• Mail by Rail -- Amtrak Postal Service

  • Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.
Discussion related to Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corp.

Moderators: GirlOnTheTrain, mtuandrew, Tadman

  by David Benton
 
Arborwayfan wrote: Fri Jun 26, 2020 4:17 pm I've always wondered what would have happened with the program if Amtrak had gone to the host railroads with a plan to haul high-priority, high-priced freight in partnership with the railroads. The railroads could have solicited the freight and just added the Amtrak trains to their list of options for shipping. Amtrak could have moved the freight between certain cities, maybe as just one of the long-haul legs of the freight's journey. Everyone could have gotten a division of the rates paid. The railroads would have had a slightly bigger incentive to keep Amtrak trains on time and could have gotten a little more revenue by luring some customers away from trucks -- by essentially hiring Amtrak to provide unit intermodal-train schedules for carload freight. Some customers might have decided to move their less urgent freight from truck to ordinary freight trains once they had invested the time and money in rail loading facilities and procedures. And either everyone could have been happy or the whole thing could have been a money-losing waste of time and died a quick death, but at least Amtrak would not have seemed sneaky and the host railroads would not have cried foul.

As for the idea of a dedicated mail car carrying letters etc between two cities, isn't that one of the things Amtrak used to do? I remember seeing mail cars sitting in Penn Station, and maybe even being added to my train when I went through on the old Night Owl. A conductor told me they got first-class mail on that route. Same thing for Boston and Chicago, where the post offices were right there and had their own platforms. Until zip codes and central sorting facilities the mail system was a kind of web, with RPOs doing a lot of the intercity hauling and sorting a lot of the mail esp mail from smaller online towns. In the 60s the USPS moved to a more hub-and-spoke system with somewhat centralized sorting, and the RPOs no longer fit the logic of the system (NEC and Lake Winnepasuke aside). First-class mail started to go by truck for shorter distances and plane for longer ones, as it does today. (At least I think first-class mail from coast to coast and other long distances goes by plane. I suppose it could go from Indiana to Utah by ground in two days, which is about what it usually takes.) In the 80s and 90s Amtrak functioned as one of the intercity mail contractors between stations where the post office was set up to easily handle mail, just as if it was a truck. Since then, the Post Office has further centralized sorting and with it reduced the number of post offices that have direct shipments of mail between them. E.g. Terre Haute twelve years ago was a sorting center; our mail got postmarked here and sent out. I had a tour of the main PO and saw that a semi of mail was due in from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Now our mail is sorted in Indy, even if it's sent from Terre Haute to Terre Haute, because this is, or appears, cheaper. No more semis of mail from C-U to TH. Does that change make using Amtrak trains less convenient? No idea. It does mean even more mail on some routes between the major hubs, and rail is more attractive when quantities are larger. I am pretty sure some of the trucking contractors send their mail trailers on intermodal trains.
Exactly right , been saying that for years .
  by eolesen
 
Guys, the money isn't there. First class mail volumes peaked in FY2000, and are at around half of what they were then. It's dropping between 2-5% per year as more and more correspondence goes digital.

https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/posta ... e-1926.htm

Some airlines walked away from the US mail business off years ago, and a big chunk of the remainder is now being handled by either air or "hub trucks" between key sortation centers.

There is *NO* business case to put mail on the trains again. None.
  by mtuandrew
 
I don’t disagree, Mr. Olesen, but the big money is in parcel shipment now. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons (some bureaucratic, some financial, some political) the USPS has largely missed that train too. Not that it’s Amtrak’s problem to solve.
  by eolesen
 
Still no business case. Most mail distribution centers are out near the big airports, and no longer near the downtown terminals served by Amtrak. Putting it on Amtrak would add hours to each delivery that wouldn't be necessary vs. being carried on the same hub trucks or UPS/FDX airplanes that First Class is being tendered to.
  by eolesen
 
Why? Amazon's using the same model FedEx does --- their Fulfillment Centers (located directly off interstates) consolidate shipments for each distribution center, which then gets broken apart on arrival and loaded into delivery vans. Two links in the chain, all controlled by Amazon, and it's pretty darn successful.

You're proposing Fulfillment center to a truck to be loaded on a train, unloaded from the train into another truck, and then delivered? That's at least three steps in the chain, and the middle steps aren't controlled by Amazon and are handled by union workers.

That doesn't exactly look like a model for success or efficiency.
  by Railjunkie
 
And what is wrong with a union worker??? Would we contaminate the package in some way?? Is it because we are looked upon as lazy good for nothings??? Cant wait to here back, please don't tell me I'm overpaid for what I do, Im paid the way I am for the ability to recall things on a moments notice sometimes under duress and IF I * up people could die. Please don't tell me anyone could do my job. If that were true, a few folks I work with who tried and couldn't. Guess they would still be doing it. I can teach a person how to do what I do in about 5 minutes, it takes more than 5 minutes to become good at it. Hence why I carry a federal document in my pocket saying I can do what I do.
  by mtuandrew
 
Moderator Note: this discussion isn’t about labor (union or otherwise), nor does being unionized impact someone’s work quality - only their benefits and protections.

