Freight Car Friday – Military Trains

11 11 2011

Since the Civil War, railroads have played an important role in national defense. Most frequently on the supply lines, but occasionally on the front lines, trains are a vital tool of war.

Eagle Justice set

The Eagle Justice set (6-30144) captures the spirit of trains at war, but conventional trains played an even greater role in our defense.

Railroad artillery first appeared during the Civil War, with large siege cannon placed on flatcars. artillery continued to grow in size and range through the World Wars. Even during the Cold War, mobile command centers and weapons were built for engagements that never came.

modern military train

Railroads still move military equipment by the trainload. Norfolk Southern was delivering this lengthy train earlier this year.

The rail weapons were dramatic, but the real impact of the railroads was behind the lines. Using boxcars, flatcars, gondolas and more railroads moved all of the supplies and munitions from America’s manufacturing centers to ports. Soldiers too moved by the thousands in special troop trains. Many too received care on board hospital trains upon their return. Military trains are still seen today using equipment owned by the Department of Defense and by private railroads and leasing companies.

Modeling a Troop Train

Sometimes troops and supplies were moved in the same train – a “mixed train” of freight and passenger equipment. Often, separate dedicated trains were used. Men and munitions could also be carried on regular trains as well.

hospital car

Military hospital cars were an important aid for returning veterans.

For passenger trains, coaches were the most typical cars used. Pullmans, when available, were generally reserved for officers. Some sleeping cars were gutted during WWII, bedrooms replaced with benches, to provide more capacity. Then of course there were the “Troop Sleepers” which resembled boxcars hastily built to carry the armies. Railroads often pooled passenger equipment or relaxed interchange requirements for these trains, so a “rainbow” consist of cars from several railroads would be completely plausible.

army tank car

This may not be the first thing you think of when you hear the words "Army Tank" but without the railroads' rolling pipeline, our WWII front would have run out of gas.

For freight, boxcars are used for munitions, tools, tents, uniforms and most of the items needed on the front. Flatcars are used for vehicles and artillery. Smaller hardware and weaponry is usually removed for transit. Often these are loaded “circus style” with ramps. Tank cars of fuel oil and even reefers of rations were also used. Trains usually included armed escorts in the caboose, locomotive and sometimes a rider coach. Most importantly, these trains always moved on the fastest schedule possible.

Loading for War

The machines of war are interesting - but the real important stories are in the men behind them.

More important than the trains however is the manpower that the railroads have provided. In every conflict there have been brave men and women who have put down a rivet gun for a rifle and marched to a higher call of duty. It is to all of them that we say thank you today!

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2 responses

11 11 2011
Alfonso Llana

“Railroads still move military…”

I find a little bit perturbing that more often than not the word “still” is used in connection with train topics. “Still” like something that should not be but by some miracle still is…

(Sigh) Back to my basement where trains are king

11 11 2011
Fred Overly

Learned some interesting facts today. I have often wondered about the US Railroads in WW2. One individual who grew up during the WW2 recalled viewing long trains transporting military equipment on Kansas railroads during the conflict.

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