• Railway Operating Battalion revival Project

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

Moderator: Aa3rt

  by RailVet
I've known George for many years. As for the various proposals, I hardly know where to begin.
  by brassphoenix
RailVet wrote:I've known George for many years. As for the various proposals, I hardly know where to begin.
Is it that bad Railvet?
  by RailVet
Let's start with something good. Page 5 of the PDF features Sgt Dean Von Volkenburg of the 716th ROB on a GE centercab numbered 7238 and there was some question about the location. The book "United States Army Transportation Corps Locomotives" by R. Tourret lists it as having been built in 1942 with serial number 15278 and assigned to Ogden Arsenal. You'll find more about that base here:

http://www.hill.af.mil/library/factshee ... sp?id=5956" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Speaking of the 716th, its Company C is mentioned on page 82 of "Steel Rails to Victory" by Ron Ziel. The caption accompanying a photo of shop men working on a steam locomotive at Fort Sam Houston reads: "Although the Southern Pacific would probably rather forget it, they did sponsor the 716th Railway Operating Battalion, which earned notoriety as the "Million Dollar Battalion" in France, a scant six months after this photo was taken at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, on May 11, 1944. Although the shop men in this photo were probably not guilty of any wrongdoing, many members of Company C of the 716th were court-martialed for selling supplies to French black marketeers. At first items disappeared from cars bound for the front, the whole cars were cut out of trains and such commodities as gasoline and clothing vanished. Legend has it that before they were caught, men of the 716th diverted entire trains. Several officers received prison terms, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower is said to have personally issued the order giving the guilty enlisted men the choice of prison or transfer to line units. They chose the latter, just in time for the Battle of the Bulge! It was the only serious misconduct on the otherwise magnificent record of the MRS. Although much material never reached its intended destination, this was the only instance of a mass conspiracy to sell it on the black market. Had the 716th used it themselves or given or trade it to other units, nothing would have been said. Selling the misappropriated freight to civilians, however, was considered a most serious crime."
  by brassphoenix
You know this is very interesting because i have the 716th Railway Operating Battalion book when they were deployed and in it towards the very end they state, "No history of the 716th would be complete if it failed to include in its pages some mention of the widely-publicized incident which took place in Paris in November 1944. It is that part of our history which, unfortunately, through volumes of unjustified publicity, made us conspicuous in the eyes of our fellow soldiers and in the eyes of those at home" the passage goes on a bit further and says " Those men were our comrades, and from working with them day and night, we know that they were guilty of no serious crime or offense against the Government or their fellow-soldiers."

Railvet I would like to know what parts you dont agree with in regards to the proposal and why. So far the only people is have seen against it are extremely ignorant or just refuse to read or understand it all together so if you see something you think is bad please let me know I am very eager to hear your opinion.
  by RailVet
Regarding C/716ROB, I have a copy of the unit history too. The incident it described is certainly nothing any unit would want to dredge up and review in detail. In all fairness, though, they could have done much worse. For example, they could have been involved in the crimes described in this book:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taken_by_Force_%28book%29" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Then there's this from page 273 of The Filthy Thirteen by Richard Killblane and Jack McNiece, the memoirs of a pathfinder in the 506PIR of the 101st Airborne Division in WW II. The book reads: "...immediately after Holland, General Maxwell Taylor had been ordered to report to General Marshall in Washington, D.C., on account of the crimes by some of the men in his division. Evidently there were reports of the men looting property and blowing safes. The men had accumulated fine furniture in their fighting positions... Momentum was building for the airborne divisions to finally get rid of their troublemakers.

Afterwards the 17th, 82d, and 101st Airborne Divisions unloaded their worst cases for transfer out of the theater. They were loaded on a train. Stories came out of how they would sell overcoats and shoes for high prices to civilians at the train stops, and then another paratrooper with an MP brassard would come up and confiscate the government property from the unsuspecting civilian. He would then return it to the original owner and they would repeat the process. This scam made them a fortune. The unruly paratroopers eventually took over the train and stopped in a town where they raped a number of local women."

