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Railroad Troops / Railway Forces (Zheleznodorozhniki)

The Railroad Troops were first formed in 1851. The Russian military used railroads to deploy heavy weapons and armor to the battlefield. The acute military, strategic and tactical importance of the railroad system in Russia explains the existence of special Railroad Troops whose task is to keep the tracks in order during and in preparation for war and to organize makeshift armor battlefield disembarkment points.

The Russian railways are one of the economic wonders of the 19th, 20th, and 21st century world. In length of track they are second globally to the railways of the United States (though China is trying to catch them from below). In volume of freight hauled, they are third behind the United States and China, using the standard measure of ton-kilometers. And in overall density of operations – here the standard measure is (freight ton-kilometers + passenger-kilometers)/length of track – Russia is second only to China.

Russia is a much larger country than either the United States or China, so its rail density (rail track/country area) is lower than that of these other two – much lower in the case of the United States. Since Russia's population density is also much lower than that of these other two (excluding Alaska from the U.S. measure in this case), the Russian railways carry their freight and passengers over very long distances, often through vast, nearly empty spaces; their average length of haul is second in the world, behind only the United States and essentially tied with Canada.

Coal and coke make up almost one-third of the freight traffic and have average hauls of around 1500 kilometers, while ferrous metals make up another 10 percent of freight traffic and travel an average of over 1900 kilometers. Many remote shippers and customers have access either to only very poor alternative shipping options by road or water, and/or access to those alternative options for less than the entire year.

Though like most railways RZhD carries both freight and passengers, it is one of the most freight-dominant railways in the world, behind only Canada, the United States, and Estonia in the ratio of freight ton-kilometers to passenger-kilometers. Measured by the share of freight carried, RZhD is second to none among the world's largest railways in its importance to its country's economy.

The Russian railways were divided into seventeen regional railways as of 2011, from the October Railway serving the St. Petersburg region to the Far Eastern Railway serving Vladivostok, with the free-standing Kaliningrad and Sakhalin Railways on either end. However, the regional railways are closely coordinated by the central authority – the Ministry of the Means of Communication, MPS, until 2003, and the Joint Stock Company Russian Railways, Rossiiskie Zheleznyie Dorogi or RZhD, since then – including the pooling and redistribution of revenues. This has been crucial to two long-standing policies of cross-subsidization: to passenger operations from freight revenues, and to coal shipments from other freight. These cross subsidies have important implications for reform proposals, as will be discussed below.

The Russian railways were a collection of mostly privately owned and operated companies during most of the 19th century, though many had been constructed with heavy government involvement and financing. The tsarist government began mobilizing and nationalizing the rail system as World War I approached, and the new communist government finished the nationalization process. With the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the Russian Federation was left with three-fifths of the railway track of the Union as well as nine-tenths of the highway mileage – though only two-fifths of the port capacity.

In the 21st century, substantial changes in the Russian railways have been discussed and implemented in the context of two government reform documents: Decree No. 384 of 18 May 2001 of the Government of the Russian Federation, "A Program for Structural Reform of Railway Transport", and Order No. 877 of 17 June 2008 of the Government of the Russian Federation, "The Strategy for Railway Development in the Russian Federation to 2030". The former focused on restructuring the railways from government-owned monopoly to competitive sector; the latter focused on ambitious plans for equipment modernization and network expansion.

Railroad troops were included in the same category as the border troops of the Committee for State Security (KGB) and the internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). With other more pressing military demands, Boris Yeltsin had not substantially changed this designation. In fact, in 1991 the railroad troops had only been redesignated and attached to the Ministry of Railways. The Rail Road Troops were officially subordinated to the Ministry of Architecture, Construction and Housing and Utilities by Decree of the Russian President of 18 April 1992.

However, on 30 November 1994 Krasnaya Zvezda reported that the Railroad Troops were "operating as an independent institution under the Ministry of Railways of Russia." The article stated that "The troops' mission has been broadened somewhat. Under the laws, they are henceforth to be used not only to provide technical cover, rebuild and secure railroads in order to support combat and mobilization operations, build new railroads in peacetime and wartime, and enhance the survivability and carrying capacity of existing railways, but also rebuild railroads destroyed as a result of natural disasters and accidents. Another new element is to perform missions under international treaties."

