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The End of Railroad Restrictions
The end of World War II brought the gradual elimination of travel restrictions, but it took months for the railroads to complete their wartime work and return to a peacetime footing. Millions of soldiers, sailors, and aviators had to be processed through discharge centers and returned home in the months following V-J Day -- nearly every one of them traveling by train. Restrictions imposed in the closing months of the war, such as the removal of sleeping cars from runs of less than 450 miles, eased the problems of military travel but increased the burden faced by civilians.
The sheer necessity of the service provided by railroads meant that their wartime work wouldn't be completed for months, while competing modes of transportation could respond to peacetime civilian demands quickly. The greatest troop movement of the entire war occurred on August 3-4, 1945, when Army returnees departed from Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, to various destinations around the country. More than 20,000 soldiers packed onto 31 trains, requiring 331 Pullmans, 100 coaches, and 41 kitchen cars. That same week, more than 250,000 servicemen and women were transported in organized troop movements requiring 726 Pullman cars and 512 coaches. The Army maintained its priority for Pullman cars well into 1946. By comparison, gas rationing ended quickly after the war, and even the airlines had gotten their planes back from the government by the end of 1945.
Peace meant that the nation could turn its attention to fulfilling expectations that originated during the 1920s and '30s, but were deferred by the Depression and the war. The prewar world's fairs popularized the vision of a modern consumer-oriented future embodying innovations in transportation and communication. This end could now be pursued by incorporating wartime developments in jet aviation, electronics, and synthetic materials. The railroads, tired but triumphant after serving as a bulwark of the war effort, needed to reinvest in order to preserve a place for themselves in the nation's transportation future.