As for the project proposals, there are so many to discuss that it's not possible to do so in a single sitting, and I have a big day ahead of me, so I'll have to do it in pieces. Let's start with this from page 14:

Military installations that are within 50 radial miles of each other will be connected by a Military rail line between installations for an increase of rail transportation efficiency, while keeping needed personnel and equipment low. Route planning and land acquisition for the main line should be completed during Phase 1. Maximum length for Military Rail Corridors should be kept to 200 miles.
joint base installation railroads
· Ft Bliss Rail Corridor. Ft Bliss, Biggs Army Air Field, McGregor range, White Sands Missile Range, and Holloman Air Force Base
· Camp Lejeune Corridor. Camp Lejeune and MCAS Cherry Point
· Ft Eustis Corridor. Ft Pickett/ Ft Lee/Ft Eustis, Yorktown naval weapons station and supply yard, Langley Air Force Base, Norfolk naval yard and Naval Air Station Oceana
· Joint Base Lewis McChord. Ft. Lewis, McChord AFB, Naval Base Kitsap, and Bangor

I've been to all of these locations so I'm familiar with them.

Taking Fort Eustis and Langley AFB as examples, I'm wondering what traffic exists between these bases that would require the construction of a military railroad to provide a direct connection. The latter had rail access at one time, but it was torn up a very long time ago because it was no longer needed. Connecting them by rail via a new line would require the acquisition and demolition of countless homes and business between the two of them, which would be both enormously expensive and unpopular in the local area, and the justification for it remains to be seen. Even if the requirement were real and the cost savings could be proven, it would be asked why the military couldn't simply rebuild the old base track off of CSX into Langley and use the existing CSX tracks between the two bases to ship freight instead of tearing out so many existing structures for what would clearly be seen as a redundant rail line. You could also expect significant push-back from local governments since the various homes, businesses and real estate taken for the construction of such a line would no longer be generating tax dollars for the local economy.

NWS Yorktown tore up its rails (after a complete overhaul) about 15 years ago, as did NAS Oceana (without an overhaul -- those tracks had been derelict for quite some time). By "supply yard" I assume you mean nearby Cheatham Annex, which shipped out its last GE 80-ton in October 2000 and then tore up the tracks since there was no longer any need for them.

In addition to the TIdewater area bases mentioned above, Naval Base Norfolk (separate from NSY Norfolk in the Portsmouth area) once had two GE 80-ton locomotives operating over a base railway system which closed in the early 1990s. The tracks were subsequently torn up and today it's hard to find any trace of the base railway.

In addition to acquiring new rights-of-way that would demolish huge numbers of homes and businesses, connecting bases on the north side of the water (Eustis, Langley, Yorktown, and Cheatham Annex) with those on the south (NSY Norfolk and NAS Oceana) would require the construction of a very large bridge, or at the very least, setting up a rail ferry operation.

In Washington State, I know of no reason to connect JB Lewis-McChord by rail with the two separate naval base operations of Naval Base Kitsap on the far side of the water. Each conducts its own missions without much the need to ship large quantities of freight between them by rail.

It would be very hard to sell this to DA, Congress or the taxpayers tasked with paying for it all, as the requirements for such lines appear to be little to none and the costs simply astronomical.

The ROB Revival Project paper claims that money will be saved by transferring freight currently shipped by truck to rail. Presumably this would provide the justification for base-to-base rail lines, new locomotives, new facilities, new units, etc. Asserting there will be savings is not enough. You'll need to provide valid numbers, far more than those currently included in the paper, to show this is actually true in these specific cases.

Commercial railroads have actually shown a lack of interest in such freight for military bases. Left out of the paper is the Defense Logistics Agency and its bases, all of which closed their rail operations in the 1990s. They had had rail networks within them that were lightly used and were only retained in case of "the big one" (world war with the USSR, although that may have proven to be very short and unpleasant for all life on earth if it had ever taken place). Then along came the Gulf War and, although DLA wanted to ship cargo by rail, its connecting commercial carriers were very uncooperative, so shipments moved by truck. Given how "useful" the national rail network was to DLA in time of war, and given the end of the USSR, the justification for DLA rail operations was clearly at an end. All of the DLA base railways were torn up, the locomotives were sold off, and the rail cars either scrapped or sold.

