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Development of Military Railway Service

MAJOR GEORGE E. LOURIE, Tran8portation Corp8

Former Instructor, 'Command and Staff College

ROM the opening of the first full-fledged lute control of railway operations in a the­
F American railroad, thirteen miles in
length, in May 1830 up to the present time,
ater of operations, nevertheless, it is worthy
to note the parallel in establishing con·
railroads have played an ever-increasing trol over commercial transportation in the
part in wars involving the United States. United States during World War II when
Even though railways were first built in the Office of Defense Transportation (ODT)
1830 in the United States, it was not un­ was established to provide "One-Man Control"
til the Civil War that the employment of over the domestic transportation facilities
railways in warfare took place in this coun­ of the United States in order to gear the
try. Railways had been used prior to this nation's transportation to the war effort.
time for the prosecution of war in. other During the Civil War, experience showed
countries, but not on a very extensive scale. that it was necessary for ·professional rail·
In Europe in 1848 and 1849, the use of rail­ road men to take charge of railway opera·
roads in warfare first attracted public at­ tions, and on 11 February 1862, the Secre·
tention with the movement of a body of tary of War appointed Daniel Craig McCal·
13,000 Russian troops and forty-eight pieces lum, General Superintendent of the Erie
or artillery. The movement would have re­ Railroad, "Military Director and Superin.
quired sixteen days if performed by the tendent of Railroads in the United States,"
conventional marches of those days; however, with extraordinary powers. His title was later
by the use of the railways the trip was made changed to General Manager of all railways
in five days with a resulting saving of eleven in the possession of the Federal Government,
days. and McCallum became a Brigadier General to
In the United States, the first time the exercise these powers. In a sense this was the
railroads were employed to any extent in beginning of the Military Railway Service
wartime was in the Civil War, when the most in the United States Army. It is rather in­
extensive use of them was by the Northern teresting to note that the first so-called
Forces, In Washington it was felt that rail­ Military Railway Service comprised 18,000
roads in a theater of operations must be un­ men with 419 locomotives, 6,330 cars, and
der the absolute control of the military au­ operated some ·12,000 miles of railway within
thorities, and by an Act of 31 January 1862, the territory of the two opposing forces.
Congress authorized the Pre~ident, whenever, However, it was not until World War I that
in his judgment the public safety might re­ the extensive development of railways in
quire it, to take possession of any or all warfare- took place in support of the 'Armies
the railroad lines in the United States, in Europe. An Engineer Commission to Eng­
their rolling stock, their offices, shops, build­ land and France, known also as the Military
ings, and all their appendages and ap­ Railway Commission to thoSf! countries, was
purtenances. The railroads, then as now, appointed somewhat less thaill a month after
cooperated fully and patriotically. Their war had been declared by the United States
presidents met in Washington and submitted against Germany. This marked the first active
a fair tariff schedule to the Government step taken by the War Department in recog­
which was accepted and remained in effect nition of the part that transportation in
throughout the Northern States until· the end World War I was to play in support of our
of the war. With such an arrangement it was forces overseas. The purpose of the commis·
never necessary for the President to apply sion was not so much to plan for a transpor·
his conscription powers in this matter. tation service of our own as it was to secure
While the above incident refers to abso­ information relating to possible assistance
from this country in connection with the Corps of Engineers, to be known as the Di­
railway service of the Allies in France, as rector of Railways, reporting directly to the
well as to secure information regarding en­ Comml1nder of the Line of Communications;
gineer equipment, organization and training. (2) that the construction of other transporta­
It was interesting to note that the railway tion facilities, such as roads, ports and
system in Europe in World War I was divided railroads, should be the duty of the Corps
roughly into two· types; namely, standard of Engineers, likewise under the Section
gauge and light railways (narrow gauge). Commanders reporting to the Commander of
The purpose of the standard gauge railways the Line of Communications.
was to bring up supplies and troops from the Under these regulations one unsatisfactory
ports to the railheads. From the railheads feature was the provision that in time of
forward to the using troops a system of peace the Quartermaster Corps should' attend
roads and light railways was employed. Since to rail transportation, but that in time of
at the time of World War I, motor vehicles actual or threatened hostilities this would
and road systems had not been extensively be turned over to the Corps of Engineers in
developed, highway transport alone could a theater of operations. As a result, the
not carry the load, and it was necessary to Quartermaster Corps was under no obligation
augment it by means of light railways to to fit itself for the strenuous requirements
supply the front line troops.. Experience cf rail transportation in a theater of opera­
in World War I led to the use of light railways tions which were to be taken over by another
for the movement of supplies and troops in a arm of the Service. Somewhat similarly the
zone eight to sixteen miles in depth behind Corps of Engineers was not given an oppor­
the front lines. The system of ,light railways tunity, until hostilities threatened, of gaining
was alTanged generally in three approximate­ an education in peacetinle for what would
ly parallel lines in rear of the front with­ be expected of it in time of war. In the
in this zone. The first line in rear of the sequence of events, eight reorganizations .of
front was laid out to support the front line the Transportation Organization of Amer­
troops and light artillery, the second line ican Expeditionary Forces (AEF) took place
was used for the supply of medium artillery, while actively engaged in World War I.
and the third line was used for the supply
During the reorganization in the fall of
of long-range guns. From July 1917 until
1917, the Commander of the AEF recom­
March 1918, the control of light railways
was under the jurisdiction of the head of mended to the War Department the creation
the Transportation Service. However, in of "rail transportation" as a separate depart­
March 1918 there was a reorganization in ment of Army Field Headquarters to be of­
'which light railways and roads were taken ficered by "temporary officers of the National
away from the Transportation Service and Army not qualified for purely ~i1itary
placed under a newl¥ formed Service of Utili­ duties." Approval to this recommendation
ties, a part of Servii!es of Supply. Light rail­ was given, and a Railroad Transportation
ways remained in this category until the end Corps carne into existence with Brigadier
of hostilities. It should be noted that where General W. W. Atterbury from the Pennsyl­
the light railways furnished this link in vania Railroad as its head. In June 1918
transportation in World War I, this service the President further approved the estab­
was largely provided by highway transport lishment of a Transportation Corps in the
in World War II. National Army with a strength of 1,932
Prior to World War I, our Army doctrine officers and 63,034 enlisted men. This strength
provided: (1) that rail transportation over­ was l~ter, in early October 1918, increased
seas in all of its phases, from the ports to 6,000 officers and 200,000 enlisted men
to the front (except port construction) , including stevedore forces numbering 75,000.
should be handled under an officer of the· In the end, the transportation organiza­

