New U.S. Expeditionary Rail Embarkation Capability, Deterrent Tested in Europe RAIL Kit is Designed for Rapid Deployment, Assembly, Maneuverability of Heavy Armor

May 19, 2022 | Partner News

U.S. Army Photo

A game-changing capability sponsored by U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) offering greater flexibility to offload combat power is now being used in the European theater.

The Rapidly Available Interface for trans-Loading, or RAIL, is a modular ramp system that allows for massing of combat power at the point of need without the requirement of shipping it to a fixed railhead facility for offload and then onward movement. The system was built to respond to a proficiency gap, yet it also acts as a deterrent:  RAIL applies to many of the principles of war, including maneuver, surprise, economy of force, and simplicity.  

“RAIL is a new, innovative capability that gives warfighters more agility and flexibility when setting up an expeditionary railhead,” said Justin Strickler, division chief at the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in Vicksburg, Mississippi. 

USTRANSCOM sponsored the RAIL program under the Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise Research, Development, Test & Evaluation (RDT&E) office. ERDC and the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC) in Warren, Michigan, are executing production and testing.

While a prototype, RAIL is now being tested in real-world operations. The 21st Theater Sustainment Command of U.S. Army Europe and Africa requested ERDC send the RAIL ramp systems to U.S. European Command (EUCOM) for support and has funds procured for eight additional kits to boost the operational competence required in the EUCOM theater. Several North Atlantic Treaty Organization members also expressed interest in the kits.

Read21st TSC Soldiers Train on Modernized Expeditionary Rail Capability.

“The RAIL system offers the capability to offload heavy armor from the end and side of a railcar, allowing for instream discharge, a capability that currently does not exist,” said Lou Bernstein, RDT&E program director and chief scientist in USTRANSCOM’s Strategic Plans, Policy, and Logistics directorate.

Instream discharge means with a side-loading feature, operators can unload a vehicle directly from the middle of the line of railcars. Previously, rail cars typically had to be unloaded starting at the end. RAIL also gives flexibility to conduct offload depending on what the terrain dictates and has a third configuration in addition to end-load and side-load: a turning pad. A small team of approximately 16 people can put the system in place by hand.

“Other innovations designed into the system include adjustable heights, man-portable, no material handling equipment required for construction, standard air pallet compatible (so it could be transported through Air Force C-17 aircraft), as well as standard multiple loading configurations using the same basic components,” Bernstein stated.

According to Bernstein, RAIL utilizes technology previously developed and patented under the Port Improvement via Exigent Repair Joint Capability Technology Demonstration. Conceived in August 2019, ERDC and GVSC first demonstrated RAIL in April 2021 with support from Defense Logistics Agency at Anniston Army Depot, Anniston, Alabama. “Once additional kits and components become available, a commander would have one system capable of restoring damaged piers, unloading rail cars, and overbridging under-classed bridges,” said Strickler. “We have one system that offers three capabilities versus having three systems that only do one thing.

“RAIL has no electronic or hydraulic parts and pieces. It’s just steel and aluminum,” Strickler continued. “It requires very little maintenance and is being designed for a 20-year life cycle.” Strickler added, “We anticipate the Army’s next-generation tanks will be bigger and heavier. This RAIL system is built with that future requirement in mind.”

From a strategic perspective, “RAIL complicates the enemies’ targeting solutions given its expeditionary modularity and mobility,” said Martin Ledington, USTRANSCOM’s liaison officer for the Under Secretary of Defense Research and Engineering.  

Ledington’s point highlights how the ingenuity of RAIL supports the updated priorities recently announced by U.S. Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, USTRANSCOM commander – in particular, her priority that is focused on readiness: Ready Now and in the Future.  

“Warfighting readiness is our absolute cornerstone,” Van Ovost emphasized when talking in February with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She said it’s clear USTRANSCOM has been deploying, sustaining, and redeploying the force, but now the command is looking at how logistics can be a more integrated part of the maneuver force. – and deter adversaries.

“A focus on maneuver will also ensure the Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise provides the strategic advantage required for future contested environments,” said Van Ovost. The men and women of the United States Transportation Command underwrite the lethality of the joint force and provide our nation’s leaders options, while we also provide dilemmas for the adversaries.  

“With the reemergence of strategic competition, we must evolve our thinking of maneuver concepts. The innovation behind RAIL is a solid example of how USTANSCOM can boost maneuverability.”


By US Transportation Command

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