The Rail Road Troops were established as a separate Federal Service by Presidential Decree during 1995. Krasnaya Zvezda reported on 05 October 1995 that "Units and formations of the Railroad Troops now have the status of legal entities, which enables them to independently enter into contracts and agreements, thereby participating, in effect, in the Russian market for railroad construction and modernization alongside the Russian Federation Ministry of Railroads, the Transport Construction Corporation, and other construction companies. For the Railroad Troops, however, participation in the construction of facilities on a commercial basis allows them not only to use such activities to provide specialized training to their personnel, but also to build and modernize railways in strategically and operationally important sectors at their customers' expense."

The Rail Road Troops structure derived from RF Presidential Edict No. 821 of 1 August 1997. ITAR-TASS reported on 02 May 1999 that "the Railroad Troops include four railway corps, 28 separate railway brigades as well as several military units, scientific and research entities."

On 20 November 2003 President Putin publicly agreed to Sergei Ivanov's proposal to resubordinate the Rail Road Troops to RF Ministry of Defense. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov stated 05 February 2004 that the RR Troops would be organized as an independent type of troops. On March 9, 2004 President Vladimir Putin signed the decree "On the System and Structure of Federal Executive Bodies". The document highlights the main principles of the current administrative reform and defines the structure and functions of federal executive bodies (ministries, federal services and federal agencies). At the same time, President Putin signed decrees appointing members of the Government of the Russian Federation. Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov succeeded in the consolidation of numerous functions under the direction of the Defense Ministry, including the Railroad Troops. In his decree "On Matters of the Federal Executive Bodies" as of May 20, 2004, RF President divided the Ministry of Transport and Communications into the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of IT and Communications, with Federal Communications Supervision Service under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of IT and Communications. The Russian Federal Railroad Troops Service, disbanded by presidential edict, passed to the Defense Ministry. These moves added 100,000 railroad troops to the MOD's rolls.

American Railroad Troops

From its beginning, rail transportation was a field in which United States Army Engineers excelled. Not till World War I, however, did they get a chance to display their railroading ability on a grand scale. Shortly after the U. S. entered the war in April 1917, the War Department organized nine new Engineer regiments for railway work. In an eight-month period, the Engineers had 25,000 men working on 450 standard-gauge projects-tracks, terminals, machine shops, car-repair and coal-storage facilities, regulating stations, cut-offs, and freight yards. During the war, the Corps sent 60,000 railway troops to France. On Armistice Day, 900 officers and 32,000 enlisted men were still working on various railroads.

On 12 August 1944 Engineer of the Advanced Section (ADSEC) was notified that General Patton had broken through and was striking rapidly for Paris. He said his men can get along without food, but his tanks and trucks won't run without gas. Therefore, the railroad must be constructed into Le Mans. This called for reconstructing a railroad 135 miles long, with seven bridges down, three rail yards badly bombed, track damaged in many places, and few watering and coaling facilities. There were 75 hours to do a job normally requiring several months. The 10,500 ADSEC engineer troops then available were scattered throughout Normandy. The first trainload of gasoline left Folligny at 1900, 15 August and reached Le Mans on 17 August. Thirty trains carrying gasoline for Patton's Third Army followed at 30-minute intervals.

The United States Army inactivated its last active rail component in 1974. In June 1972, the last active-duty railway battalion, the 714th Transportation Battalion (Railway), was inactivated at Fort Eustis, Virginia, and a small TDA [table of distribution and allowances] unit, the 1st Railway Detachment, was formed from its remnants. Without a clear mission, the days of active railway troops were numbered; in 1976, the Army eliminated railway MOS's [military occupational specialties] from the active component, and the detachment was inactivated in September 1978.