tion as established was headed by a Director sibility for transportation control from the
General of Transportation, reporting directly ports to the using troops, and the policy
to the Commander in Chief of AEF. The Di­ of whether the head of the Transportation
rector General of Transportation had the Organization was to report directly to the
following duties with respect to the Mili­ Commander in Chief or to a subordinate
tary Railway Service: under him.
Operation, maintenance, and cOllstruction With the advent of peace, after World War
of all railways and canals under American i, it was unncessary to continue the war·
control. Construction and maintenance of time Military Railway Service (MRS). How·
buildings for railway purposes.
Liaison with F~eIlch author­ Typical Organization M. R. S.
ities to insure prompt service
for United States goods and
troops in transit over railways
operated by the French.
Compilation of all accounts
due to the United States for
material furnished the French
Procurement of railway sup­
plies. Railway
Operating Battalion
Control of telephones and tele­
graphs for railway purposes.
Railway personnel. Railway Railway
Shop Battalion Shop Battalion
Compilation of s tat i s tic s
showing classified tonnage re­
ceived at ports, that which TC Base TC Base
moved over railways, and that Depot Company Depot Company
delivered at railheads.
Operation of terminals, in­
cluding unloading of ships and
transportation of goods to store­
Control and maintenance of
all rolling stock and motive
All construction would be un­ Civilian PeRIODllel Civilian Personnel
der the Commanding General,
Seelion Section
Line of Communications until *Number of units and type selected dependent npon situation.

