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Author Topic: Mail by Rail
yukon11
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The USPS Inspector General has come out with a report which suggests that US mail could, once again, be moved by rail:

http://www.uspsoig.gov/foia_files/RARC-WP-12-013.pdf

*Shifting portions of mail volume from truck to intermodal rail could yield $100 million in annual savings.

*Intermodal rail could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and help the postal servioe meet environmental obligations.

*More control over its own infastructure and less sensitive to fuel price increases.

*Last year the postal service spent more than 3.3 billion on highway contracts and only 40 million on freight-rail contracts.

Maybe they will bring back the REA.

Richard

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HopefulRailUser
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Reminds me of my dad's tales of his job in the Post Office in St. Paul in the 40's. He threw the mail to the railroad lines. So he knew all those lines that you all speak of so fondly. Just name a city and he could tell you which rail line it was on.

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Vicki in usually sunny Southern California

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palmland
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Vicki, if you haven't been, you would probably enjoy the U.S. Postal Museum next to Washington Union Terminal. It includes a full size railroad mail car with interesting exhibits.

Richard, while I'd like to see some good revenue headend traffic on Amtrak, they had a hard time handling it before and I suspect the report you mention has in mind railroad intermodal service and not Amtrak. It is hard to figure out why the USPS hasn't gone to intermodal sooner on longer distance shipments. Certainly UPS, FedEX, and long haul truckers like J.B.Hunt or Schneider have concluded it makes sense to use rail.

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RR4me
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There's also a mail car on display at the California rail museum in Old Sacramento, right next to the Sac Amtrak station. I usually visit once a year, taking the San Joaquin round trip from Modesto.
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yukon11
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Palmland: Yes, the article stated the Inspector General was mainly talking about intermodal services and mainly freight trains. I don't think they would consider putting mail aboard an Amtrak long-distance train. But who knows, maybe it would work with the Amtrak corridor trains.

Here is a picture of the Great Northern post office car #42, which I think is the one in the Calif. State Railroad Museum:

 -

Richard

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Railroad Bob
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Reminds me of the halycon days when #4/#3 used to have those mail contracts; who remembers the long strings of locked and tagged silver "boxcars" that used to run behind many Amtrak longhauls? I recall seeing a lot of these now out-of-service silver cars languishing on rusty sidings in LA's 8th street coach yards.

Sometimes the business was so good, the string of these cars was nearly as long as the passenger train itself, and required some serious motive power, such as 4 F40s. Think it was the mid-late 80s? Someone here will chime in most likely..

Great nostalgic pic, yukon.

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palmland
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As a young boy I was always impressed that the mail clerks in RPO cars were always armed. Wasn't there a great train robbery in Great Britain in the 60's? I also enjoyed letters that were postmarked with the railroad's name - usually one of the early pre merger names was still used.
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Jerome Nicholson
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quote:
Originally posted by Railroad Bob:
Reminds me of the halycon days when #4/#3 used to have those mail contracts; who remembers the long strings of locked and tagged silver "boxcars" that used to run behind many Amtrak longhauls? I recall seeing a lot of these now out-of-service silver cars languishing on rusty sidings in LA's 8th street coach yards.

Sometimes the business was so good, the string of these cars was nearly as long as the passenger train itself, and required some serious motive power, such as 4 F40s. Think it was the mid-late 80s? Someone here will chime in most likely..

Great nostalgic pic, yukon.

I remember in 1995 riding the Southwest Chief behind seven of those cars!
Behind them the consist was one Baggage, Transition, three Superliner coaches, Sightseer Lounge, Diner, and two Sleepers, all pulled by two back-to-back Genesis locos and one Pepsi Can facing rearward. Almost half and half mail/people. I wonder which was more profitable?

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notelvis
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I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer also has a mail car on display. Nearby is an interesting WWII era Army Hospital car as well.

Of even greater interest though at NCTM is Combine 15, a rare three section narrow gauge car from the storied East Tennessee & Western North Carolina (Tweetsie) Narrow Gauge Railroad. Combine 15 had one small section for passengers, a small baggage compartment, and a small section for handling US Mail. During the Great Depression Combine 15 was the Tweetsie's 'passenger' conveyance' generally tacked on to whatever freight was moving on a given day.

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David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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Railroad Bob
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quote:
Originally posted by Jerome Nicholson:
[QUOTE] I remember in 1995 riding the Southwest Chief behind seven of those cars!
Behind them the consist was one Baggage, Transition, three Superliner coaches, Sightseer Lounge, Diner, and two Sleepers, all pulled by two back-to-back Genesis locos and one Pepsi Can facing rearward. Almost half and half mail/people. I wonder which was more profitable?

Thanks Jerome- yes it was the mid 90's when those cars were running. Did you know the company tried running the silver boxcars both in the front and at the end of the consist? Reason was whether the train was going to enter the Chicago station running forward or backing in. I believe it was more common to have these cars at the rear, but they did at times run exactly where you saw them. In that case, the train would have backed in off the old ATSF line from Joliet, before the flyover at Cameron, IL was built putting #4/#3 on the (then) BN's Mendota Sub into CHI.
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Iron Mountain
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After reading this interesting material I have to ask what happened to the "silver box cars"? I remember some time ago reading an article somewhere how the Amtrak Express endeavor, while having potential for solid revenue generation, ran into some complicated and convoluted issues involving legal matters among others. I also remember someone saying that the frieght RR's didn't like Amtrak taking their biz while letting them use their tracks. Can someone elaborate on this and enlighten me?
As to strictly mail contracts I would think that Amtrak would have to demonstrate better OTP and reliability. Weren't the mail trains of the past fast?

