In the 1950s, the U.S. Army experimented with a 13-car, 600-foot-long wheeled train that could haul more than a hundred tons of supplies over sand or snow. The kicker: it was a hybrid-electric with many of the same features of the latest military prototypes.
The TC-497 “Overland Train,” designed by earthmoving pioneer R.G. Letourneau, was briefly used to supply Alaskan radar stations and construct remote oil pipelines. “The first models were so successful that a Mark II version was developed,” says WIB-pal Steve Weintz. ”This was an amazing machine: gas-turbine-electric hybrid drive, 150-ton payload, a crew of six provided with bridge, bunkhouse, and galley and a self-tracking steering system. Additional power cars and cargo cars could be added as needed.”
By the 1960s airplanes, helicopters and tracked vehicles overtook the wheeled behemoth. “The Overland Train Mark II was delivered in 1962 and immediatly declared obsolete,” Weintz reports. He continues:
“Apart from feeding my inner 6-year-old with visions of Thunderbirds zoomery, why bring this up? Well, logistics is a major headache in the Sandbox and this decades-old technology may merit a second look.”
1) Enormous payloads: At 150 tons, the single Mark II OT could carry as much fuel from Kuwait to Baghdad as seven semi tractor-trailers, and could avoid highways entirely. Because the trains were designed to add power cars and cargo cars as needed, the upper payload limit could be much higher.
2) Such huge vehicles could accept MRAP upgrades with a much smaller percentage of vehicle weight and power compromise. Even if a deeply-buried penetrator took out a car or two, the train could uncouple and the segments keep going.
3) Land trains could mount as much defensive ordnance as desired: electronic countermeasure centers, companies of soldiers with weapons, Vulcan-Phalanx point defense systems (ouch!), Abrams tanks or even Patriot missile batteries.
4) Leverage the hybrid drive system: keep the gas-turbine engines and explore running them on powdered coal, used oil, camel shit, etc. Also look into big heavy fuel cells. A power car and a cargo car full of armor plate, shelter and supplies could be detached and set up as an instant “Fort Apache.” Power cars could be quickly stationed as portable megawatt-class generators.
(Thanks Steve, ksb, QuAD and Northart!)