FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Fort Bragg ushered in the new decade with a softer-sounding chug, thanks to USAX 6508, a firebrick red engine designed by the National Railway Equipment Company.

Commissioned for service on Dec. 15, 2010, the new model replaces one of two train engines that hauled military equipment for more than 20 years. That engine will eventually be transferred to another Army location where it will continue to operate. While the old engine ran on diesel, today's engine runs on ultra-low sulfur fuel, an improved grade of diesel designed to lower emissions of particulate matter. That's a 2,900-gallon tank of "greener" fuel, which will leave a lighter railmark for decades to come.

The engine also has a higher pull capacity - 2,100 horsepower versus the 1,850 hp of the older model. An upgraded design, featuring stronger frames and beams, means better protection for the crew. Although the engine tops out at 30 miles per hour, it moves at the slow pace of 10 mph, which is still a safety concern given the weight and nature of the cargo it pulls.

Because of our deployment activity, Fort Bragg obtained priority status for the engine replacement initiative, which states that all new purchases must meet improved Environmental Protection Agency standards for locomotives by 2012. With a price tag of $1.57 million, the 275,000-pound engine also exceeds new crash worthiness specs, according to Maj. Vanna Walker, rail operations and maintenance officer, Headquarters Installation Management Command.
A private contractor, Cape Fear Railways, operates all rail traffic on post.

The company, which only exists on Fort Bragg and Pope, was inaugurated in 1926, although trains first appeared on the scene in 1917 (to help build the installation). With only six employees (three certified locomotive engineers, conductors and a brakeman), CFR moves 2,500 to 3,300 railcars in a busy year.

Gerald Jensen, chief of Unit Movements Branch, Installation Transportation Office, noted the Army's dependence on trains. Railways carry Humvees, small trucks, intermodal containers, tanks, Bradleys and other unit equipment that is either too large or costly to move by highway or air. A 100-car train will carry the load of 400 trucks, which decreases manpower and relieves the cost of ordering special permits for highway transportation (i.e. a special permit is required to move a tank by truck).

With the installation's high rate of deployments and trainings, the railways stay active yearlong. Trains typically operate between 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Monday to Friday, excluding special deployments and mission operations. With 14.3 miles of active track and 38 rail crossings on Fort Bragg (three crossings on Pope AFB), it's important to remember that trains always have the right of way.

Howard Mayhew, transportation corp rail safety specialist, said that 60 percent of train accidents involve railroad crossings, where vehicle drivers attempt to "beat the train" by getting around a lowered gate. "When it's a tie at the crossing, you lose," said Mayhew, who urged drivers to observe railway crossing rules. This includes maintaining at least a four-foot distance between yourself (or your vehicle) and the railcars, which often hang at least four feet over the track.

The agency reports no vehicle-rail collisions on post, and it's a trend worth sustaining as we welcome the addition of engine USAX 6508.

Page last updated Tue January 18th, 2011 at 10:45