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CHamilton

Amtrak Mail and Express future

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With a new president coming to Amtrak, and with the USPS and Amtrak both being pushed to be more businesslike, would it be advantageous for mail and express cars to make a comeback?

 

If so, how many cars would be needed to cover the network? How many would need to be ordered? Would roadrailers make sense again to give non-rail service to more mail distribution centers? What about trailer on flatcar or container on flat car service on the tail end of passenger trains?

 

If not, why not? What would make it a better option for the USPS than trucks?

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Mail's not operated the same way any more. It makes too much sense for the Postal Service to follow the lead of UPS and FedEx and put containers of mail on container trains run by freight railroads. This doesn't require Amtrak.

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would adding many mail cars to the back if heavy trains (esp Superliners) put a motive power strain on Amtrak? Also, would they need to worry about fitting into NYP/B&P tunnels?

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would adding many mail cars to the back if heavy trains (esp Superliners) put a motive power strain on Amtrak? Also, would they need to worry about fitting into NYP/B&P tunnels?

Have you ever seen the videos of the southwest chief during the last five years of m&e? They ran with four locomotives. NYP wasn't a problem as the cars were built to Amtrak specifications and took the limited clearance into account.

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With the way the USPS and shipping companies in general run these days, it simply doesn't make a lot of sense to go through Amtrak.

 

Most mail these days goes from local post office - regional sorting center - whatever intermediate sorting centers are required - regional sorting center - local post office. There wouldn't be enough volume to transfer over to Amtrak from local post offices to the regional sorting centers to make it worth the hassle (the trucks would likely have to run nearby anyways to pick up mail in cities that Amtrak doesn't serve, and now you have to find a way to get the mail from the post office to the Amtrak station and back on both ends.)

 

It's possible that a regional sorting center to regional sorting center shipment could work on Amtrak, but it'd have to be a market that doesn't have enough mail to justify a full truck. Anything that would be a full truck load couldn't be carried in the baggage cars, and why would any company want to deal with the additional hassle of hitching a car onto Amtrak when the stations aren't their origin or destination points? There's not many, if any, regional sorting centers within switching distance of an Amtrak station during a layover, which means that someone else would have to be involved for that last mile delivery. It makes far more sense (and would almost certainly cost less) to simply use existing intermodal facilities designed for shipping items instead of trying to hitch large shipments onto a carrier which is focused on transporting people. Even on those less than truck load shipments, there's still the last mile problem mixed with Amtrak not being a shipping company.

 

There's not many places that Amtrak could come in that wouldn't be better served by existing offerings, either by truck, plane, or freight railroad, and I doubt it'd be profitable enough to justify the dilution in focus. After all, Amtrak is focused on transporting people first, and cargo only incidentally (customer's luggage) or in a minor way (Amtrak Express shipments, which aren't terribly well advertised and only work for certain situations, so it's not popular enough to justify additional investment on its own.) Having Amtrak put a stronger focus on freight will almost certainly dilute the passenger experience, so unless there's enough profit to make it a large net win, the passenger experience would almost certainly suffer if Amtrak got into freight or mail service in any major way.

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When the Private Railroads carried mail, most of the mail was carried on slower trains so that did not disrupt passengers as much. Trains like the Broadway Limited and 20th Century Limited did include Railway Post Office cars which carried overnight mail which Post Office charged a premium for much as FedEX or UPS does now. On Pennsylvannia Railroad's New York-Chicago Route in the early 1960s, the Broadway Limited and the General carried very little mail, however the Pennsylvania Limited, Manhattan Limited and Admiral carried mail and made more stops. The Ft. Pitt was a local Pittsburgh-Chicago train that carried more mail and made more stops. With Amtrak's usually having 1 train per route, that train would have to carry the mail which would make it much more inconvenient to the traveling public.

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Where I do see some synergy is in the effect this could have on railroad thinking.

 

As has alraedy been said, the likes of UPS and Fedex already send stuff by train (I'm not sure how much in terms of percentage of total volume, but guess there is still room to increase this if the railroads could offer attarctive deals and OTP and speed)

 

There are also other shippers who will pay extra for faster delivery.

 

We often hear that if Amtrak is not always loved by the freight railroads, one reason for this is the difference in speeds and the disruption this causes for freight trains.

 

Now if the railroads started making more money with faster freight trains and running more of them, maybe even going up to Amtrak-speed for selected premium quality trains using passener quality equipment, this would change the way railroad management and dispatchers think about fast trains and thus Amtrak would be less of an oddball.

 

Another component here is the shrinking of the coal business. With the slowest moving of all freights becoming rarer, this could well be an opportunity to see overall average speeds rise.

Edited by cirdan

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UPS and Fedex use rail for their Ground service where speed is not of paramount importance. For speed they charge extra and send it by air. They own their own pretty large air fleet to do so.

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Agreed. Amazon is even getting into the act, building their own air fleet to move their goods around without having to go through the likes of UPS/FedEx.

