard worker said, that equates to one agent per 254 miles of track. Compared to the miles of road in Lincoln County, that would equate to one sheriff’s deputy to patrol 300 miles of county roads.
“I don’t remember the last time I saw a special agent for the railroad, and I am positive my fellow employees would say the same thing,” the worker said.
Although the Lincoln County sheriff’s office and the Nebraska State Patrol were seen at Bailey Yard, officials from those agencies declined to comment.
When Union Pacific was contacted more than a week later, spokeswoman Robynn Tysver seemed unaware of the drug discovery. Later, she sent an email saying that all questions were being referred to the DEA.
DEA Omaha Information Officer Emily Murray said, “It’s important to understand that drug cartels will use any means necessary to transport their poisonous product across the United States.”
“We’ve seen where cartels have used planes and trains, cars, semis, RVs and boats to transport their product to different distribution hubs,” Murray said. “The end result is that communities, both large and small, are disrupted and affected by these activities.”
“If anything positive can come from this, my hope is that families will sit down together and have honest conversations about the consequences of drug use and abuse. One conversation may be all it takes to save a life,” Murray said.
(This report was first published in the Bulletin’s Nov. 9 print edition. Print subscriptions in Lincoln County are just $38 a year. Contact us to subscribe.)
© 2022 The North Platte Bulletin. All rights reserved.