fUrther orders. Where units are employed. they may be either asailll\ed to Grand DI·
visions or retained under Hq. MRS.
During World War I the re­ In vit'w of World War U" experienee, use of eivllian personnel
section is lligbly dsirable.
peated changes in the organ­
ization of the Transportation Figure 1
Organization generally involved the ques­ ever, it was necessary to plan for future
tion of respOnsibility for construction of emergencies. The National Defense Act of
roads and wharves, and of shops and other 1916 and 1920 provided the authority for the
transportation facilities as between the head establishment ()f the Officers' Reserve Corps,
of the' Transportation Service and the Corps and here was a likely source of officers needed
of Engineers. It als() involved the respon- to establish reserve military railway units.
The Military Railway Service was under the vitalize the Military Railway Service. Colo­
Chief of Engineers, and organized by that nel Charles D. Young, Vice-President, Penn- "
headquart(!rs. After a study of the lessons sylvania Railroad, was given the mobiliza­
in France, in World War I, the railway op­ tion assignment of Chief, Railway Section,
erating battalion was established as the Office Chief of Engineers, and the section
basic railway operating unit and thirty-two was re-established as a separate unit. Aside
of these, known as affiliated reserve units, from the unhealthy condition of some of the
were formed on respective trunk line rail­ units of the MRS, the service as a whole was
roads of the United States. Officers were not a balanced force. Colonel Gray's staff
commissioned from among appropriate offi­ was almost nonexistent. Besides, there were
cials of the sponsoring railroads. In addi­ no grand divisions or immediate headquarters.
tion nine "Regular Army Inactive" battalions There was only one shop battalion to do
were also formed with the officer personnel back-shop work for the forty-two railwa~ op­
coming from experienced railway reserve of­ erating battalions.
ficers in the various Corps AI·eas. One rail­ The first railway operating battalion was
way shop battalion was formed by one of activated 18 June 1941, and instead of being
the large civilian railroads, and a grand sponsored by one railroad was made up of

Consolidation Type 2-8-0, 4' 8%" Gauge, Weight 138 tons, wheel base 51' 7".

Figure 2.

division was also partially organized. Colonel officers drawn from ten American railroads.
(later Major General) Carl R. Gray, Jr., To a limited extent railroad men who were
Operating Vice-President, Chicago, St. Paul, in the enlisted reserve were contacted in
Minneapolis & Omaha Railway Company, an effort to obtain men with military and
was appointed Manager, Military Railway railroad training. However, most of the en­
Service. listed men came from train centers, and
With peace again prevailing, the nation's those with railroad training were especial­
interest in its ~military forces soon de­ ly sought after. In many cases men with no
clined. Appropriations decreased with the railroad experienee were brought into thQ
result that the Army became s<lll.ttered and Military Railway Service and trained.
tried to hold together what forces it could. A railroad approximately fifty miles h~
Accordingly the railway units were left to length was actually constructed in Louisiana
shift largely for themselves, and in some by the first activated railway operating
cases, continued at near full strength due battalion with the assistance of an engineer
principally to the interest and energy of separate battalion. This railroad was later
individuals. In other cases the units prac­ to serve as the training grounds for other
tically disintegrated. As war clouds began battalions. As one military battalion was
to appear in Europe, prior to World War II, not sufficient to train the required number
the Chief of Engineers determined to" re-' of railroad troops, and in order to provide

additional training facilities, certain of required number of associated units. A rail­

the civilian railroads entered into contracts way operating battalion is organized in~
with the War Department to sponsor military four companies and contains sufficient, trained
railway units whereby soldier personnel personnel to operate from ninety to 150
worked side by side with the civilian rail­ miles of single-track railroad. In civilian
road workers. Operating personnel or train practice, railroads are made up of divisions
crews would accompany a train manned by under a division superintendent. The ninety
civilian crews to learn the operating rules, to 150 miles constitute a division with
details of locomotive operations and railroad the Commanding officer of the railway
technique. This same policy was followed in operating battalion acting as division super­
regard to shop work where the soldier person­ intendent. Within each operating battalion
nel worked side by side with the civilian there is the necessary personnel in Headquar­
workmen to learn maintenance and repair. ters and Headquarters Company for oper­
Thus it was that a Military Railway Servi.:e ating the division headquarters and per­
was formed with experienced personnel of the fOl'ming train dispatching. Personnel is pro- ,
civilian railroads as a nucleus. Thus we see vided in the battalion for the maintenance of
how the Corps of Engineers in preparing for the track. The Transportation Company of the

MacArthur Type 2-8-2, 4' 8%" Gauge, We}ght 165% tons, wheel base 58' 6"_

Figure 3.