Page 7 reads: "The first step in phase I is to reactivate 7 to 12 Railway Operating Battalions," although the units described are much closer to companies than battalions. In any case, given the large reductions the Army is undergoing now, activating new company-strength rail "battalions" is simply a no-go at the DA level.

Security of rail shipments is mentioned. Here's a story related to me years ago by an employee of the Cape Fear Railways, the company operatimg the post railway at Fort Bragg. A military freight train that required security left the post with MPs aboard a caboose at the rear of the train. As the train was paused in Fayetteville, the MPs ran over to a liquor story and brought back some "supplies" to keep them in the proper mood during the trip. Later, as the train was rolling down a track parallel to a road, a state trooper observed one of the MPs, wearing only shorts, "surfing" atop the caboose. He radioed ahead to the yard in Hamlet and CSX railway police off-loaded the drunken MPs. CSX had had enough and, since it was their railroad and they made the rules, that was the end of escorted shipments from that location.

Something else for next time: It's the nature of government organizations to want to grow and consume both more taxpayer dollars as well as the budgets of competing organizations. I'll get into this more later.
  by mtuandrew
RailVet: interesting observations, and a good point about the Norfolk/Newport News-area bases in particular. Now that CSX has a downturn in coal traffic, this might be the time for DODX to get trackage rights between the bases you mention. Langley AFB is the obnoxious outlier, which I think would be best served through a jet fuel pipeline or a fuel lighter, as well as regular container trucking to NWS Yorktown.

Same with NS for the bases on the southern side, i.e. haulage between Norfolk NSY, a point near NAS Norfolk - Chambers for fuel transshipment (to pipeline), JEB Little Creek/Fort Story, and NAS Oceana. NSC Craney Island/USCGB Portsmouth looks like the obnoxious outlier there, though at least it has/had rail service recently. Whether it needs rail service or just container trucking to Little River or Norfolk NSY, I don't know. The highway system around Norfolk is certainly developed well enough to allow container shipment between bases to a central transload site to both ship and train.


In reality, how many bases actually need rail service? The project's stated purpose is to facilitate the bulk shipment of commodities, including fuel and personal effects, and to ship large equipment (trucks, weapons systems, aircraft components, etc.) How many bases actually need this capability? I can only think of a few: the big seaboard bases along the east, Gulf, and west coasts (and possibly Great Lakes), the arsenals at Picatinny, Watervliet, and Rocky Mountain, the biggest Army and Marine bases (ex. Leonard Wood, Pendleton) from where troops and their stuff would ship, the major Air Force bases like Barksdale that'd be shipping lots of aircraft components, and possibly a very few Coast Guard bases that ship enough volume. If we ignore the large-scale stuff that needs armed guard or high-and-wide shipment, we're down to perhaps two dozen bases which could capitalize on container shipment, and another couple dozen (maybe) which could additionally use carload and tanker service.
  by brassphoenix
@Railvet and @mtandrew

Hmmm very interesting observations and things to definitely consider. now there really is only 3 parts to the proposal. One, getting an active Railway Operating battalion that are proficient at their job. Two, asses what freight can be transitioned into rail. Three, Build a Joint Support Supply Center at two Military Ocean Terminals to facilitate transport of freight (not including the already established Depots).

Now you said they would be more like Companies however i can assure you I have been in 14 man Companies before as it is common to have small aviation companies for its battalions. Obviously if a Airbase has a preexisting pipe line then rail for delivering fuel is not needed however the Airforce has proved that rail is a cheap and effective way to deliver fuel but there is so much more to ship then just fuel. Also most DOD loads do not need security even most ammunition to my knowledge is shipped with little to no security. though @railVet very interesting story on the MP security detail however this is different times then in the past and such actions would be severely dealt with today. the plan in its entirety is truly made to be slowly introduced on step at a time. while the proposal itself is ambitious it wasn't made to "just waste money and time" there is a purpose for it and it is true that shipping freight in bulk is safer and more cost effective if by rail. Another big issue in the army today is theft of soldiers personal goods and part corrosion, millions if not billions of dollars are lost when corrosion sensitive parts are improperly shipped with inadequate transport and lack of proper warehousing to store parts, this proposal also save a lot of money here as well. Thank you for your thoughts and inputs as I greatly value the knowledge of others no matter how small or great.
  by RailVet
mtuandrew: Not only was the rail lifted at Picatinny Arsenal a very long time ago, the commercial railroad serving the base is long gone, too.