 

The mail handling system has evolved past the use of trains, trying to Internet Engineer a way of shoehorning it back in is a waste of effort. It isn't going to happen, and Amtrak is better for it. Their focus should be on transporting passengers, not wasting time and money on ancillary stuff like hauling cargo.

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Mail's not operated the same way any more. It makes too much sense for the Postal Service to follow the lead of UPS and FedEx and put containers of mail on container trains run by freight railroads. This doesn't require Amtrak.

But the USPS did have a proposal floating around to again use Amtrak to move the mail, when it made sense to do so. I went looking for it online, but could not locate it.

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I think that Amtrak should not attempt a repeat of the "Roadrailer" program it tried a few years ago. I believe it had a negative impact in on-time performance, as well as annoy the freight railroads over whose tracks Amtrak operated...in a sense, supporting their own competition...

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If we still had multiple-delivery in places like New York and/or Washington there might be a case for running "hot-shot" same-day mail delivery on the NEC (using Regionals, not the Acelas, of course). We do not live in that world anymore. Likewise, there are a few one-off pairs where shipping via Amtrak makes sense (let's face it, if you have more than two checked bags on an airline and you can spare the time, shipping via Amtrak is cheaper than paying excess luggage fees, and Amtrak doesn't break guitars;-)).

 

Truth be told, I Amtrak Expressed my luggage home from Worldcon: I was stuck on a JetBlue flight and decided that I really did not want to haul my bags from the Drake to O'Hare, and then from baggage at JFK to NYP. It was worth the extra cost not to have to futz with that, and I was truly glad to give the money to Amtrak instead of JetBlue. My bags and I got to RVR at the same time, too!

Edit: What would make more sense is if Amtrak made a point of advertising next-day delivery of packages at a fixed cost. At least on the East Coast, FedEx Standard Overnight versus Amtrak? No question on cost there...Amtrak wins. I sincerely don't think a second baggage car on a train would be the end of the world, but this is also a far cry from the Mail-and-Express business they once did (and low-level competition with UPS/FedEx is not the same as what was attempted back in the 90s).

Edited by Anderson

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Yeah, I don't know why Amtrak doesn't properly advertise Amtrak Express. For the city-pairs where it is already operating (and which pairs are those? And why isn't that advertised?) I think they could get a lot more business than they already do.

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Yeah, I don't know why Amtrak doesn't properly advertise Amtrak Express. For the city-pairs where it is already operating (and which pairs are those? And why isn't that advertised?) I think they could get a lot more business than they already do.

My understanding is that any station that handles checked baggage can originate and terminate express shipments up to the size that the onsite equipment can handle safely. The only exception I've ever heard of is NYP which is not allowed to be the origin point of a shipment.

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Yeah, I don't know why Amtrak doesn't properly advertise Amtrak Express. For the city-pairs where it is already operating (and which pairs are those? And why isn't that advertised?) I think they could get a lot more business than they already do.

My understanding is that any station that handles checked baggage can originate and terminate express shipments up to the size that the onsite equipment can handle safely. The only exception I've ever heard of is NYP which is not allowed to be the origin point of a shipment.

 

And IIRC the rule there is "take it to Newark".

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Back in the days of "Special Delivery" overnight mail it made sense to have railway post office cars to quicken the flow. It would be to the rail car post office, sort on the trip, and pick up at the station. Then the post office used special cars ( may have been station wagons) to deliver the "Special Delivery mail. . As airline delivery became popular that's where much of the express mail was diverted. Current express and much priority mail goes by air or by truck. Passenger trains don't serve the structure of the current USPS system . 800px-Special_Delivery_stamps_3.jpg

Edited by dlagrua

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Back in the days of "Special Delivery" overnight mail it made sense to have railway post office cars to quicken the flow. It would be to the rail car post office, sort on the trip, and pick up at the station. Then the post office used special cars ( may have been station wagons) to deliver the "Special Delivery mail. . As airline delivery became popular that's where much of the express mail was diverted. Current express and much priority mail goes by air or by truck. Passenger trains don't serve the structure of the current USPS system .

 

The US Mail has changed dramatically since the late 1960s when the RPOS were discontinued. First class mail has mostly become electronic. E-mail has replaced personal letters. Most of my bills are sent electronically. There is no need for RPOS on passenger trains.

800px-Special_Delivery_stamps_3.jpg

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Well, at one time Amtrak worked some mail on the NEC. They even had a dedicated train originating in Springfield MA in the middle of the night. Anyone know why that dried up?

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Well, at one time Amtrak worked some mail on the NEC. They even had a dedicated train originating in Springfield MA in the middle of the night. Anyone know why that dried up?

It was killed in 2004 when gunn chose not to renew the contracts.

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any mail would be moved in high priority container freight trains, not on Amtrak LD trains.

 

 

You can be sure that if mail does return to the rails, you won't find them on the likes of the Southwest Chief.

 

 

 

 

:ph34r:

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There was a report issued in 2012 by the USPS Inspector General that said that intermodal rail was a "sensible option" compared to trucks. But the intermodal is the freight lines, not Amtrak.

 

 

Radar2.gif

 

:ph34r:

Edited by Thirdrail7

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