Letting these comments stand, but no more. Back to mail by rail.
  by Rockingham Racer
 
Mail and express cars require switching in and out of the consist. Amtrak doesn't like to do that [unless it's easy].
  by QB 52.32
 
Looking back 30-40 years to the 1980-90's provides a window on Amtrak's opportunity to handle mail in the 2020's, illuminating many of the points already raised. Back in that time, USPS traffic moving on Class 1's was big business (for one the USPS was their 7th largest customer, no small feat), consisting mainly, in descending order, 3rd class, mail handling equipment, 4th class, 2nd class and very, very little 1st class, moving in intermodal trailers. Amtrak, too, participated in mail contracts in limited fashion with 1st class, small quantity and/or to smaller locations like Fargo, ND, for example. This, of course, was the time frame when direct marketing via printed media grew and reached its peaked, pre-dating on-line retailing and marketing. Railroads fit best into the 3rd class mail movement this direct marketing market generated and this is what drove much of their USPS traffic. To the point of Class 1's working with Amtrak, during this time one Class 1 did subcontract to Amtrak movement of 3rd class mail, but, again, it was to the smaller markets and represented a sliver of traffic.

But, then the USPS changed their rate structure for 3rd class mail to encourage the direct marketing industry to tender their business as deeply into the Postal Service's distribution network as possible. And, Amtrak, through it's expansion to haul premium freight traffic, began to compete with the Class 1's for the same traffic. This lead to the Class 1's pushing back against Amtrak. And, it lead to the big loss of the Class 1's highly-rated premium USPS traffic as that traffic shifted to run-of-the-mill truckload (and LTL) traffic disaggregated to many transportation purchasers instead of one. So, sure, some of this traffic remained on rail, but, now at lower rates and wide open to much more complex competition.

This dynamic, reflecting the USPS' ultimate (mandated) strength in final-mile delivery (to every address), in today's internet market/retail world (with consequential reduction in the printed media direct-marketing industry), remains in place in package/parcel transportation demand, with incentive to tender as deeply into the USPS distribution network as possible, removing the space best suited to mail-by-rail, be it for the Class 1's or Amtrak.
  by charlesriverbranch
 
Pensyfan19 wrote: Thu Jun 25, 2020 3:27 pm What about personal mail, such as bills and cards to people living at certain towns along certain lines?

For instance, Frank lives at La Plata, MO, and has a friend, Bruce, at Los Angeles and they write to each other often via letters. Could it be possible for Amtrak (or any other mail service before Amtrak if I'm not mistaken) to have a mail car for letters to a certain town, let's say La Plata, to be stored in and dropped off at the station, and then delivered via the local mail to Frank's house?
The problem is that most Americans don't live in La Plata; they live in places like Concord, NH,; Dayton, OH; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; Binghamton, NY; or thousands of other places that haven't seen a passenger train in decades. A mode of transportation that only reaches a fraction of mail recipients can't be very useful to the Postal Service, it seems to me.
  by prokowave
 
Of course moving mail via Amtrak is not feasible in all situations, but it seems like it might be worthwhile to transport mail between endpoints that happen to be located next to major postal facilities. That way you don't have to worry about the time required to unload the mail car en-route. That way the cost to Amtrak is minimal, meaning that they can charge the postal service less than trucking contractors and would probably be faster in most cases.

The revenue could also be used to bolster shorter state-supported routes and those in planning.

I happen to know there are several daily postal trucks between NOL and BTR - if a passenger service is finally implemented it would be easy enough to add a mail car or two to get those off the road.
  by eolesen
 
Railjunkie wrote:And what is wrong with a union worker??? Would we contaminate the package in some way?? Is it because we are looked upon as lazy good for nothings??? Cant wait to here back, please don't tell me I'm overpaid for what I do, Im paid the way I am for the ability to recall things on a moments notice sometimes under duress and IF I * up people could die. Please don't tell me anyone could do my job. If that were true, a few folks I work with who tried and couldn't. Guess they would still be doing it. I can teach a person how to do what I do in about 5 minutes, it takes more than 5 minutes to become good at it. Hence why I carry a federal document in my pocket saying I can do what I do.
I'm going to respond in context of the discussion...

You don't need a Federal document to load and unload mail or packages from a baggage car. You might need some knowledge of accepting hazmats, but yes, anyone can do that job without having years of experience. I've worked around the loading of baggage on airplanes for over 30 years, and I've seen people literally learn the process (including hazmat label recognition and spill response) as an entry level job in a matter of days if not hours.



In the Amazon model, anyone can touch anything during the transfer process. Same as FedEx. Dealing with a union adds workrules to the mix, e.g. who can and can't perform a task. A transfer to/from Amtrak for mid shipment handling would be more restrictive and have a line that Amazon's workers couldn't cross without risking a grievance.

It's not a slam at why unions or work rules exist, but in a business model where margins are small and delivery expenses aren't, the economics just don't work for Amtrak to be trying to get back into the package delivery game as a partner. Maybe they might be close enough in cost to USPS workers, but that's also not exactly a model known for their efficiency or cost containment.

  by west point
 
Remember FED EX carries much US mail . Am tracking a package that went to Memphis before going to Florida.
  by bostontrainguy
 
prokowave wrote: Sat Jun 27, 2020 5:14 pm Of course moving mail via Amtrak is not feasible in all situations, but it seems like it might be worthwhile to transport mail between endpoints that happen to be located next to major postal facilities.
And there certainly are some still in existence:

Boston South Station - Although they have been trying to move it for years to expand South Station. Trucking it from a new facility in Southie would be easy enough.

New York Penn Station - Don't know how much is going to be left after conversion to Moynihan Station but maybe enough? The "Postal Annex" is still there I believe but no longer connected via the High Line.

Anyone care to add to the list?