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The future: Rail town USATell North Platte what you think
 
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A hotel made entirely of shipping containers shows what is possible in North Platte, Original Town organizer Dave Harrold says.

If you could peel back the layer of the future of North Platte, you might see an international Rail Town attraction under construction, much of it built out of shipping containers, a blue-collar art form that is appearing around the world.

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Both futuristic projects are steadily taking shape and stand to enrich the community of Lincoln County and central Nebraska.

Operating on the promise of a $500,000 matching grant, Rail Town organizer Dave Harrold says it is time to make a vision of Rail Town USA a reality.

The goal is to build a Rail Town attraction along the south side of Interstate-80, between the two North Platte interchanges.

Harrold said North Platte should focus on its railroad heritage and build an attraction that will be noticed by I-80 travelers, who will drive into town to take a good look. He said the success of Rail Fest has proven that people will come from around the world to see the world’s biggest train yard and the area.

As many as 2.4 million travelers pass by North Platte in a year, according to a lengthy feasibility study put together by developer Barry Howard.

Howard has designed impressive projects, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. He also knows trains, as shown by his design of the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

Harrold, the ever-enthusiastic railroad fan who built Rail Fest into a consistent major attraction, contacted Howard. Intrigued, Howard came to North Platte a year ago at his own expense to see the possibilities.

Howard saw advantages in developing an attractive theme for North Platte to capture the interest of visitors and entertain them.

Under Howard’s plan, the Buffalo Bill’s Scouts Rest Ranch, the Golden Spike, Cody Park, the Wild West Arena and the Lincoln County Museum would all accentuate their railroad features.


Among his concepts:

Scouts Rest Ranch - 19th century rail coach, observation car and caboose, showing the trains that carried settlers and their supplies, and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

Downtown - Elevated scale model train operating in a “Railroad Square.” And, the real trains that travel along Front St. on their way to and from Bailey Yard become a “show that never ends” for rail fans.

Cody Park – kids’ train rides and a permanent Rail Fest showgrounds, along with the current display in the southeast corner.

Golden Spike – a WWII Canteen replica and a Railroad museum.

Much is conceptual but would be logical outgrowths and boost the entire area, Harrold said, even nearby villages

“This would help the entire area,” he said. “For instance, we routinely recommend rail fans take pictures on pedestrian overpasses in Sutherland and Brady. Those are the greatest places in the world, where trains pass by, literally, just a few feet beneath your feet.”

Harrold said if North Platte doesn’t pursue the opportunity, other towns will, pointing to railroad attractions in Cheyenne and Grand Island.

“Those places are not asleep,” he said. “They will develop, and they are.”

North Platte already has something they don’t -- the world’s biggest railroad yard.

“We need to get going,” he said.


Container attraction

The attraction would be built out of shipping containers – rectangular steel crates that are used to carry merchandise and supplies around the world.

The jumbo Lego-like containers are being converted to buildings with astonishing results. Architects have adapted them for high-rise apartment blocks in Melbourne, designer penthouse additions in Manhattan and coffee shops in Vancouver.

In Britain, Travelodge used steel containers in two different sizes to create a hotel with 120 rooms and a bar/cafe. The containers were prepared ahead of time in China with plasterboard walls, wiring and plumbing, then were simply bolted together on site. All that was left to install were windows, decoration and furnishings, the company said.

According to preliminary designs, a Rail Town container structure would not be a hotel, but would be home to many things, including an international bazaar of the merchandise shipped through Bailey Yard.

The first installment of Rail Town could be about 700-feet long and about 50 feet wide. At that scale, it could also link to a national center for container art and architecture, in addition to a rail attraction, Harrold said.

In the feasibility study, Howard said “the shipping container represents a stunning variety of goods and materials originated from virtually every corner of the globe – on newly composed trains heading east and west from the Yard to pass through myriad towns and cities here and abroad, connecting North Platte to all parts of the nation and the world.”

The grant is a matching amount and won’t be awarded unless $1 million is raised from other sources, Harrold said. He has been talking to potential investors in several states, most recently in Colorado.



This report was first published in the May 8 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin.


Other talkbacks

A less detailed report of this possible attraction, without photos, was posted online May 7 and garnered these talkbacks:


If you take an in-depth look at the Original Town proposal, you will find that it appeals to much, much more than just rail buffs. Yes, rail buffs are part of the demographics, but there are also environmental/green building buffs, art buffs (one of the most frequently heard comments at Rail Fest is admiration for the incredible talent of graffiti artists - these shipping containers will provide ready made - and legal - canvases for their art), architecture buffs, plus those who will simply be captivated by something so unique and conveniently located right off of I-80. The advantage the proposed location has over the Archway is its location BETWEEN two exits only a mile apart. It will be super convenient to exit and return via Halligan Drive to check it out. Unlike the Archway where eastbound the next exit is 9 miles down the road (soon to be rectified), and westbound its over a mile of backtracking. And don't forget that the entire plan calls for a complete mixed-use entertainment development with shopping, dining and entertainment venues. Something North Platte desperately needs. I concur with horseygirl - you go Dave!

-10 Posted by justanopinion - 5/9/2013 12:48:27 PM

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Just ask the Archway how being put up next to, or in that case over, the interstate worked out for them. I don't disagree that this town needs something to draw in the tourists. But like the Golden Spike it will appeal to a certain demographic instead of an overall draw. I get that North Platte is proud of it's railroad heritage, but if they want to capitolize on as many tourist dollars as possible it may be time to think about something other than Bailey Yard for a change.

+14 Posted by bigtroubleinlittlenp - 5/9/2013 11:24:55 AM

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justmeagain - Have you ever seen a bucket of crabs? In the likely even that you haven't, I'll tell you what happens when one of them begins to find a way to crawl out. As soon as the others realize that one of their own is about to escape to freedom, they reach up with their claws and pull the poor soul back into the bucket with them. Your attitude reminds me of that.

I think this project is a great idea and is an idea whose time has come. Not only will it be along the interstate where it will be seen and easily accessed, it will be a unique attraction that will not only entice people to stop if they are just driving by, it will become a destination.

You go, Dave!

-8 Posted by horseygirl - 5/9/2013 7:26:24 AM

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PB, I know containers can be made for good uses, but they are NOT a tourist attraction. They actually are a big waste of money, you do realize thousands of shipping containers get shipped here and never leave? We do not make enough exports to return a fraction of the numbers that arrive. My point was that attempting to make a tourist attraction out of them is a waste of money just like the earlier attempt ole Dave tried to get down by the old depot area. Once the generations die off the trains and the ability to draw interest will also fall. It is just not that interesting to the next generation.

+11 Posted by justmeagain - 5/8/2013 9:47:35 PM

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Privatize the profits and publicize the losses. J&J6PK gets slammed again. Bing returned 581mm hits not a new or creative idea. LOL!

+11 Posted by dragracer - 5/8/2013 6:48:08 PM

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@ justme agian I disagree completely, a great source of ready made structural material that can EASILY be converted into many things. While I cannot comment on the whole idea using shipping containers as buildings is awesome and cost effective. I have looked into for my own personal use and I believe it is a GREAT idea! Google shipping container homes and buildings and you will be surprised!

-5 Posted by PB - 5/8/2013 5:41:08 AM

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shipping containers? Really, someone is grasping at straws. This would be a waste of money.

+2 Posted by justmeagain - 5/7/2013 6:14:37 PM


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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 5/21/2013
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