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33rd and Cornhusker corridor

Traffic rolls to a stop on North 33rd Street as a coal train moves along the BNSF Railway tracks just south of Cornhusker Highway in December.

Nebraska's low unemployment rate is leading the nation's two largest freight railroads to offer huge incentives to attract employees for certain jobs.

Omaha-based Union Pacific is offering signing bonuses as high as $15,000 for diesel mechanics, $20,000 for train crew positions and up to $25,000 for diesel electricians in North Platte, home to UP's Bailey Yard, the world's largest train yard.

UP spokeswoman Kristen South said the railroad also is offering $10,000 signing bonuses to people who join the company's diesel electrician apprenticeship program.

Job listings on UP's website show similar incentives being offered for similar job openings in Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Denver, Kansas City, parts of Wyoming and in other states.

"These positions are critical to our ability to serve customers," South said in an email.

The Wall Street Journal on Monday reported that BNSF Railway, which is owned by Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway, was offering similar bonuses.

BNSF officials could not be reached for comment, but its website showed hiring incentives of up to $20,000 for railcar repair employees in Alliance. No job openings in Lincoln, where BNSF has close to 2,000 employees, listed any hiring bonuses.

According to its website, BNSF is offering hiring bonuses of up to $25,000 for certain jobs in Kansas City, Topeka, Denver, Chicago, and parts of Wyoming, Montana and other states.

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BNSF spokeswoman Amy Casas told the Wall Street Journal that the company is facing a talent shortage across its network.

“We are constantly evaluating the market and will use this approach when it makes sense to recruit talented individuals for hard to fill positions or locations,” she told the newspaper.

It wasn't that long ago that railroads were cutting deeply as shipments of oil, coal and grain declined.

In 2015 and 2016, both Union Pacific an BNSF Railway furloughed thousands of workers.

But as the economy has picked up, both companies have called back most of their furloughed workers and are now in hiring mode.

The Journal reported that the two companies between them plan to hire more than 4,000 train engine and yard workers this year, a prospect that is proving difficult with a national unemployment rate at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent.

The job is made even harder in Nebraska, where the rate is only 2.8 percent.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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