Watervliet Arsenal closed its rail operation over a decade and shipped out its lone GE 80-ton.

My notes show Rocky Mountain Arsenal closing by October 1999.

MCB Camp Pendleton had a line running up to NWS Fallbrook but repeated storm damage led to the line being lifted and, when I saw it last, only a stub off the commercial railroad remained. The base had an ex-Army (exx-SP) GP9 but I believe it went to an operating rail museum to the southeast.

Barksdale AFB abandoned its base railway (which wasn't in good shape anyway) about two decades ago.

I know of no Coast Guard bases with their own motive power or any real requirement for rail service. Maybe there's one that uses rail, but I don't know of it.

When I first started tracking the USAF bases with their own motive power in late 1990, there were two dozen. Now it's down to just Shaw AFB, SC, and Beale AFB, CA. The former's base railway is close to death already because its only freight, aircraft fuel, is being turned over to trucks, while Beale AFB brings in special fuel for U-2 aircraft via tank cars. It runs as needed. When that aircraft goes, so will the base railway. That will leave just Eielson AFB and Clear AF Station in AK with USAF motive power.
  by brassphoenix
Jeff Smith wrote:Just curious, what's the status of Hunter AAF? It's right next to a CSX yard in Savannah.
only thing rail that Hunter AFB has is a siding leading into the Ammunition depot.

Now I know for a fact that Ammunition is still transported by rail (would you really want a JDAM transported by truck?) as well as the Army having all infrastructure in place to easily handle the slow start up process of Phase 1. Please once again note that Phase one is ARMY ONLY and is proposed in a way to take several years to complete and only AFTER phase one is completed and deemed a success will phase two start. the purpose of Army rail corridors is exactly as Railvet stated, civilian railroads have pulled rail lines from several locations and so to facilitated a more efficient railroad the army will have some of its own rail corridors to save on unneeded man power and possible locomotive roster. Now Railvet you mentioned that Norfolk Naval shipyard not having a railroad since the 1990s however you can clearly see the railroad still in place and locomotives present on google maps and known transport of JP5 and spent nuclear fuel rods are shipped from the Naval ship yard. Yes some of these installations no longer have rail which is why they are in phase 2 operations only as a lot of the work as sometimes adding new rail lines completely and reversing the damaged done from previous years. if Phase one takes 5 years to complete then phase two will take 10 to 15 depending on funds available and if in time of conflict. Installations with government contracted Civilian army rail lines will most likely only have a maximum of 3 locomotives while the railway Operating Battalions will have 15 at most (depending on location, and freight shipped). Remember that even if an installation is small a large amount of cargo is still shipped on a weekly basis.
  by RailVet
[Now Railvet you mentioned that Norfolk Naval shipyard not having a railroad since the 1990s however...]

I wrote, "Naval Base Norfolk (separate from NSY Norfolk in the Portsmouth area)..."

I should have written "Naval Station Norfolk," which is this base:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Station_Norfolk" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Not to be confused with Naval Shipyard Norfolk, seen here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norfolk_Naval_Shipyard" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Naval Shipyard (NSY) Norfolk does indeed have two GE 80-tons (65-00341 and 65-00487) but, as I stated earlier, the base railway at Naval Station Norfolk is long gone. Gone even longer is the rail operation at Saint Juliens Creek Annex. There used to be a large, dormant rail system there but it was finally torn up about a decade ago.

Hunter AAF: There is indeed a rail spur into the ammo storage area but it is served by the connecting commercial carrier. There is no Army locomotive on site and no need for one, either, since the civilian railroad has demonstrated for years that it can handle the task.

["Remember that even if an installation is small a large amount of cargo is still shipped on a weekly basis."]

There's nothing confirming that all of it, or even any of it, should go by rail if it's not doing so already. It would really have to be judged on a case-by-case basis, and long ago bases switched to trucks for most of their freight shipment needs. I've liked trains all of my life and, while I hate to admit it, often trucks are the better option.

