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CHamilton

Amtrak Mail and Express future

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One of the main advantages of mail on trains is that you can save time by sorting mail while the train is moving.

 

You can't do that very well on a plane and you can't really do it at all in a truck or in a container.

 

But seeing that email has eaten into the express delivery mail market, whereas the mail service has expanded more and more into parcels and boxes, thanks to the likes of Amazon, the speed thing is no longer a major selling point.

 

UPS and other parcel services already send containers by rail, and this will doubtlessly continue if not expand further. This could even be an incentive for railroads to raise speeds,(assuming the likes of UPS and FedEx would be willing to pay the railroads a premium for faster delivery) which could indirectly also benefit Amtrak.

 

Of course the question is whether there is room in the market for an intermediate speed level between slow freight train and air freight. Right now probably not. One day, who knows?

 

But I don't think there will ever be a revival of traditional style combined passenger and mail trains, at least not in my lieftime.

Edited by cirdan

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Mail has changed dramatically since the last Railway Post Office cars and REA express cars disappeared in the late 1960s. I worked in the Jeffersonville, IN post office from 1966-68 during my first 2 years in college. When I first started, we dispatched and received mail from various RPOs the most prominent being the Chicago, Logansport and Louisville RPO on PRR later PC Train 94 and 95 which stopped in Jeffersonville at 6:55 AM and 11:05PM. By the time I left the job 2 years later, the RPOs were just about gone except for one of L&N trains 8 and 9 which lasted a little longer. Back then, all pension checks, social security checks, and bills including utility bills were sent via first class mail monthly. There were many personal letters and cards being sent via first class mail. There are also significant amounts of newspapers, magazines and third class (junk mail). Fast forward to the 21st century and most pension, social security checks and other payments are sent electronically to banks. Many utility, credit card and others bills are sent out electronically. There is still a lot of junk mail and as has been mentioned package delivery via USPS, FedEx and UPS. There is no need for the type of mail service the Railroads once provided. IF REA Express still existed, there would be a place for it shipping packages by passenger train and providing the great local service that it once did. The REA Express infrastructure is long gone and there is good delivery service via the modes I mentioned, so mail on passenger trains will likely never return.

Edited by jphjaxfl

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I could see Amtrak moving packages along the NEC (Boston-Philly, NY-DC, etc) faster than any truck or airplane could. The packages business is booming. Unfortunately the postal service dismantled *all* their rail-connected infrastructure (dumb), and the Railway Express infrastructure is all gone too, which makes it harder.

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How much long-haul package business does USPS do? I could see them slowly working back towards using rail as needed, but it seems like a lot of their package business is UPS/FedEx/DHL/Amazon/etc. using the USPS for last-mile residential delivery where it's cheaper to drop off the packages at the local post office and pay the couple bucks for the last mile delivery than it is for them to use their own vehicles to the end customer. Rail wouldn't help the USPS at all in that instance, and that seems to be a lot of their focus right now.

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I could see Amtrak moving packages along the NEC (Boston-Philly, NY-DC, etc) faster than any truck or airplane could. The packages business is booming. Unfortunately the postal service dismantled *all* their rail-connected infrastructure (dumb), and the Railway Express infrastructure is all gone too, which makes it harder.

 

Maybe in a broader context there is also a potential market for express freight on the NEC. It' could probably be faster than airfreight between some of the city pairs. So maybe such a service could be embedded within a larger airfreight network and use the same airfreight containers and logistics base. One big obstacle is that very few major airports or airfreight hubs are actually served by rail lines that could meaningfully carry such trains. So the startup investment would simply be too large.

 

Simiarly for the costs of building distribution terminals along the NEC. In many cases there isn't the land available on railroad property as former freight yards and things in downtown locations have been sold off long ago. The remaining locations are for the most part not that ideal.

 

So we are talking about very high startup costs for a potentially low margin business. That's not going to excite many investors.

 

Maybe at some point in the future these paradigms will shift again and the question can be re-assessed. But I venture to say not in the next 20 to 30 years.

Edited by cirdan

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

Maybe, but intermodal trains require special unloading facilities so its a point to point service. This mode of transport could be used to transport mail to major distribution centers at the largest cities but the beauty of the mail car (and the purpose of it) was to serve all the little towns along the route. Freight container mail cannot do this. The postmaster would wait for the trains arrival at the station and then quickly place the outgoing mail in the railway post office car while retrieving the mail for the local office. It really makes sense to do this as many rural towns have poor road access. The passenger train stops at those towns and to just use what is energy efficient and already available seems logical.

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

Maybe, but intermodal trains require special unloading facilities so its a point to point service. This mode of transport could be used to transport mail to major distribution centers at the largest cities but the beauty of the mail car (and the purpose of it) was to serve all the little towns along the route. Freight container mail cannot do this. The postmaster would wait for the trains arrival at the station and then quickly place the outgoing mail in the railway post office car while retrieving the mail for the local office. It really makes sense to do this as many rural towns have poor road access. The passenger train stops at those towns and to just use what is energy efficient and already available seems logical.

 

The problem with a working RPO, is the cost of the clerks working it...I kind of doubt if it would be cost effective....

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Besides, soon it might become more cost effective to send out drones to less accessible places.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Amtrak Forum

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Delivery drones, 3-D Printing, what's next in the future.....Star Trek Transporter's? :giggle:

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The post office already operates on a hub-and-spoke model for the most part; it's much more efficient and allows computerized sorting to be done reasonably and inexpensively. Any sort of RPO set-up with on-board sorting would be, in comparison, a huge cost sink. First class mail already has went down to a two day standard for local mail (instead of next-day) because the USPS wants to have all mail go to the large sorting centers to be processed instead of having smaller local processing centers. I don't see any reason why the USPS would reverse course on that and start having RPOs again. Maybe the USPS would start contracting with Amtrak again to move some first class mail in a point-to-point fashion, but even then unless Amtrak starts carrying baggage cars full of mail I don't see it being efficient for the USPS to try and use Amtrak as a middle-mile solution for transporting mail.

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jebr is correct. Local POs would have to sort mail and bar code mail that could go onto trains. They don't do that anymore except mail handed to a clerk.. As well someone has to be on duty to meet midnight trains.

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Additional clerks at each PO would only make loses worse. Now if a postage reduction for bar coding zip codes could run through optical scanners then maybe ? That way only mail to a RPO would go. And with onle one train on most routes a day anything over 6 hours from RPO would go to regional sort center.

Edited by west point

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We'll have letter delivery forever.

 

But it's not going to be a high-volume business.

Railroads thrive on high-volume business, and do badly on low-volume businesses.

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