Militaries use of the railroad for Transportation of Equipment
Militaries’ Use of the Railroad for Transportation of Equipment
In this modern era, especially in the United States, key emergent issues engulf the transportation and logistics requirements with regards to providing support during military deployment scenarios. The defense transportation system has been marred by several issues among them being the need for in-transit visibility, efficiency, and carrying capacity (Wolfe 2). As such, these dynamics have been prioritized by the Department of Defense and the National Transportation Agencies alike. However, it goes without mention that the use of the railroad as a primary means of transportation has endured myriad problems and the issues highlighted above, making it a major means of transportation for military equipment, personnel, and other essential sustainment.
The use of railroad to transport a plethora of military equipment from home stations and recruitment areas to training platforms and other areas for embarkment dates back to the 1850s during the Crimean War. However, advancements in technology have led to the introduction of new forms of transport and this, to a great extent, rendered the railway network system less beneficial in military operations following the end of World War II and the Cold War. A close look at the period of the American Civil War reveals that the U.S. Army was forced to dispatch materials, personnel units and essential equipment using their respective locomotives to areas of embarkation and operation due to shortage of rail infrastructure. This predicament was as a result of the increased demand for rail in addition to destruction and interference by enemy factions.
Needless to point out is the undisputable fact that a substantial amount of time and corresponding huge expenses are necessary to build railway networks specifically tailored for military operations. As such, military use of railways purely based on the already established civilian railway networks. All in all, the U.S. Army uses railroad to consistently deploy necessary equipment. Well-trained personnel are charged with the responsibility of loading and offloading of these components. Additionally, tight security is employed to ensure safety of all equipment in transit to varied destinations.
Nevertheless, focus and emphasis has been placed on the current practice and emerging issues that have paved the logistics of transportation for the provision of military deployment support. In addition to this, Wolfe asserts that there is a dire need to further discover and hopefully expand the defense transportation system together with its corresponding interface and its integration with the nationwide shipping infrastructure if at all future needs of military deployments are to be met effectively (26). In equal measure, the arising restrictions that impede the transportation of military personnel, equipment and other important materials need to be addressed promptly in order to achieve the desired goal.
Meanwhile, it was discovered that military deployment operations in the foreseeable future will be inclined more to the speedy movement of army forces and troops and the prompt availing of the required logistics support (Brown, Bennett and Honea 36). A good example of this scenario is portrayed in the Operation Desert Storm which required approximately 3.5 million tons of military material, of which a considerable amount was transported through railroad connectors.
Notably, there is an aggregate demand following the exponential growth in the military personnel in the United States. Consequently, there arises the need for a quicker, competent and an equally operative method for moving vital military equipment and other armaments. (Brown, Bennett and Honea 37) . The railroad provides this service since the required materials and equipment are transported from Power Projection Platforms and advantageously located military bases through a diverse and well-laid out network of railway systems that tap into various areas including ports. The main advantage of this mode of transportation in the defense field is that it has the capability of accommodating significant volumes of military material and equipment alike all at once. This is made possible by the fact that most trains have multiple carrying components and carriages that have ample space to accommodate sizeable merchandise for shipment to the designated embarkation sites. Furthermore, railroads are a key mode of transportation in the event of military deployment due to the fact that they are highly flexible, secure and have a higher carrying capacity as stated previously.
Besides, over the years, the railroad systems in America have been improved tremendously following the Railroads for National Defense (RND) program that was primarily established to ensure that all railroads developed fully met all the necessities stipulated by the Department of Defense for military deployments. Additionally, the program has partnered with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to thoroughly monitor and develop the railroad tracks to up to 17 Power Projection Platforms. This is intended to increase the number of railroads available for immediate transportation of military requirements such as sustainment and equipment.
Furthermore, the railroad has been essential in deploying considerably weighty and large military equipment and machinery that would otherwise be difficult and tedious to move using other modes of transportation, say highways. The commercial railway network that was developed during the earlier phases of America’s path to industrialization and which is currently in use for military operations has exhibited adequate performance contrary to the expectations of many. However, this should not be a cause for alarm. The discovery was made following the test runs during Desert Storm and Desert Shield operations. On the higher side, its large carrying capacity has made it pivotal in transporting overly large and bulky military equipment and this has brightened the future for military operations. This is because the Department of Defense (DOD) anticipates that there will be an increasing need for the use of heavy and oversized machinery in future, making the rail system a formidable and crucial component for achieving this task.
