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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.

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.

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