Nuclear weapons were transported by the “White Trains,” which were kept hidden during the Cold War to ensure their safe arrival.

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Nuclear weapons were transported by the "White Trains," which were kept hidden during the Cold War to ensure their safe arrival.
War History Online:

During the Cold War, much of the world was in a state of uncertainty. Nuclear arsenals were increased as a result of the widespread belief that the Soviet Union would launch a nuclear attack. There were many countries that used “white trains” for the transportation of nuclear arms, including the United States.

When nuclear weapons were first developed during the Cold War,

Concerned that the Soviet Union would launch a nuclear attack on the United States of America, the government concentrated on increasing its own nuclear arsenal. At the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, a former World War II munitions factory, the weapons were manufactured. Many residents of Amarillo, Texas, worked there, assembling and dismantling bombs in a sprawling 10,000-acre complex that included dozens of buildings.

Aerial view of the Pantex Plant. (Photo Credit: Texas Department of State Health Services / Wikimedia Commons)

Rail and truck traffic rolled in on a daily basis. From Colorado and Washington, they brought bomb triggers, plutonium from Georgia and Florida, neutron generators from Florida, and uranium from Tennessee. Workers in blue coveralls, safety shoes with rubber slipcovers, and thick gloves assembled the weapons after the material arrived.

They were then taken to bays, where workers attached their tails, firing components, and casings to the nuclear explosives.

White nuclear-weapons transport trains

When it came to transporting nuclear weapons across the United States, the Department of Energy decided to use “white trains.” SSRs, or “safe, secure railcars,” were designed to withstand an attack, so they were referred to as SSRs. They were equipped with “turret cars,” which were manned by armed guards, between “heavily armored” boxcars.

White train escort railcar at the Amarillo Railroad Museum. (Photo Credit: Don Barrett / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There were seven crew members on the white trains, which traveled at a maximum speed of 35 mph. Two primary routes were used, despite the use of many others. In the first leg, the weapons were transported from Amarillo to a submarine base in Puget Sound in Washington state. The second leg of the journey was from Amarillo, Texas, to Charleston, South Carolina, where they were transferred to Atlantic Ocean-bound submarines.

Anti-white train demonstrations

By the early 1980s, Americans began to express concerns about the transportation of nuclear material across the country. There was a nuclear resistance group called Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action that worked with a couple named Jim and Shelley Douglass to stop the white trains.

1952: Cold War air raid drill (Photo Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images)

The Douglass’ and their associates quickly drew up a route from Amarillo to Washington that the trains would likely take. They then contacted protest and religious groups to inform local media and organize non-violent protests along the rail lines. 300 communities held vigils.

They feared the protests would jeopardize the safety of the facility. In addition to generating negative press, it raised the possibility that a train could be hijacked. As a result, the Department of Energy (DOE) objected to the attention being paid to a classified item.

The Department of Energy (DOE) attempted to fix the problem by rerouting the trains, but the protestors quickly figured it out. They then proposed new rules that would make it illegal to share route information, but this didn’t gain much support from the public. They finally decided to paint the trains different colors – red, green, blue, and grey – but the trains could still be easily tracked because they were all painted the same shade of grey.

White train at the Amarillo Railroad Museum. (Photo Credit: Don Barrett / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Protesters like the Douglasses and other activists were arrested after attending a rally in 1985, when things really got out of hand. County officials said they would no longer arrest protesters who had been blocking white trains after a Washington jury acquitted them of any wrongdoing.

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Garrison of the armed forces of peace

The Department of Energy began using Safeguard Transporters exclusively to transport nuclear material across the United States soon after the court cases in Washington. They believed that trucks would be more difficult to detect because they could reach nuclear sites while avoiding railways. Retired white trains were dismantled and security-sensitive equipment was removed before they were placed in junkyards and museums across the country.

President Ronald Reagan. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

As part of the Peacekeeper Rail Garrison, President Reagan authorized the launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles from train cars in 1986. Twenty-five missile-carrying freight trains were stationed at military bases across the country. A missile strike on the United States would be possible if the Soviets launched a preemptive strike on the nation’s railway network.

As of the late 1980s, the government had built 120,000 miles of train track, which could be utilized by 20,000 locomotives and 1.2 million railcars. Estimates put the number of trains on the rails at more than 1,700.

Truck used to transport nuclear weapons at the Pantex Plant, 1996. (Photo Credit: Remi Benali / Getty Images)

The US nuclear arsenal was decommissioned when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, and many expensive and experimental projects were axed, including the Peacekeeper Rail Garrison.

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