News | Feb. 27, 2019

Aging technology that never fails

By Senior Airman Derek Seifert 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Throughout the Civil War leading up to the Korean War, the U.S. Army relied heavily on the success of railroad operations, and that still rings true today at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

Fort Eustis was originally built in March 1918 with the first plans for a railroad being drawn up in May 1918. Since then, the railroad has seen expansion with added rail lines but has also seen road construction deter and slow the mission.

The railroad is currently being used for U.S. Army Soldiers in Advanced Individual Training learning to become cargo and railway specialists. The utility rail shop plays an integral role in the Joint Logistical over the Sea missions where causeways, vehicles and equipment can easily be transported across the nation.

“Our mission is primarily training and logistical support for the permanent parties here, but there’s another mission we have as well,” said William Grimes, 733rd Logistics Readiness Squadron Transportation utility rail branch locomotive engineer. “The transportation school has a certification program for all other military railroads and they come here for training. There are about 39 military bases that have railroads and all those service members come here for school. MITD (Maritime Intermodal Training Division) conducts the classes and we maintain the equipment.”

According to Grimes, as railroading is an aging technology that hasn’t seen much change since the 1950’s, railroading is an essential skillset and mode of transportation that is cost effective for the Army and Fort Eustis to maintain.

“The train is very useful,” said Grimes. “One railroad car will haul the same amount as four tractor trailers. So, we’re taking up to four trucks off the road with one rail car. One railroad flatcar can also carry up to five Humvees or a couple of load handling systems so there’s a couple different configurations that can be used.”

Railroading is more than a job to Grimes, it is his lifelong passion that was developed at an early age.

“My mother use to bring me here all the time and I think that’s what got me interested and visiting the U.S. Army Transportation Museum has been high on my to-do list since I was little,” said Grimes. “I started working here in 2008 and the guy that trained me, he was in the 714th Railroad Battalion. He taught me just like he was taught in the Army, so I have a great appreciation for military railroading. He taught me the history of the railroad and I love anything that has to do with railroad history.”

According to Grimes, the bridge construction on Harrison Road has made loading and unloading cargo a slower process. Usually, Grimes would be able to move his trains back to the training areas to pick up vehicles and cargo before transporting them to a desired location.

However, in a more time consuming procedure, the cargo and is now loaded onto trucks and driven to a predetermined location, then loaded onto a rail flatbed. Once the rail bridge construction is completed later this year, Grimes will be able to provide front door service to other units at JBLE.

While not used in combat operations today, military railroads are still an essential part of supporting the Army accomplishment of its logistical and support mission.

If you are interested in further information or history regarding military railroads, please contact William Armstrong at the Fort Eustis Training Center.  

Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the Joint Base Langley-Eustis website.