The wagon-train is the principle land-based weapon in the Amtrak Federation's arsenal. It is an immense vehicle that combines many of the features of the Pre-H aircraft carrier, tank, armoured personnel carrier and command and control centre. It is equipped with a wing of Skyhawk attack aircraft and manned by a thousand Trail-Blazer combat personnel.
Prototype wagon-trains were built shortly after the Break-Out in 2465. The Federation required a vehicle capable of carrying an entire army into battle, which was totally self-supportive in the field and could operate under extreme conditions at a great distance from base for months on end. Thus the need for a wagon-train rather than say a fleet of Pre-H tanks. The early wagon-trains, operating closer to the Federation's main bases and concerned with fighting the less dangerous Southern Mutes, were considerably smaller than the modern type.
The modern type of wagon-train entered service in the mid-30th Century as the Federation's expansion carried it closer to Plainfolk territory. The wagon-trains were tested in battle when the Lady from Louisiana attacked the Clan M'Call at the Battle of the Now and Then River in Wyoming in June 2989. The wagon-train's performance was noted as ineffective after the train had been tricked into maneuvering into a dried-out river bed which was then hit by a flash flood. The train was immobilised on a slope with its vast array of firepower unable to effectively target the attacking Mutes, resulting in its soldiers having to go out and fight in close quarters, resulting in significant losses.
Two years later, at the Battle of Twin Forks in Nebraska, attacking Mutes exposed several key weaknesses in the wagon-train's design. Explosives were used to disable the train by severing the umbilicals and connections between the power cars and the other compartments, rendering the train's weapons, communications and sensors useless and immobilising its steam catapaults, making the launching of aircraft difficult. The result of this battle was the total destruction of the Lady from Louisiana with all hands, although the M'Calls in turn were exterminated by the four back-up trains arriving on the scene, although all of those trains did suffer some damage.
The principle weakness of the wagon-train is that it is highly vulnerable to the use of Mute magic. No effective counter yet exists against this force, despite the elimination of the most powerful Mute summoner, Mr Snow, at the Battle of Twin Forks.
Wagon-trains consist of a number of cars. Trains on a short-range run may only carry eight cars, whilst those on re-supply runs to way-stations may carry up to sixteen, with ten of those serving as cargo cars. A full sixteen-wagon wagon-train measures an impressive 660 feet in total length.
Each car in a wagon-train is approximately 36 feet tall, from the roof to the base of the wheel, just short of 30 feet wide and about 40 feet long. Each car typically has three floors. There are several different types of cars that make up each wagon-train:
- Command car (2)
- Power car (2)
- Flight cars (2)
- Medical car (1)
- Cargo car (up to 10)
- Combat car (2 or more)
There are two command cars, one located at each end of the train. If the train needs to reverse course, the 'front' command car shuts down and the rear one takes over, eliminating the need for the bulky train to turn right round. In a crisis, the train can also split in half, with both command cars operating and allowing the train to function as two independent combat units.
The command car functions as a command-and-control centre, fire control centre and general operations room. Nicknamed 'the saddle', the command car is the nerve centre of the wagon-train.
The command cars are taller (c. 42ft) and longer (c. 60ft) than the standard wagons, with communications and scanning equipment and masts located on top. These include UHF and VHF aerials, video camera towers and radar scanners. The command cars also have powerful quartz-halogen headlights to assist in night-time navigation, although infra-red scanners and nightscopes are available for operations in enemy territory.
There are two power cars, each one located immediately behind each command car. They can be identified by the exhaust vents in their roof panels. The power cars use jet engines to generate electricity to power all on-board systems and the drive motors in each wheel of the wagon train. In the highly unlikely event of the failure of both power cars, there are independent power systems on each wagon for emergency lighting and a limited form of self-locomotion.
There are two flight cars, usually located together amidships. The roofs of these two cars are completely flat. In combat mode, the two roofs extend outwards and connect together to form a mini airstrip, large enough to permit the launching and landing of Skyhawk attack aircraft in a very similar manner to that of Pre-H aircraft carriers. There are also elevators located on the side of the wagons which permit Skyhawks to be lifted up to the deck or moved back down into storage. The flight cars contain steam-powered catapaults to launch the aircraft and arrestor hooks to help them land. Between the two flight cars, each wagon-train carries ten aircraft and a full supply of repair and armament stores.
The medical car, popularly known as the 'blood wagon', is effectively a mobile mini-hospital with its own array of medical personnel, operating theatres and recuperation areas for injured soldiers.
The cargo cars usually consist of large, empty spaces filled with cargo pallets for delivery to the Federation's way-stations. Their number varies depending on the mission.
These are the 'standard' cars, where the onboard Trail-Blazer battalion lives, works, sleeps, drills and chills out where possible. Their number varies depending on the mission.
Each car has four wheels. Each wheel is twelve feet across and twelve feet thick, mounted on a huge suspension system. The wheels are capable of crushing almost any obstacle flat without even causing a jolt. The wagon-trains can move at about 50mph over favourable terrain, but this drops in hilly country or bad weather, particularly snow. Where possible, the trains' routes are pre-planned to take advantage of the Pre-H freeways and train lines which, although long destroyed, have usually left behind defiles, cuttings and surfaces more favourable to the wagon-trains' conveyence. In almost all cases, however, tunnels have been destroyed and bridges collapsed, forcing the trains to deviate frequently from these routes.
The wagon-trains' undersides are watertight, allowing them to traverse most rivers with no major problems. Larger rivers can be forded with the use of flotation equipment and devices, although this is a lengthy and tedious process. However, truly major rivers such as the Mississippi and Missouri are much more problematic to cross. The Federation has constructed permanant crossings over the Mississippi's southern-most course in Louisiana, but the Missouri lies beyond its borders. The Missouri can be floated over in the traditional manner, but given the size of the river and its prediliction for flooding, this can be a hazardous and dangerous task.
