Going to War on the Rails
|Left, M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles sit on a DODX 4100-series flatcar. The locomotive right weighs about the same as a tank but is longer and exerts a more concentrated load on the deck, which has to be strengthened accordingly.|
The song, "I've Been Working on the Railroad," has special meaning for George Gounley, manager of the Defense Freight Railway Interchange Fleet, or DFRIF, and his staff of nine. Together, they keep track of over 2,000 railcars that have been purchased by, or leased on behalf of, all branches of the Armed Forces for use on the commercial railroad system. The DFRIF is owned and operated by the Military Traffic Management Command's (MTMC's) Deployment Support Command (DSC) at Fort Eustis, Virginia.
The DFRIF fills two critical gaps in military support that the railroad industry does not provide. First, the DFRIF fills the void created when railroads do not have sufficient traffic to warrant stocking the railcars the Department of Defense (DOD) needs. Second, because the DFRIF fleet is owned by the DOD, railcars can be placed strategically at installations and depots to be ready for any use, including mobilization.
Railroading for the DOD today is vastly different from what it was 60 years ago, when much of the installation trackage was built. On-site rail assets and services to meet daily installation peacetime requirements have declined since World War II. Today's railroads are oriented much more toward trainload, or "wholesale," transportation. Even so, the value of installation railroad assets required for deployment has greatly increased as a result of the Army Strategic Mobility Program.
Most of the general-purpose flatcars managed by the DFRIF are assigned to specific Army and Marine Corps installations to support mobilization. The remaining cars are not assigned to any particular installation and are dispatched as needed to support peacetime traffic. General-purpose tank cars are used to move fuel and are divided into pools assigned to specific loading points. A small number of special-purpose cars move such items as ship components, fuel, oxidizers, and motors.
MTMC recently assumed ownership of 50 Army tank cars in Alaska needed to support the intrastate movement of military fuels. These cars had not been part of the DFRIF, because they were located outside of the continental United States (OCONUS). However, DFRIF railcars based in CONUS do routinely operate into Alaska and Canada in support of training exercises. The technology and design standards are the same throughout North America, and regulatory requirements are coordinated among the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
In 1996, the DFRIF began to change from an obsolete maintenance and movement data base system to the Asset Management System (AMS), a state-of-the-art rail management program developed by MTMC. Railcar managers now go online to arrange for the movement of empty railcars to customers, repair shops, and mobilization pools.
DFRIF field equipment specialists perform annual railcar inspections and perform contracting officer's representative duties, such as verifying shop estimates and approving railcar repairs. They also audit and approve repair bills from the railroads and maintain the AMS maintenance data base.
AMS soon will be on the Internet, which will allow installations to go on line to request railcars, track empty cars being sent to fill their requests, report car arrivals at and departures from the installation, and report railcars needing repair. Customer access to AMS will enhance the in-transit visibility of the rail fleet greatly, and with that should come an increase in customer confidence in the product the DFRIF provides.
"We are working with the information management folks to come up with a user-friendly website," said Gounley. "My goal is that if you can order a book on line, you can order a freight car on line. I also want our site to work for the installation as well as for us. I hope that the [installation] transportation officer will be able to use our site to maintain his inventory of rail cars on hand and their locations, for example, and not just for DFRIF cars but for commercial cars as well."
The DFRIF employees' efforts have produced revenues more than sufficient to cover the costs of managing and maintaining the fleet for the past 11 years. Following a string of deficits dating back to 1969, the DFRIF staff began marketing the railcars to military shippers the command had not previously served. They reduced costs by awarding long-term repair contracts to a few shops instead of having cars repaired by many shops. Revenues went up and costs went down, and the readiness of the fleet improved as the cars were used more often.
A reserve balance is maintained by the DFRIF from one fiscal year to the next, because railcars have periodic maintenance requirements that are not spread out uniformly over the life of the cars. Also, unlike other Defense Working Capital Fund activities, the DFRIF's revenues cannot be adjusted to make up prior-year shortfalls or to meet unforeseen expenses, because its revenue source is the railroads rather than DOD shippers.
The DFRIF's goal is to improve military preparedness to go to war on the rails. To do that, the military and the railroads need to understand each other better. "Too often, the military's lack of knowledge of railroad operations is matched by the railroads' lack of knowledge of military operations," said Gounley. "MTMC DSC's management of the DFRIF helps to bridge that gap." DSC helps to bring the railroads and the military together, not only when DFRIF railcars are involved, but also on occasions when only railroad-supplied cars are used. For example, it assisted the Army in Japan and Korea in dealing with car repair procedures and car replacement policies.
With DSC's expertise in owning, managing, and controlling the DFRIF fleet, warfighters can be assured that railroad assets required for deployment will be available whenever and wherever they are needed. ALOGo to War on the Rail
The Army Logistician staff wishes to thank June M. Pagan of the Military Traffic Management Command Deployment Support Command Public Affairs Office for her contribution to this article.