The NASA Railroad is at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It consists of 38 miles of track connecting the mainline of the Florida East Coast Railway and trackage at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
The railroad was created in 1963 and was used during the Apollo era to carry heavy loads. The Florida East Coast Railway built a
7.5- mile connection to the Kennedy Space Center from
its mainline just north of Titusville, Fla. It also required a drawbridge over the Indian River.
The Florida East Coast connection joined 28 miles of
the NASA-constructed track at a junction named Wilson’s
Corners. There are two yards, each seven tracks, one called Cape Canaveral Junction (now Jay-Jay) and the Wilson Yard.
In the late 1970s, NASA acquired three World War II-era
ex-U.S Army Alco S2 locomotives for local switching in the
area of the Vehicle Assembly Building and the KSC Industrial
In June 1983 because of the hazardous commodities hauled over the railroad, particularly the solid rocket boosters for the space shuttle, NASA decided to
completely rebuild and upgrade the line. NASA then acquired
three EMD SW-1500 locomotives.
The primary traffic on the NASA Railroad has been the
solid rocket booster segment cars. Each of the two booster
rockets on the space shuttle consisted of four segments,
each 32 feet long and 12 feet in diameter weighing an
average of 150 tons. So, each launch requires the delivery of
eight segment cars.
The Air Force also had until recently three specially modified SW-8 locomotives for the Titan IV rocket. They also use helium and that was easily transported by rail.
With the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, the locomotives were shipped to Texas and California to be repurposed at the NASA sites there. In 2014, NASA donated locomotive #2 to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in Miami where it remains on static display.
In 2015 the Nasa Railroad ceased operations. In 2020 the railroad re-opened to support the new Space Launch System (SLS) vehicle. The boosters will once again be manufactured by Orbital ATK in Utah and shipped cross country by rail. Railcar movers (road-rail vehicles) are now used by the NASA Railroad.
In 2007 a bridge collapsed in Demopolis, Alabama, and derailed a train carrying Space shuttle solid rocket boosters. So what does “Do Not Hump” mean on the train cars? It refers to a common method used to sort freight cars known as “humping,” which involves the use of a man-made hill, or hump.
A track heads up the hill and branches into numerous parallel tracks on its way down the other side. A switch engine pushes a string of cars to the top of the hump to make up new trains, where the cars are uncoupled one at a time.
Having determined the car’s destination, a worker in a nearby tower pushes buttons or throws levers or whatever to get the track switches (you know, those things where one track divides into two) lined up properly. The car is then given a nudge, causing it to roll down the hump and onto the right track. While quick, this is too rough for most of NASA’s cargo.