Railroading at the Speed of War

Mar 3, 2020 | Fall Meeting 2019 Videos

How does the rail industry help the military? That was the question Philip Schulz, Military Liaison, Industrial Products Group, BNSF, posed to the audience as he began his presentation, Railroading at the Speed of War, during the 2019 NDTA-USTRANSCOM Fall Meeting.

The military approached BNSF and others about performing a speed of war exercise, which entailed deploying a brigade from Fort Hood, Texas, to the Port of Jacksonville, Florida. The result was a very big effort in a short time frame, with nearly 600 railcars and over 2,000 pieces of equipment moved.

How was that feat accomplished? The team began by looking at what it takes to move a brigade from point A to point B. They also determined what speed of war meant, a definition ultimately based upon the most restrictive capability.

The restrictive capability in this scenario was the ability of the port to receive the rail cars, as more trains can be sent in one day than the port can absorb. Should that occur, there is a risk of sending trains that just sit on the lines waiting and blocking traffic. In a real-life scenario of this nature, multiple brigades and multiples bases would be moved to multiple ports, so backing up the lines could cause wider delays. Therefore, trains must be run at the pace of the lowest common denominator. In this exercise, that number—the optimal speed of war—was 120 rail cars per day, which is equal to one train every 18 hours interchanged and received at the port.

Other considerations for the exercise were how to backfill Fort Hood’s rail cars to provide the capacity needed, providing adequate power supply to the locomotives, security of sensitive equipment, load planning, and routing, which includes looking at the weather and other factors along the routes.

Billing was a challenge, as new technology was being tested. Weighing and billing each rail car as it is completed, rather than waiting until the entire train is built, is critical to getting to the speed of war.

The weather did present its own challenge as Tropical Storm Imelda made her way through mid-exercise, taking out primary and alternate routes through the city of New Orleans. BNSF was able to quickly react, advising their military partners of plans to activate another alternate route. “We do have some flexibility in the railroads,” said Schulz.“Alternate planning is what do we do ‘if’ and in this case, the ‘if’ did happen, and we were able to react to that.”  

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