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Virginia troop train up for auction

FORT LEE, Va. - A set of railroad cars, once proposed for ferrying troops to and from field training, may see new life on the rails following sale at auction.

Acquired from the Virginia Railway Express in 2011, the cars were never used for the trips to and from Fort A.P. Hill due to budget issues.

"We've had a lot of interest," William Remaley. with auctioneer Liquidity Services Inc., said. "We probably had 50 phone calls from across the country" and an inquiry from Canada.

Four rail cars - USAX402, 404, 405 and 407 - sold at auction this week, according to listings at Liquidity Services. Two sold for $8,700 each and the other two for $7,800 each. They are Pullman Gallery I cars built between 1956 and 1969, and rebuilt between 1996 and 2009, according to a previous sale notice from prior owner VRE.

While the first set up for auction have been sold, those interested will have a second chance to bid on four more nearly-identical rail cars next month. Bidding opens on April 7 and closes April 9.

Fort Lee planners had hoped to use a train as an alternative to moving 800 to 1,100 soldiers via massive bus and truck convoys on Interstate 95. A study of Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and Federal Railroad Administration records indicated that rail transport would be safer.

The VRE board of directors was asked about selling or leasing surplus equipment in June 2010. In October 2010, the VRE board approved selling 10 railcars and three GP-40 locomotives to the Army for $250,000. The first four cars acquired from the Northern Virginia commuter rail service arrived in October 2011.

Fort Lee officials said the vehicle convoys cost about $573,000 annually. Early estimates were the train would cost about $600,000 per year.

In March 2012 the program was canceled.

"While working toward establishing this rail service, we have continued evaluating the program in the face of a changing fiscal environment," Maj. Gen. James L. Hodge, commander of the Combined Arms Support Command, said at the time. "It is through this running assessment that we have decided to end the program."

An additional $100,000 to $325,000 in startup costs, along with an operation contract that rose to an estimated $1 million annually, derailed the troop train. Also, the trip tripled in time, taking an estimated nine hours by rail and shuttle bus from a rail terminal to A.P. Hill, located in Caroline County near Fredericksburg. It is unclear why it would take so long. For comparison, a trip on today's Amtrak Northeast Regional 147 from Petersburg's station (located in Ettrick) to Fredericksburg is listed at 1 hour and 43 minutes.

In 2012, Fort Lee said the trains would be turned over to the TACOM Life Cycle Management Command "for further military use." Buyers were required to arrange an escort onto post to preview the railroad equipment. Norfolk Southern Corp. services Fort Lee's rail access and has to be contracted to remove the cars, according to the auction listing. The three locomotives appear to have been moved to Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

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