BNSF assumed switching and classification responsibilities at the Dayton, Texas, Yard on Dec. 1. Dayton Yard is about 40 miles east of Houston and functions as part of the Houston Complex and consolidated terminal. Construction at the yard started in 1996 with two tracks; the yard currently has 78 fully-operational tracks. The additional switching and classification responsibilities are a "big deal" for BNSF for a number of reasons. "This really lets us establish a footprint in the Houston area, more so than we have been able to in the past," said Marc Stephens, BNSF's general director, transportation. "In the longer-term, this opens the door for possibilities of other business." Dayton Yard's role is to support the Gulf Coast chemical network, to which BNSF gained access as a result of the Union Pacific/Southern Pacific merger. Dayton currently operates manifest trains to Memphis, Tenn.; Galesburg, Ill.; and New Orleans, where trains connect to eastern gateways. BNSF now has 67 additional positions, a significant increase from the yardmaster and 10 yard positions prior to Dec. 1. "We're using furloughed employees to fill the yard-related positions," Stephens said. BNSF employment at Dayton now includes 12 lead jobs, three utility positions, four industry assignments, one air test crew, six transfers, seven relief assignments and extra board support, giving Dayton a total of about 100 trainmen and engineers. About 15 chemical company customers use BNSF in this area. The yard also supports industry releases on Port Terminal Railroad; Bayport, Texas; Beaumont, Texas; Bay City, Texas; Seadrift, Texas; and Lake Charles, La. The yard operation breaks down into three components: classification of intermediate connections, industry yard operations for the Dayton Branch and storage for major chemical customers. The yard has capacity to store 3,000 carloads of plastics along with 1,000 cars in working inventory for the classification and branch yards.