Power is provided by the two power cars, as mentioned earler. Each power car can last for up to six months of typical operation before needing maintenance. Each car also has its own emergency battery which can provide emergency lighting and a very low level of locomotion in the case of an emergency. The power cars are the weakest point of the wagon-train, but Federation designers considered them invulnerable since the Mutes would never learn of their purpose or be able to get close enough to cause any damage. However, during the Battle of Twin Forks attacking Mutes disabled the power cars on the Lady from Louisiana with ease, enabling them to storm and destroy the train. A review of the design of the power cars, particularly their reliance on external (and easy-to-sever) umbilicals, is underway.
The wagon-train is formidably armed. There is a 20mm Vulcan cannon turret located on the underside of every car which can traverse to hit targets on either side. There are automatic cut-outs to prevent the cannons from damaging the wheels. There is an additional 20mm cannon at the very front of the train which can fire fowards as well as to the sides, and a dorsal turret located on the top of the train to repulse Mutes who somehow get on the roof. Every combat and command car also has a more powerful 40mm cannon turret located on the side, with a 45-degree vertical and 180-degree horizontal sweep. Alll of the Vulcan turrets can fire high-explosive or incendiary rounds.
If this vast array of firepower is not enough, every wagon has two super-heated steam jets located underneath. The jets are used for close-quarter defence and can flay skin from bone. Low-pressure use can also be used to put out fires or melt snow. There are also high-pressure water jets in the nose of the command cars used to blast away natural barriers. The jets are automatically shut down when the ramps are lowered, to prevent injuring friendlies, but this is also a weakness, exploited at the Battle of Twin Forks to allow Mute boarding parties to approach the train without the jets - which had previously routed the Mutes at the Battle of the Now and Then River - being fired.
However, the wagon-train's principle form of offense and defense is its air wing of ten Skyhawk attack aircraft and its thousand-strong complement of Trail-Blazer soldiers.
Each wagon-train carries a battalion of a thousand Trail-Blazers, who serve as crew, soldiers and pilots on the wagon-train. They are formidably armed and trained to withstand the rigours of overground combat duty for extended periods away from base. Only the most elite soldiers, in particular those who show no signs whatsoever of agoraphobia, are considered capable of crewing on the wagon-trains.
The wagon-train is commanded by the wagon-master. The deputy wagon-master serves as his executive officer, and usually commands the secondary command car (so he or she can take over immediately should the main wagon-master be incapacitated or the command car somehow disabled). Next in seniority is the Trail Boss, a non-commissioned rank comparable to that of master-at-arms. The Trail Boss is responsible for discipline, assembly of the troops and maintenance of kit and personnel. The Trail Boss commands the combat troops and junior ranks on the train.
Beneath the wagon-master and his deputy is a large number of lieutenants and ensigns specialising in train systems, such as power, propulsion, navigation, communications, scanning and weapons. Technically these commissioned officers outrank the Trail Boss, but in practice the Boss is deferred to. Beneath the Trail Boss are the common soldiers, grunts and NCOs.
A third group on board, although still technically part of the Trail-Blazer division, are the wingmen. The wingmen are held to be the most elite warriors, capable of operating away even from the relative safety of the wagon-train for extended patrols and periods of time. They are considered the best of the best, although there is a degree of inter-service rivalry between them and the other forces on board, as might be expected.
To serve on a wagon-train is held to be the greatest honour a Tracker can achieve, carrying the fight for the blue-sky world into the heart of the enemy. With this honour comes a price, however, as wagon-train crew are exposed to higher degress of radiation than other Trackers, and frequently die long before their 40th birthdays.
As of 2991 there were twenty-one wagon-trains in operation, with a plan to expand this by one per year. It is unknown if this goal has been met.
All wagon-trains are named after movies from the career of John Wayne, the favourite actor of the First Family. The concept of movies is not known in the wider Federation, and the significance of the names of the wagon-trains is not known to the average soldier.
Wagon-trains known to exist include:
- Fighting Kentuckian
- Fighting Leathernecks
- King of the Pecos - damaged at the Battle of Twin Forks.
- Lady from Louisiana - destroyed in 2991 at the Battle of Twin Forks. Recognition code: LDY.
- Overland Raider - damaged at the Battle of Twin Forks.
- Red River - the Federation flagship, nicknamed 'Big Red One'. Recognition code: RVR.
- Rio Bravo
- Sands of Iwojima - damaged at the Battle of Twin Forks.
- True Grit - damaged at the Battle of Twin Forks.
The names of the fourteen other trains are unknown, but are likely to be appropriate names of films from John Wayne's career. 'Big Jake', 'Rio Lobo', 'Hellfighter', 'Shepherd of the Hills', 'In Harm's Way', 'Green Beret', 'Undefeated' and the appropriate 'War Wagon' could be viable names.
All wagon-trains are denoted by the abbreviation 'WT' or 'W/T' before the name.
All wagon-trains are under the authority of the Wagon-Train Division (based in Nixon/Fort Worth) and its commander-in-chief (CINC-TRAIN), currently Andrew Jackson Jefferson. CINC-TRAIN and the rest of the division determine the mission objectives for each wagon-train in any given year, working to achieve targets developed and assigned by the President-General and his staff.
Whilst the Wagon-Train Division directly commands wagon-train operations, it is supported by the Military Engineering Division, whose engineers and technicians build and service the wagon-trains. The MED's Design Bureau is tasked with developing and prototyping new technologies for use on the wagon-trains.