American "Rails" In Eight Countries - The Story of the 1st Military Railway Service"

   This the story of the soldier-railroaders who moved much of the materiel our front-line troops needed up to those forward area railheads where it could be used ... and who operated the hospital trains and the rest area trains (if you were fortunate enough to make it all the way back to Rome).

   They were but a small part of the 40-some Railway Operating Battalions and their supporting units who served in all theaters of operations - but for our website, they were our own - and we're darned proud of them!

   This document - authored by Headquarters, Southern Lines of Communications, European Theater of Operations, in February 1945 - was found in the archives of the Center of Military History, Fort McNair, Washington DC.

   The downloadable PDF (or Portable Document Format) file can be found at 1st Military Railway Service (56k, 27 pages). An index has been added that will allow you to find all people, places, units, and railroads mentioned in the publication.


Railroading has enjoyed a long relationship with the U.S. military. Prior to the War of 1812, transportation had taken a back seat in national military strategy. But by 1862, during the Civil War, the Union Army had established the Military Railroad Service and found itself winning a substantial number of battles because of the ability to swiftly and effectively move troops and supplies.

In World War I, more than 69,000 troops were dedicated to providing railroad transportation, and more than 43,000 worked in rail service during World War II (WWII), according to Maj. John A. Watkins, USAR.

As many retired UTU members recall, the Army boasted a total of 11 Railway Grand Divisions during WWII. Each was sponsored by a private railroad company, except for the 774th, which was organized in Italy in 1944. The grand divisions broke down into about 46 ROBs, seven of which were never activated during that war.

Later, the Korean Conflict marked the first for the U.S. in which the host nation provided military rail transportation, Watkins noted. Still, the Army counted five ROBs playing a welcome support role.

Through the 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s, many railroads were downsized, went bankrupt, or merged with other companies, while passenger operations decreased dramatically. At the same time, and especially during the Vietnam era, the military increasingly relied on helicopters and transport planes.


In the 1980s and 1990s, however, U.S. railroads began to rebound. But at the onset of the action that became Operation Desert Storm, the Army discovered the commercial rail industry lacked sufficient manpower and equipment to meet the nation's military requirements.

In response, the Army took steps to rejuvenate its rail operations. In 1995, offices were established in the Army Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) at Fort Lee, Va., and in the Army Transportation School at Fort Eustis, Va., to oversee certification, training, and licensing of civilian and military railroad personnel.

Today, the U.S. military counts two active ROBs, including the 1205th and its sister unit, the 757th based in Milwaukee, Wisc. Both were activated during the initial phases of Operation Desert Shield to support rail operations at military installations and depots, and remained on active duty until all units in the Persian Gulf were redeployed to their home stations. Both are part of the Army, and both are considered to be in reserve status.

The 757th is the sole surviving WWII-type ROB, and its forces can be deployed anywhere in the world. At the moment, many attached to the 757th are in Bosnia supporting Operation Joint Forge.

In contrast, the primary mission of the 1205th ROB is to haul materiel to a location about 25 miles south of Wilmington, Del., a depot in North Carolina known as Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point (MOTSU).