World War II started the activation of the Opel'uting Battalion ("C" Co.) can provide
Military Railway Service. However, in the fifty train crews. For the maintenance of
Army reorganization in 1942, a Transporta­ the equipment, the battalion has personnel
tion Corps was formed and War Department trained in the light maintenance of motive
General Order No. 60, 16 November 1942, power and rolling stock.
transferred the Military Railway Service to After the length of railroad trackage to
the newly-formed Transportation Corps. The be operated is determined, the required num­
Military Railway Service of World War II at ber of railway operating battalions can be
its peak consisted of foUl' headquarters MRS, estimated on the basis of the above capabili­
eleven railway grand divisions, thirty-three ties.
railway operating battalions, and eleven Heavy repairs to motive power and rolling
shop battalions. stock must be provided, and for this pur­
Let us now consider the Military Railway pose railway shop battalions are designed
Service' as it is today (see figure 1). As on the basis of one railWay shop battalion
previously stated, the railway operating to each two or three railway operating bat­
battalion is the basic unit of the railway talions.
service and the size of the Military Railway .. The next higher headquarters above the
Service is made up of the required number 1lilway operating battalion is the railway
of operating battalions together with the. grand division, and this will normalIy con­
trol the operations of two to six railway their respective sections. The limits of the
operating battalions and the necessary shop various divisions and grand divisions will be
battalions to accomplish the heavy repairs. established by the headquarters Military
To provide the necessary qualified person­ Railway Serv:ce. In the organization of the
nel for the storage and issue of railroad sup­ MRS, there may be two methods used in the
plies, a Transportation Corps base depot com­ control of the shop battalions, base depot
pany may be employed and a railway work companies, railway workshops, (mobile), and
shop (mobile) may be used to provide repairs hospital train maintenance units. These
to equipment and erection of new equipment units may be placed directly under the gen­
at ports away from shops operated by the eral managel' MRS for close control or they
railway shop battalion. There may be occa­ may be assigned to a grand division.
sions when it is necessary to assign hospital With the organization established, the
train maintenance personnel to the Military equipment needed to operate may be divided
Railway Service. into motive power, rolling stock, and special
Where the ?perations of Military Railway equipment. Motive power is a collective

Diesel Locomotive 0-4-4-0, 1,000 H. P., 115 tons.

Figure 4.

Service are rather large, more than one term comprising the locomotives whether
railway grand division will probably be re­ they be steam, electric, Diesel or gasoline.
quired, and in this case a Headquarters Mili­ Rolling stock collectively denotes all cars,
tary Railway Service will be established including box, fiat, gondola, tank, and special
under a general manager. When railway op­ cars. Under special equipment may be
erations are verl" extensive, containing more grouped pile drivers, wreckers, and special
than one Military Railway Service, it will track maintenance equipment.
be directed by a Director General MRS. Of the steam motive power procured by the
The Military Railway Service~ together with Army for use in World War II in the Military
its attached units and personnel, may be es­ Railway Service and used in main-line serv­
tablished as an exempted command respon­ ice, two types predominate; namely, the
sible·to the Transportation Officer, Communi­ Consolidation (2-8-0) and MacArthur (2-8-2)
cations Zone, except that the several Com­ types. The numerical type designation (2-8-0)
munications Zone Section Commanders will for the Consolidation locomotive may be
exercise administrative authority over the easily derived by reference to Figure 2.
:lIRS units and attached personnel Ilnd units . Starting at the right side of the figure
located within the geographical boundaries of (front of locomotive), it is noted that there
is a small pair of -leading wheels; hence, eight per cent, gondolas thirty-six per cent,
the number "2." Then to the rear there are flats seven per cent, cabooses and tank cars
foul' pairs of driving wheels of larger dia­ four per cent each,' and refrigerators one
meter; hence, the number "8." Then since per cent. An analysis of the standard gauge
there are no wheels immediately in rear of rolling stock reveals that: most of all the
the driving wheels, the next number is "0." box cars where 4-wheels (2 axles), all ca·
Similarly, the numerical designation (2-8-2) booses were of 4-wheel (2 axles), all flats
is derived from the MacArthur type shown were of 8-wheels (4 axles), the majority of
in Figure 3. The name "MacArthur" is a mili­ gondolas were of 4-wheels (2 axles), all re­
tary term, and in commercial practice this frigerators were of 8-wheels (4 axles), and
type of locomotive is known as a "Mikado" all tank cars were of 8-wheels (4 axles).
type, due to the fact that this type of loco­ This breakdown of rolling stock is in line
motive was first designed in 1897 to fill speci­ with the policy of having light equipment
fications for locomotives ordered by Japan for operations over rough track and light

Diesel Locomotive 0-6-6-0, 1,000 H. P., 127 tons.