In addition, the rail network has an added benefit which allows for easy loading, offloading and transportation of equipment from station areas to areas of embarkation as well as to the desired port destinations. It also accords the benefit of transparency during transportation (in-transit visibility) allowing one to be able to tell what is being shipped. More often than not, railroad transportation ensures that the right equipment arrives at the desired destination at the agreed time. Containers on the other hand do not have this advantage since most goods are packed inside them before onset and this leaves many wondering what is being transported. This gives the railroad transportation mode an advantage over other modes of transportation that are also in use. Essentially, the pre-existing policy of the DOD in relation to military support deployment is to ferry personnel, equipment and other essentials using commercial systems when it is practical. Furthermore, even in the case of a contingency situation, railroads together with other modes of transport come in handy as they fulfill the vital role in deploying US forces from the continental US to the areas of operation.
Nevertheless, the railroad has been critiqued by several factions with claims that it is characterized by myriad disadvantages. To begin with, construction of the railroad requires a huge initial capital outlay. Additionally, the corresponding cost of maintenance that comes with it is equally high when weighed against other transport modes. This is why the use of the railroad in the US relies mostly on commercial railway networks established to serve the civilians. This constraint has caused the railroad to lack favor in the eyes of many who opt for other means of transportation despite the numerous benefits accrued from using this mode. Furthermore, the loading and offloading of heavy artillery in the respective areas of theatre have led to wear and tear of the machinery in use, leading to incurring of extra expenses as well. The time wasted during this exercise is substantial and this has affected several military operations in the long run.
Amidst these drawbacks, the Revenue Study Commission and the National Surface Transportation Policy pointed out that military operations in America have been characterized by a shift in terms of the tactical approaches used, and military installations have been at the center of this change (Department of the Army 18). They are crucial in the sense that they serve as essential platforms for deploying military troops and equipment to areas of need during contingency operations. It thus follows that the existence of military railroads is paramount to aiding the rapid movement of these troops to ports and other areas of embarkation. Additionally, there is need to beef up security and establish more secure pathways for movement of the troops to smoothen the military operations and deployments at all times.
In conclusion, it is quite evident that increased demand in the military sector is quite inevitable in terms of personnel and artillery deployment especially oversized and large heavy equipment. With this in mind, there is a pressing need to integrate, diversify and mobilize other sectors of the transportation infrastructure to aid in military support deployment. The current extensive use and over-reliance on railroad network systems could create potential insurmountable pressure and strain on this transportation system causing it to fall back or even collapse. In light of this discovery, federal, state and local transportation Agencies need to work in unison to come up with more effective measures aimed at improving all transportation modes. Additionally, priority should be accorded to putting in place and consequently maintaining of infrastructure. Areas such as Power Projection Platforms (PPP), Power Generation Platforms (PGP) as well as Power Support Platforms (PSP) need to be prioritized. This will go a long way in eradicating the looming congestion menace in the transport sector. Various methodologies can be applied to mitigate this congestion problem, a case in point being state-of-the-art management systems that have been developed should be inculcated into the system to monitor the traffic and movement scenarios for all railroad and surface road vehicles (Wolfe, 20). Secondly, areas that are prone to congestion should be singled out beforehand to enable operators to seek alternative routes to the desired destinations. This will help to ensure that no military operation is jeopardized or compromised to the extent that the set-out objectives are rendered untenable. Essentially, the railroad should be merely one of the components of a vast surface transportation network system put in place with the imperative of achieving effective and prompt military needs deployment.
Brown, Sarah., Bennett, Henry and Honea, Robert. The U.S. Military Transportation. Washington, DC: A1B11 Committee on Military Transportation, 2000. Print.
Department of the Army. The Defense Transportation System. Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 2013. Web.
Wolfe, Michael. Defense Logistics: From DoD Stovepipes to ‘Focused Logistics’. Tampa: Office of Freight Management and Operations, 1999. Web.