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Henry Kisor
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A former VP of media relations at Amtrak told me earlier this year that handling the mail cars was so complicated, time-consuming (especially with timekeeping) and expensive at Chicago and other major stations that the then president (forgot who it was at the time) decided to eliminate mail carrying.

A couple of the cars were given to the Depot Inn at La Plata, Mo., for its Amtrak exhibit. One serves on the Algoma Central Ry., converted to a power car for the Soo-to-Hearst train, hauled by a freight engine.

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Iron Mountain
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Thanks Mr. Kisor. I am astounded that somebody at Amtrak could not forsee the issues that you cited and avoided the ill-fated effort in the first place. I would imagine a lot of tax payer money was expended for naught.
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notelvis
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David Gunn was the Amtrak President who made the decision to end the Mail and Express initiative.

There was some dabbling in hauling containerized mail in the 1980's which was expanded almost to a 'mixed train' level of express freight traffic during the George Warrington 'Glidepath' era of the mid-to-late 1990's..... and it was that effort which didn't go over well with the host railroads.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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Gilbert B Norman
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The Mail & Express initiative was one of these ventures that would work just great - well on paper at least.

In theory, if an Amtrak train is taking up a "slot" on a Class I road, why not put that slot to "best use". What difference, so long as track speed could be maintained, was there to railroad operations if that train was ten cars or forty? And look at all that extra revenue coming in for which the only incremental cost was an additional locomotive unit. The Long Distance train's "Messiah" hath come - and he shall reign forever and ever (sorry 'bout that "popclass" version; it was what Mr. Google served up first).

But an awful lot was overlooked; the issue Mr. Kisor's Media Affairs contact addressed was simply one of many.

I think the first and foremost issue was that a case could be made - even if unfounded - that Amtrak was going into competition against a hand that feeds thee - the Class I industry. The matter of freight (let's not beat around the bush - save HAZMAT, Amtrak was in the freight business). Amtrak did have authority to develop and handle "express" business under RPSA '70, but the intent was to be an ancillary activity, i.e. a couple of packages that could be handled just as if it were pieces of checked baggage. But when Amtrak went into the business of handling shipments that could only be loaded into cars with power assistance (fork lifts) and where ladings comprised a carload, I think they "crossed that line". So did Union Pacific who pressed the matter forward as a "dispute" subject to arbitration by the Surface Transportation Board. I doubt if many in the railroad industry whose careers have had them anywhere near an arbitrator (I did while in Labor Relations) can predict the rationale with which they adjudicate a case, but somehow Amtrak won - and with wide definition of what constituted "express" and train length limitations.

Talk about how to zing a party that makes it possible to move your trains in the first place, that has got to be it.

I could go on, but I'm going to defer to others to discuss pricing, operational, and passenger convenience matters.

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SilverStar092
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One of the biggest problems with the express business, and perhaps the mail business, was the fact that Amtrak ran so few trains on the various routes. In many cases additional employees were required just to load and unload the express and/or mail and there must have been lots of unproductive down time once they finished working their one or two trains per day. In the old private railroad days those employees not only would have had multiple trains to work but also could have done other jobs, something limited by modern day union contracts.
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George Harris
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quote:
"In the old private railroad days those employees not only would have had multiple trains to work but also could have done other jobs"
Actually not. Many of the labor agreements of times past were very restrictive in duties that could be performed under a given job description, and the people involved watched vigilantly for violations.

quote:
. . . handling the mail cars was so complicated, time-consuming (especially with timekeeping) and expensive . . .
This was very true. There seemed to have been complete amnesia or simply ignorance about the issues involved in mail and express car handling in the past. It was not simple. It also caused the train to look virtually like a mixed train. They were kidding themselves if they though there were not performance issues in addition to the sheer delays due to switching, etc. An hour stop instead of a 20 minute stop feels the same to the passenger regarless of cause. But, the slack action in a 30 car train is completely different from that in a 10 car train. You do notice it.

The attitude of the host railroads to the concept should have surprised no one. OK, so maybe the traffic was not one the companies were actively trying to get, it was still freight cars being hauled in passenger trains, and was considered somewhat of a camel's nose in the tent. In the early days of piggyback for many routes it was handled as a few cars tacked onto the back of passenger trains. As it grew, and is some cases, the second section of the Dixie Flyer comes to mind, to become a seperate train operated on a passenger train's timetable. UP and likely others saw this sort of thing as a possibility such that Amtrak truly was operating pure freight trains, and therefore something that must be stopped as quickly as possible.

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palmland
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In the early days of my career, I was in the the piggyback department (actually it was called Trailer Service). We had a full time manager who handled problems with the mail on piggyback trains - usually with fines in involved for delays. Also a big player was the Railway Express Agency. I never understood why they couldn't fully make the transition to intermodal and prosper like UPS or FedEx. I suspect management wasn't very 'progressive'.
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Gilbert B Norman
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While I was waiting , especially if one has been on the inside, to discuss the flaws of the business plan, it is interesting to note, that no Class I has initiated any service emulating that of Amtrak's.

One might think that with Sales Reps in every major market, many more a working arrangement with transfer companies, and infinitely more "know how" in handling freight (hey, it's their business), that if there were any merit to the business plan, somebody would have "given it a tryout".

But I wholly agree with Mr. Harris' position that, even if the industry had no intention of emulating the service, "better nip it in the bud".

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notelvis
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'nip it in the bud'

Suddenly I have an image of Don Knotts in the persona of Deputy Barney Fife.

--------------------
David Pressley

Advocating for passenger trains since 1973!

Climbing toward 5,000 posts like the Southwest Chief ascending Raton Pass. Cautiously, not nearly as fast as in the old days, and hoping to avoid premature reroutes.

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