Figure 5.

from manufacturers in the United States. bridges in the forward areas of a theater
With regard to the types of Diesel locomo­ of operation. Also the use of light equip­
tives used by the Military Railway Service, ment facilitates the rerailment of derailed
the principal types used are the 0-4-4-0 and cars and the clearance of wrecks.
0-6-6-0 types. With reference to Figure 4, The light maintenance of this equipment
and starting at the right of the picture, it can be' performed by the Maintenance of.
is noted that there are no leading wheels; Equipment Company of the Railway Operat­
hence, the number "0." Then to the rear ing Battalion ("B" Co.), but when heavy
there are two pairs of driving wheels; hence repairs are required, then the Railway Shop
the number "4," and to the rear there are Battalion must be employed. Light mainte­
two more pairs of driving wheels to give the nance of equipment corresponds to that work
number "4." Since there are no trailing done in roundhouses in civilian railroad
wheels in rear of the driving wheels, the practice, whereas heavy rapairs correspond to
last number is a "0." Similarly, the numeri­ those repairs performed by large railroad
cal designation 0-6-6-0 is derived for the shops or back-shops in civilian practice.
Diesel shown in Figure 5. In Military Railway Service it is nor­
Of the rolling stock of all gauges owned by mal practice to assign the motive power to
the Army and used by the Military Rail­ the railroad division; thereby fixing mainte­
way Service, box cars accounted for forty- nance responsibility. However, the cars
01' rolling stock, are not so assigned, but ·\t~·nsive. repairs to buildings or new buildings
are employed on the railroad at large, and lire required, this will normally be performed
the maintenance is accomplished by means of by the Corps of Engineers. Likewise new track
inspections by each division to detect unsafe construction or extensive rehabilitation of
conditions. These conditions are repaired track as a result of floods or bombings will
by the respective division finding them un­ usually be performed by the Corps of Engi­
le58 they are of such magnitude that it is neers.
necessary to have the repairs performed by Normally the Director General, Military
a shop battalion. . Railway Service, within the limits of stra­
In the operations of the Military Railway tegic plans, will be responsible for select­
Service overseas an attempt is made to util­ ing the main railway lines of communication
ize as much of the existing equipment as pos­ subject to the concurrence of Army or Army
sible, and some equipment may be rehabili­ Group Commanders and Theater Headquar­
tated. Also civilian labor is employed wher: ters.
ever possible. Even with the improvement and develop­
A)lother type of maintenance is mainte­ ment of newer forms of transportation; such
as, highway transport, air transport, and
nance of way, and each operating battalion in­
pipelines, the railroads still remain the back­
cludes a Maintenance of Way Company bone of the transportation system where
(UA" Co.), responsible for maintaining the available, and are characterized by their
traek, bridges, buildings and structures 10­ ability to move large volumes of men and
caterl within its division. In the event that ex­ supplies quickly and efficiently.

The United States of America and Great Britain have worked, not merely as
allies, but as one nation, pooling their resources of men and material alike, in this
struggle against the forces of evil engendered by Hitler's Germany. In the Expe­
ditionary Forces which it has been my privilege to lead, both in the Mediterranean
Theater and in Northwest Europe, an Allied experiment unprecedented in the
history of the world has been carried out with decisive results.
General of the Al'mY Dwight D. Eisenhower

Throughout the struggle, it was in his logistical inability to maintain his armies
in the field that the enemy's fatal weakness lay. Courage his forces had in full
measure, but courage was not enough. Reinforcements failed to arrive, weapons,
ammunition, and food alike ran short, and the dearth of fuel caused their powers
of tactical mobility to dwindle to the vanishing point. In the last stages of the
campaign they could do little more than wait for the Alfied avalanche to sweep
over them.
General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhowel'