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Iron horses still support logistics operations

US Marine Corps News

By Art Powell, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany

While the amount of equipment moved by rail aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany has diminished, rail still plays an important role in supporting the warfighter around the world.

Equipment sent here now arrives mostly by truck, but that wasn’t always the case.

“The locomotive service here used to be one of the largest in Department of Defense,” said Mike Elliott, fleet manager, Garrison Mobile Equipment, Logistics Support Division, Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany. “When the Defense Logistics Agency came in, the work force for the use of rail was reduced. Now, we average about 1,000 rail cars per year.”

That doesn’t mean that just a few cars arrive daily, because GME officials don’t know how many are in the classification yard at MCLB Albany until they look each day, and there could be substantial numbers waiting to be processed into the base.

“We had 250 cars arrive just a couple of months ago, and we’re asking Defense Logistics Agency to use rail more because we think it’s more effective,” Elliott said. “But, it’s left up to them how they ship equipment in and out.”

Rail traffic destined for the MCLB Albany classification yard arrives on civilian rail net trains, and MCLB Albany security forces allow them access to the classification yard to deliver and retrieve railcars.

“We notify DLA when there are cars in the classification yard and they tell us when to deliver them,” he said.

The backbone of MCLB Albany rail service is two 80-ton locomotives, World War II vintage.

“They’re still in very good shape since they were rebuilt in the 1980s, and we take very good care of them,” said Elliott, a retired Marine.

A local crew conducts rail operations aboard the installation and is responsible for placing rail cars at their intended destination.

“Rail is the way to go,” said Chris Easley, railroad conductor, GME. “It generally takes longer to ship by rail, but overall, railroads have always proven to be a reliable form of transportation for heavy freight, and sometimes it’s cheaper to move it by rail than truck.”

Successful rail operations depend on many things, and one of the most important is safety.

“We always maintain a focus on safety around rail operations,” Easley said.

That includes mounting and dismounting rail cars and awareness that the train could be moving.

“The crew has to always be aware that a train is dangerous and they must think safety,” he said.

Safety at road crossings is paramount, as is the need to watch out for wildlife on the rails.

“Many times, we see deer on the tracks during the day,” said Bobby Gay, railroad engineer, GME. “We keep sounding the horn and they look up and see the big headlight on the locomotive and get out of the way.”

Rail movement aboard MCLB Albany is a slow moving affair, with speeds kept under 20 mph. The MCLB Albany switch engines aren’t built to pull a long train over a long distance at a high speed. But they still get the job done, just as they have helped support the warfighter during all of America’s wars.

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