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USPS OIG: Suitability of Rail Transportation Suggest It Is Time To Use Rail Once Again

Once upon a time, the United States Postal Service enjoyed a successful relationship with the nation’s railroads. The California State Railroad Museum Foundation reminds us of the once-speeding postal trains, rather than today’s trucks, where post office workers sorted letters during the trip. Moreover, they did so in “swaying cars filled with canvas bags and wooden pigeon holes.” That must have been fun.

Perhaps a change back to rail and train is once again a practical venture. Reasons to encourage rail integration were laid out in a recent report by the Postal Service’s Inspector General.

Bill McAllister for Stamp News and Coin World recently wrote on the new report, Suitability of Rail Transportation — New Jersey Network Distribution Center, and a dialog that followed.

The report supports the argument that, in this case, the New Jersey mail service could save about $10.8 million a year choosing to use rail instead of long-distance trucking. The information in IG’s report seems solid. However, arguments from postal management ensued. McAllister continued with some back-and-forth points, noting that it is budget numbers that “speak the loudest.”

 

 

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When you see trailers/containers with Schneider and J.B. Hunt trucking on their sides but are moving on BNSF Transcon trains, you know there is something to the argument that rail vs long hauling trucking is no contest as to the most economical. You can be sure that if mail does return to the rails, you won't find them on the likes of the Southwest Chief. Rather it will be USPS trailers sitting next to those from FedEX and UPS on those hotshot intermodal trains.

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I drove an over-the-road truck from 1997 to 2005.

I sometimes pulled trailers full of mail for the USPS.
One of those times was a short trip assignment of 250 or so miles from the St. Louis area to near Chicago.

I hooked my tractor up to the trailer I was assigned to pull and went to the back of the trailer to put their seal on the trailer doors.
I opened the trailer doors and looked in wanting to make sure the load was secured properly.
The trailer was empty.

So I went back to the USPS yard office to make sure I had the right trailer number.
They verified that that was indeed the trailer they wanted me to pull, and they verified they knew is was an empty trailer.
They said they didn't want to cancel the order, and I pulled the empty trailer to Chicago.

Upon arrival at the Chicago end when they told me to back up to the dock I said, "OK. But why? The trailer is empty."
That was news to them and they came outside, broke the seal, opened the doors and were as astonished as I had been back at the start of the trip.

In the summer I am the Docent for the historic Edel Blacksmith Shop in Haverhill, IA.
Haverhill, IA (and a lot of other small towns) came to be because the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (The Milwaukee Road) built a depot there.

During the time the blacksmith shop operated (1883 to 1940) the USPS used mail cars on the railroads to sort and distribute a lot of the mail in the US.

 

The USPS stopped using the railroads as the Interstate Highway System was built in the late '50s early 60's and as they started using mail sorting machines at processing and distribution centers.

Up to that point the USPS helped pay for non-profitable long distance passenger trains.

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I would mind sharing the SWC with the USPS. After all, TPS shares a bedroom wall with USPS - and my other home also does!:P

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Taking the mail off the trains was an incredibly short-sighted decision by mismanagement at the Postal Service. They did this *after* UPS and FedEx were already starting to put large volumes of parcel traffic onto the rails.

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Guest Clifford C. Clavin, Jr

 

Taking the mail off the trains was an incredibly short-sighted decision by mismanagement at the Postal Service

 

 

The information in IG’s report seems solid. However, arguments from postal management ensued.

 

Yep.

 

Some things NEVER change.

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This could happen - but perhaps only for first class mail. I can't imagine iPads, laptops, etc., handling mail hooks out of RPOs very well! :o

 

Really just kidding about that. But if they don't include parcels, they should probably not have to worry about the Railroads crying foul on unfair competition.

Edited by VentureForth

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This could happen - but perhaps only for first class mail. I can't imagine iPads, laptops, etc., handling mail hooks out of RPOs very well! :o

 

Really just kidding about that. But if they don't include parcels, they should probably not have to worry about the Railroads crying foul on unfair competition.

