Thursday, March 22, 2012

Army cancels troop train plans


The Army’s plan to resurrect the idea of sending troops by rail to training areas has been derailed.
 On Thursday, the Army canceled a pilot project to transport thousands of soldiers from Fort Lee, near Petersburg, to Fort A.P. Hill in Caroline County. The Army cited higher costs and longer transport time as the reason.
 In a press release, it added that several locomotives and rail cars it had purchased  last year would be used by the Army for other purposes.
 “While working toward establishing this rail service, we have continued evaluating the program in the face of a changing fiscal environment,” said Maj. Gen James L. Hodge, commanding general of the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee.
 The command said the evaluation found  a “much higher start-up and operating cost than originally estimated,” while total travel time would have nearly tripled compared with the current method of sending the soldiers on buses.
 The bus trip from Fort Lee takes about three hours; the train journey would have taken eight or nine hours.
 The Army bought three locomotives and 10 gallery-style passenger cars last year from Virginia Railway Express for $250,000.
 But it estimated that other start-up expenditures of as much as $325,000 would have been required, along with additional ongoing costs that were deemed unacceptable.
 For example, the cost of contracting for the operation of the train would have been more than $1 million annually—about $400,000  more than initial estimates.
The Army began looking at the rail option in 2010 after  two earlier crashes involving vehicles transporting troops on highways, including Interstate 95. Several soldiers were injured in one incident.
 After a Base Realignment and Closure Commission decision in 2005, more soldiers were being shifted to Fort Lee, so more were heading to Fort A.P. Hill for mandatory field training. The Army began chartering buses to carry them.
 The Army was projecting that 800 to 1,000 soldiers would be carried on the train about 40 times a year.

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