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The Pantex Railcar Exhibit
Historic Preservation Blog from PreservationDirectory.com - White Train, Cold War Railcars, Pantex Amarillo
Contributed By: Monica Graham
Website: http://www.pantex.com

The Pantex Railcar Exhibit
With the recent creation of an exhibit featuring the historic “White Train,” the Pantex Plant’s Cultural Resource Program in Amarillo, Texas has fulfilled a Department of Energy (DOE)/National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)/Pantex Site Office (PXSO) and B&W Technical Services, Inc. (B&W) commitment made in the 2004 Programmatic Agreement/Cultural Resource Plan. Monica Graham, the Pantex Historian, was able to secure a contract to bring the story of the railcars back into the limelight. Seven railcars that were significant in the transportation of weapons have been preserved, and an exhibit has been developed focusing on the history and function of each railcar.
 
During the height of the Cold War, the white trains worked out of the Pantex Plant. This line up of railcars is a relic of an era of great tension in American history, a time when ideological schisms between the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, led to political maneuvering, skirmishes, and standoffs—and, ultimately, to a great nuclear arms race. This period of history is known as the Cold War. During this time, from 1951 to 1987, hundreds of nuclear weapons were transported by armored railcar from the Pantex Plant to weapons storage areas (WSAs) around the nation, creating stockpiles against the threat of a Soviet military attack.
 
As nuclear stockpiles grew, storage of the weapons became a problem. An agreement between the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense established 13 WSAs adjacent to military bases in 12 states around the country.
 
To get the weapons to those sites, the government turned to the nation’s well-developed rail system, which was the primary means of transporting cargo (at the time, the U.S. highway system was still underdeveloped and inefficient). A secret and specialized train—the White Train—was designed and built for the job. For 36 years, the White Train traveled between these WSAs and the Pantex Plant, loading and unloading its dangerous cargo. But as highways improved and trucking became a more reliable alternative, fewer weapons traveled by rail. The train became the focus for peace and anti-nuclear weapon activism in the west. While the train's color was changed numerous times to avoid notice, it continued to be referred to by its original color. After the last attempt to prosecute protesters who blocked the passage of the train failed, the DOE began to move nuclear weapons by truck without public notice. In 1987, the White Train rolled to a stop at Pantex for the last time.

The railcars rested at Pantex until 2007, when many of the railcars were donated to the Amarillo Railway Museum. A representative sampling of the train remained on site for historical preservation purposes. The exhibit consists of seven cars in the configuration that most represents the order of transport.
 
The Cultural Resource Program at Pantex highlights the significance of the role the railcars played in the Cold War. The preservation of the historical railcar demonstrates compliance with directives of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the protection of America’s cultural heritage, an important function and responsibility of the federal government. This demonstrates DOE/NNSA’s and B&W commitment to providing stewardship for our historical assets. The railcars directly supported our nation’s security. Preserving the cars allows us to remember the role in the transportation of weapons and the controversy that followed them. They are an important part of our nation’s history.

Keywords: White Train, Cold War Railcars, Pantex Amarillo

Posted: October 26, 2011
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