I suspect in this case the government would have a strong argument based on the Postal powers in the Constitution.

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I seem to remember a mail car on the Pioneer Zephyr at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry,,, complete with donkey?

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complete with donkey?

 

That is Zephyrus the Talking Mule. He tells visitors all about it.

 

UPDATE - It is a donkey and not a mule and it looks like since I was last there in 2000 his name has been shortened to Zeph, maybe because that is easier to say. He is an animatronic that "lives" in a crate in the Baggage area.

Edited by OlympianHiawatha

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Fed X and UPS have taken full advantage of rail transportation of their tractor trailers by rail. It is mind boggling why the USPS has not followed suit. The USPS loses billions each year and they have no worries about cost savings????

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This site claims, "Although Amtrak stopped carrying mail in October 2004, the nation’s freight railroads continue to carry mail through their intermodal service."

 

I'm thinking some posters here are confusing railroads carrying mail with RPOs, which were an antiquated and expensive service when they were sensibly terminated in the 60s. It could well be that a New Jersey distribution center could benefit from using the Northeast Corridor, but the IG's report sounds a lot like any number of consultant reports I've read, written by highly paid outsiders who didn't know much about what they were writing about.

Edited by Ispolkom

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I think we're past the point of being able to viably use passenger trains to handle 1st class mail any more.

 

In most cases the postal facilities are no longer near the train stations they'd need to be near.

 

If there's a market for it, NYC-WAS would be it, and I don't see it happening. (Though, honestly, mail pickup by 11:00, put on a Noon Acela, in DC by 4, delivered by 6... who knows... maybe..)

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I seem to recall that Amtrak did try a mail contract with USPS not that long ago but it hurt rail travel significantly because the way mail is handled now, separate container type cars full of already sorted mail needed to be added to the consist and trains were actually delayed waiting for these mail cars to be added and taken off.

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I seem to recall that Amtrak did try a mail contract with USPS not that long ago but it hurt rail travel significantly because the way mail is handled now, separate container type cars full of already sorted mail needed to be added to the consist and trains were actually delayed waiting for these mail cars to be added and taken off.

 

That wasn't mail specific, but basically fast package express and yes, it was a disaster. Albany was a point where they added such cars to the LSL.

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I'm thinking some posters here are confusing railroads carrying mail with RPOs, which were an antiquated and expensive service when they were sensibly terminated in the 60s.

As for my previous post, it was a direct satirical hit on RPOs - and how the IG's report is just about as antiquated as the RPOs themselves.

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Guest RPC

Certainly not the point of this thread, but the reason USPS loses money is that it is the only organization in the US that is required by law to fully fund its pension plan. (If you look at the pension liabilities vs. assets for other businesses you can see why this is a big deal.)

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But there are certain other businesses, although not required by law, still manage to fund their pension fully, after of course having discontinued it for all new employees and substituting a defined contribution plan. :) Of course, apparently USPS does not have that freedom to adjust retirement benefits either.

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The USPS is supposed to fund its pension plan 50 years in advance for employees who haven't even been *hired* yet.

 

This is blatantly ridiculous and is not the way "fully funded" is interpreted in any other pension. This was just a Republican poison pill intended to kill off USPS.

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The USPS is supposed to fund its pension plan 50 years in advance for employees who haven't even been *hired* yet.

 

This is blatantly ridiculous and is not the way "fully funded" is interpreted in any other pension. This was just a Republican poison pill intended to kill off USPS.

Yup. This part of the Republican plan to first undermine something legislatively, and then say see? It does not work. Sort of similar to the technique used by the freight railroads to get rid of passenger service. A confluence of that with the Democratic plan to save pensions of everyone at unsupportable levels in perpetuity, a well meaning but misguided plan, leads to this double whammy completely crippling the USPS Edited by jis

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In fact, the USPS has simply been refusing to make the "pension" payments. Probably the only sane move.

Edited by neroden

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