The conscript-based Russian Army that entered the break-away Republic of Chechnya in December 1994 was not prepared for the fight. Primary heavy-lift long-haul into the theater was on rail. Railroad troops had to restore 260 kilometers of track, clear mines from another 70 kilometers, repair switches and restore electric power to electric rail lines. Trains had to be protected as they came under mortar, artillery and sniper fire.

In the period of combat operations in Chechnya (1995-1996), military trains traveled from the Far East at the rate of 1,200 kilometers a day (the same speed as passenger trains), but had to mark time for hours expecting debarkation on account of limited capacities at some stations. The same situation was taking shape as military transport movements were performed for the Joint Force in the territory of the North Caucasian region (1999-2000). As many as 100 railcars would build up at certain stations in expectation of debarkation because of the insufficient number of loading and off-loading points.

In 1999 a specialized train of the Russian railroad troops was deployed in Chechnya. These units were assigned dangerous and important tasks of protecting strategic railroad lines delivering weapons and supplies. Russian cargo trains in Chechnya were preferred targets for the Chechen terrorists. Mines and bombs left by the rebels on railroad tracks and trains were found almost every day.

On 31 May 2008 units of Russia's Railroad Troops started rebuilding railroad infrastructure on the territory of Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia under a presidential decree on humanitarian aid to the self-proclaimed republic, the Defense Ministry said on Saturday. "In accordance with the Russian president's decree on humanitarian aid to Abkhazia and a request by the Abkhazian authorities, units from the Russian Railroad Troops and special non-military equipment have been dispatched to rebuild railroads and infrastructure [in Abkhazia]," the ministry said in a statement.

On 30 July 2008, it was announced that Russian Railroad Troops had completed their mission in breakaway Abkhazia and are withdrawing. A battalion of some 400 men of reportedly unarmed Railroad Troops was sent to Abkhazia to repair the railroad on May 31 without warning or the consent of the Georgian government. Despite strong protests from Tbilisi and Western capitals, the Railroad Troops continued their work in Abkhazia for two months. The troops repaired 54 km of Soviet-built tracks with 20 tunnels and bridges south of the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi to the coastal town of Ochamchire. The railroad was out of use since the early 1990s, a period which witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Georgia-Abkhaz war. The commander of the Railroad Troops General Sergei Klimets told journalists that the railroad operation was "purely humanitarian" to help the people of Abkhazia.

The United States government had been cautioning both the Russians and the Georgians ever since the Russians began to take some more aggressive steps such as sending 500 railway troops to Abkhazia, to improve the supply lines there, and some of the other measures that they had taken.

The Russian railway force group in the Southern Military District has two special armored trains, The Baikal and The Amur, and not four, a source at the Defense Ministry told TASS in AUgust 2015. Earlier, a number of mass media said that currently the group has at its disposal four armored trains, which had reportedly been withdrawn from operation back in 2009 only to be overhauled a while later.

"The railway forces in the Southern Military District have two repair and engineering battalions. Each has one special armored train. Their names are the Baikal and the Amur," the source said.

According to the official, the trains’ main mission is not participation in combat operations, but the escorting of military trains carrying cargoes, vehicles and personnel, and also prompt repairs of damaged rail track. Each train carries a kit of materials and components for repairing and restoring 150 meters of rail track, the source said. Each train consists of two diesel-electric locomotives (one is a stand-by engine) and a dozen cars, including flatcars and armored cars carrying weapons.

"The trains are armed with air defense weapons capable of hitting low-flying air targets," the source said. "The personnel of each train are armed with standard automatic rifles, machine-guns and grenade launchers. If need be, the trains may be reinforced with other weapons, including artillery pieces."

All of the trains’ crews are military servicemen. There is no civilian personnel on board. "The crews are permanently ready for coping with a variety of tasks to eliminate the effects of emergencies, such as acts of sabotage," he said.

The official recalled that the special trains were used during both Chechen wars and in the August 2008 conflict in South Ossetia. They are capable of coping with set tasks not only in the Southern Military District, but at any other spot on the map of Russia.

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