Fort McCoy News January 23, 2015

Team supports railway operational readiness

STORY & PHOTOS BY SCOTT T. STURKOL
Public Affairs Staff

Fort McCoy is one of several installations Armywide to have rail capability. A team of four contract employees at the installation keeps the rail mission and readiness on track.

The Fort McCoy rail crew is from Inuit Services Inc., which supports the Logistics Readiness Center (LRC) Transportation Division. The team has more than 100 years of combined railroad experience, and they support the management and operations of two diesel electric, 120-ton locomotives as well as overall rail operations at Fort McCoy.

Photo 1 railway
Conductor Randy Harris, a member of the Fort McCoy rail crew team, uses hand signals to help guide the engineer driving Engine 4636, the installation's locomotive, as part of regular operations on the installation's South Post.

One locomotive is owned by the Fort McCoy LRC, and the other by the 1152nd Transportation Company (Railway) of Milwaukee, Wis., which is aligned with the 757th Transportation Battalion (Railway). During non-shipment periods, the rail crew works one day a week to care for the locomotives and has the ability to ramp up to meet daily missions as required.

Installation Transportation Officer D.J. Eckland of the LRC said maintaining a rail crew at Fort McCoy not only keeps readiness up, but also saves the Army money.

"Without a rail crew and the locomotives, we would not have the ability to move rail cars in support of rail missions," Eckland said.
"This would require us to contract a civilian rail company to perform locomotive operations, which would greatly increase costs.

Sustaining a rail crew and locomotive provides Fort McCoy with a strategic capability that ensures we remain capable of supporting future operational requirements.

"Our Unit Movement Coordinator (Joan Huber) is constantly communicating with the training community on the modes of transportation, our ability to support each, including our rail capability as a more cost-effective shipment method for large-volume moves," Eckland said.

"Our team is the operator of the Fort McCoy locomotive, but we also complete weekly preventative maintenance checks and services (PMCS) on both locomotives to make sure they are always ready for use," said Inuit Transportation Chief Chris Brown.

"We have a standing memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the unit to look after their locomotive every week so it stays in compliance. The unit is based out of Milwaukee, so, per the MOA, they don't have to send one of their Soldiers or crew here weekly to do the PMCS."

From the earliest days of Fort McCoy's near 106-year history, railways have played an important role in the post's mission. Whether it was transporting troops in for training during World War II, or bringing in equipment and supplies for the Exportable Combat Training Capability (XCTC) exercise in 2014, the installation is capable of moving a lot of cargo by rail.

Photo 2 rail
Engineer Roger Everson completes work associated with weekly preventative maintenance checks and services for Engine 4636.

During the mobilization mission, especially from 2004 to 2006, Brown said 100-car trains would bring cargo and equipment to post. Brown worked as part of Fort McCoy's 15-person rail operations team at the time. Also, according to the installation history, from 2001 to 2011, a total of 3,578 rail cars were used to support the mobilization mission.

"We were shipping equipment to and from ports (of embarkation), and we were busy seven days a week," he said.
In August 2014, the team was busy when the 1st Infantry Division from Fort Riley, Kan., brought in 57 rail cars loaded with Bradley Fighting Vehicles, trucks and other equipment. The shipment required a high level of car maneuvering on Fort McCoy's 10 miles of track.

"That was a busy time," said Bill Peters, a team member who has 41 years experience as a railroad engineer. "We moved the cars and made sure they were properly lined up in their designated areas. We put them against unloading ramps — some had to be by portable ramps, and other cars had to be set up by permanent ramps for unloading the heavier equipment."

Brown said a large rail operation like the XCTC delivery is completed with a lot of planning with several agencies across Fort McCoy.

"When a rail shipment arrives, we'll receive documentation that gives us detailed instructions on where the rail cars need to be," Brown said. "Then we'll carry on with the work that needs to be done."

That work requires the equipment to be ready to go, said Conductor Randy Harris, another team member who has 38 years of rail experience.

"That's why completing weekly PMCS are so important for these locomotives," Harris said. "A PCMS includes conducting air (compression) tests, checking to make sure the brake shoes are in compliance and ensuring all the fluids are good."

PMCS guidelines for the locomotives are specifically set according to Army and Federal Railway Administration regulations. "These are things that have to be done every week, and there are also quarterly, semi-annual and annual inspection requirements that have to be followed," Brown said.

"It's about making sure everything is ready in case there are cars to be moved," added Engineer Roger Everson, a 33-year railroad veteran. "We keep the locomotives ready in case there is the need to mobilize for any unit that comes to Fort McCoy to train."

Whatever the job at hand, Harris said the crew's first priority is practicing good safety measures.

"This can be dangerous work — you have to be safety-conscious about everything," Harris said. "When we do (an operation), we discuss things, and we make sure we are doing things in compliance and as safely as possible."

For more information about the Fort McCoy rail crew, call 608-388-3966.