Fort Drum's $31.5 million railhead project finally to begin

·4 min read

Jul. 22—FORT DRUM — Fort Drum broke ground on Friday on its $31.5 million sorely needed and long-sought new railhead construction project.

The project will enhance 10th Mountain Division's ability for the rapid movement of troops, vehicles and equipment "in a safe and efficient" manner, said Lt. Col. Matthew D. Pride, district deputy commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The new railhead, just a short distance from the existing one onpost, will include a 5,000-square-foot operations building, 1.2 miles of rail track and five new concrete loading ramps.

The project is part of the modernization of military installations that are occurring throughout the Army, Lt. Col. Pride said.

It's not only bringing the rail improvements up-to-date but also will ensure Fort Drum's capability for decades to come, officials said.

"It's huge for Fort Drum and huge for the U.S. Army," said Eric F. Wagonaar, Fort Drum's Deputy Garrison Commander.

For years, Fort Drum officials worked on getting the new railhead project to this point.

Maj. Gen. Milford H. Beagle Jr., commander of the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum, said they've been working with Army and congressional leaders to get the funding to make the project a reality.

"Simply stated, this project better enables us to do our number one mission for our nation — deploy, fight and win," Gen. Beagle said.

The Army expects Fort Drum to load equipment be ready to send it for battle or any other mission within 96 hours, Deputy Garrison Commander Wagonaar said. The new railhead will make that difficult task easier, he said.

For the first time, soldiers will be able to load equipment and vehicles out of the elements and under cover, Lt. Col. Pride said.

That wasn't the case in January 2019 when the 10th Mountain Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team had to get about 1,000 pieces of military equipment loaded on the existing facility in a blinding snowstorm with will wind chill temperatures 30 below zero. It was for a joint training mission in Fort Polk, La.

"You know how north country winters can be like," Lt. Col. Pride said.

Two former 10th Mountain leaders were involved in making the new railhead a reality.

Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, former commander of the 10th Mountain Division and the current Director of the Army Staff, saw a need for a major railhead upgrade soon after arriving at Fort Drum in 2017.

Another for former Fort Drum commanding general, Gen. Mark A. Milley, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also considered the project a Fort Drum priority when he served as the Army chief of staff.

It also took New York Congressional leaders to obtain enough funding for the project. In 2021, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.; U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY; and U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, arranged for the base to receive an additional $10 million needed for the new railhead, considered a crucial part of the 10th Mountain Division deployment process.

The project is fully funded at $31.5 million. Before lawmakers arranged for the additional funding, the project would have been completed in several years.

Structural Associates Inc., an East Syracuse-based construction company, was awarded a $27.3-million contract from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build the new railhead.

The loading facility also will consist of an upgrade of four parallel tracks, a side loading area, lighting and cargo inspection area.

The new facility will enable soldiers to simultaneously load and unload rail cars for faster mobilization and improve loading capabilities.

The railhead is expected to be completed in late 2023.

In a press release, Sen. Schumer said he promised Fort Drum officials that he would make sure the railhead would get built. He made calls to Army leaders and the Department of Defense to convince them how much the improvements were needed.

"Fort Drum is a major asset to the Army and woven into the very fabric of the north country," Sen. Schumer said in the press release.

The project is funded through the Fiscal Year 2020 Military Construction Appropriations bill.