There was mention of running troop trains. The proposal to transport Fort Lee trainees to Fort A. P. Hill for field training via rail was taken seriously not too many years ago and the Army went as far as acquiring surplus equipment from the Virginia Railway Express. Supposedly a rail option was going to be faster that going up the ever-congested I-95 and less expensive, too. Apparently the numbers didn't hold up and, upon closer examination, the cost to implement the operation would have been far higher, and instead of three hours on a train, the trip would have lasted nine. (It's not THAT far a trip but it's clear the train would have been sitting on sidings quite a bit, allowing other trains to pass, or would have been stuck behind freights.) The locomotives were sent elsewhere for Army use while the cars were sold off, mostly for scrap.

Note: Fort A.P. Hill has no rail access. Troop trains would have gone as far as Milford and the soldiers would have been transported by bus from there.
  by Jeff Smith
We had a thread on the AP Hill proposal in the not too distant past. I've been to AP Hill a couple times (including pre-deployment for Desert Storm).
  by RailVet
["Now you said they would be more like Companies however i can assure you I have been in 14 man Companies before as it is common to have small aviation companies for its battalions.']

Very small companies are common in Aviation. In rail units, not so much. They're not heavy in flying officers (or officers of any type) so their manning is completely different. Honestly, why would a 14-man unit of railroaders require a captain or even a lieutenant? An NCOIC would be quite sufficient, and it wouldn't need to be called a "company." A "detachment" is more like it.

["Obviously if a Airbase has a preexisting pipe line then rail for delivering fuel is not needed however the Air Force has proved that rail is a cheap and effective way to deliver fuel but there is so much more to ship than just fuel.']

The USAF used to ship a lot of fuel by rail but nearly all of it has been changed over to pipelines, and trucks are getting what's left. General freight moves by truck or plane. Typically an air base railway had a spur to the fuel area, another alongside the Base Supply warehouse, and perhaps a third to an enginehouse, if there was one. Traffic to Base Supply was lost to trucks many decades ago, and railroads themselves weren't particularly interested in such traffic anyway. The changeover from rail shipments to pipelines ended a great many base railways, and they're not coming back. From personal experience I can assure you the USAF just isn't interested.

["though @railVet very interesting story on the MP security detail however this is different times then in the past and such actions would be severely dealt with today."]

I'm certain the MPs in that incident were also dealt with very severely! Yesteryear was not a slack time in the Army. Screw up like that and you'd wish you had never heard of the Army.

["there is a purpose for it and it is true that shipping freight in bulk is safer and more cost effective if by rail."]

You'll need better and far more detailed numbers than those provided in the ROB Revival Project paper. I just don't see the real savings yet but I do see enormous expenditures proposed.
Last edited by RailVet on Thu Feb 25, 2016 7:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by RailVet
Jeff: Last year I spoke with an employee at Fort Lee and asked him about the canceled troop train project, and asked if trainees still go by bus up to Fort A. P. Hill. He said no, now the post just sets up camp at Fort Lee itself. There's not that much "field" space available but when budgets are tight, you do what you can with what you have.

Although it's not that far away, I haven't been to Fort A.P. Hill in many years. I made a jump in there in early 1980, twisted my ankle upon landing, and didn't make things any better by carrying a very heavy rucksack through the woods all day and all night. I saw enough of the post then to last me for quite a while.
  by Deval
One of the most fundamental flaws with this plan is that railroads don't want this business. There's no money in single car loads. The Army doesn't want the railroads to have this business either because manifest service is so painstakingly slow.

When I was at Fort Hood we frequently sent out entire unit trains of equipment to training sites and ports for deployment and seldom had problems. When we sent single (or a few) cars to the same place, they took weeks to arrive because of how the railroad treats manifest traffic.

The other flaw is most of the traffic you propose would be LCL - less than carload. Railroads have even less desire to handle household goods and POVs than they do single loads of equipment or fuel.

It's also clear that you don't have an understanding of military railroads as they currently exist. The Army is already replacing GP10s and 80 tons with Gensets. New rolling stock has been ordered and delivered when it has been needed. Most of your facebook stories are cut and paste from base PAOs that do not understand that other military railroads exist and are full of misinformation.