• Nuke train heads to museum

  • A general discussion about shortlines, industrials, and military railroads
A general discussion about shortlines, industrials, and military railroads

Moderator: Aa3rt

  by RailVet
July 18, 2006
Nuke train heads to museum
'White Train' has lighter days ahead. Cold War relic played major role in Pantex history
By Jim McBride
Amarillo Globe News
[email protected]

Once they served as Cold War sentinels, protecting heavily armed crews who criss-crossed the country with nuclear warheads in tow.

But on Monday, several Pantex railcars made their final trek into history as a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad crew hauled them to a new home at the Amarillo Railroad Museum.

The train, operated by the Energy Department's Office of Secure Transportation, shipped nuclear warheads assembled at Pantex to military weapons depots across the country. From 1951 to 1987, the government shipped Navy nuclear weapons by rail to protect the deadly cargo inside and because it was easier than trucking them.

Originally, the cars were painted white to protect weapons against the sun's heat. Later, the DOE painted the train in different color schemes to thwart possible attacks and unwanted protests. Eventually, the government began using armored tractor-trailer rigs, or safe-secure transports, to ship weapons and weapons components from weapons plants to U.S. military bases.

The train, dubbed the "White Train" or the "Death Train" by some, drew the notice of peace activists who monitored its progress. In the mid-'80s, Oregon protesters once briefly blocked the train with their bodies as it headed to a Trident nuclear submarine base in Bangor, Wash.

Bob Roth, president of the Amarillo Railroad Museum, said Pantex planned to rip up some railroad tracks and museum officials inquired about several cars that stood idle on the southwest corner of the 16,000-acre plant site. Museum officials then hammered out a partnership with the Pantex Site Office, BWXT Pantex and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, which moved the train from Pantex and opened up a closed rail spur to the museum's tracks.

"For the life of the train, for the most part, the cars all were in a white color scheme. Our goal is to restore them back to the original white color scheme like they used to be several years ago," Roth said.

The museum, located at 13000 E. U.S. Highway 60, plans to exhibit the cars next to another piece of historical Panhandle railroad history, a specialized railcar that once hauled helium across the country.

Roth said the museum's goal is to preserve railroad cars that have a historic Panhandle link.

"Some of this equipment is, in a way, unique to the Texas Panhandle," Roth said. "The DOE train fits right into that scheme because it is unique to the Panhandle, having come out of Pantex."

The museum's train, Roth said, has the last remaining safe-secure railcar, a red, heavily armored car that transported warheads.

Several other cars are called power-buffer cars because they contained generators and provided a buffer between escort crews and warheads.
"People could not ride in a car immediately adjacent to explosives," Roth said.

Escort coaches carried the specially trained crews that kept a close eye on the train as it wound along U.S. railways. A look inside one of the escort coaches provided a glimpse into the daily lives of couriers who accompanied weapons shipments.

One of the coaches had bunks to sleep eight, a full kitchen, bulletproof windows and protected gun turrets to fire on would-be attackers. A series of open cabinets still housed several gas masks couriers could quickly don in case of a poisonous gas attack.

The cars played a major role in Pantex's history, said Pantex Site Office Manager Dan Glenn.

"The work done at Pantex was a significant part of the Cold War," he said. "This donation will provide the public with the opportunity to visit a piece of our nation's recent history."

Dan Swaim, BWXT Pantex president and general manager, said students and area residents will now get a chance to see a little-known aspect of the Cold War.

"The partnership between Pantex, BNSF and the Amarillo Railroad Museum makes it possible for the community to learn about the part Pantex played in the Cold War."

The museum plans to exhibit the cars as they looked when they transported weapons to the military. Museum officials have not set a schedule for opening the exhibit to the public.

  by CarterB
Any on-line photos of the 'White Train' that anyone knows of?

  by CarterB
Thanks RailVet,

Quite an imposing sight!