FORT POLK — In less than a year, Fort Polk's railroad infrastructure underwent more than $14 million in upgrades.

The Army Corps of Engineers replaced 19,500 cross ties and 26 culverts, and repaired 19 switches and 21 road crossings (some additional drainage improvements continue through September).

The railroad is vital to the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk because it supports 10 to 11 rotations annually, transporting an average of 920 pieces of rolling stock.

A ribbon was cut to officially reopen the railroad Aug. 15 with members of the Corps of Engineers and Fort Polk representatives attending. Col. Kenneth N. Reed, commander of the Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District, offered a few remarks, including a brief history of Fort Polk’s railway.

“This is not the first time the Army has embarked on building railroads in this part of the country. On the way here this morning I read about a railroad built in this area in 1941. The Army built a 48-mile railroad from (then Camp Polk) to Camp Claiborne in Alexandria,” said Reed. “We knew then that the foundation was not very good because we were (using the project for) training Soldiers — who were their way to (fight) World War II — for a railroad construction battalion, and to be able to do that job rapidly while in harm’s way.”

The notional value of the job these Soldiers did in 1941 continues today, according to Reed, by way of these improvements. “When they began to break ground here (77 years ago), they thought there was no way there would ever be ice or snow, or one of the wettest Februarys in history,” he said. “Yet this team — the construction leadership and garrison leadership — they delivered, on time and within budget. This brings added value to the nation. This (railroad) allows (the Army) to continue to project combat power around the world to do the nation’s business.”

Col. Jarrett Thomas II, U.S. Army Garrison commander, Fort Polk, said it was a great day to be a part of this successful endeavor.

To demonstrate his team spirit, Thomas changed his headgear from a beret to a hard hat —with a colonel rank affixed at front and center — and said he was proud of project completion.

“I can tell you that as the garrison commander over the past 14 months, this was the single most important project that we had,” he said. “It was important to get this one done on time because of what we do here at JRTC. We train at least one-third of the Army’s brigade combat teams.

“Our job here is to make sure that those individuals are ready to fight our nation’s wars, and they do that here.”

But the training mission doesn’t happen with Soldiers alone. Thomas said it requires a lot of equipment that needs to be brought onto post.

“A large percentage of that comes through the (railroad) line here,” he said. “That’s why we had to get it done so quickly. Nearly 1,000 pieces of equipment come in with every rotation. But we had the right people here at the right time for this (project), and (its completion) is important for Fort Polk and for the Army.”