Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak mail and express business’

The Chief’s Way

May 16, 2018

Back in the early 2000s it was a common site to see a string of head-end cars on the rear of Amtrak trains.

They carried perishable produce, mail and any other time-sensitive cargo from shippers willing to pay Amtrak a premium rate.

Amtrak’s host railroads didn’t like it and said so. They saw Amtrak as trying to cut into their own freight business.

The Amtrak CEO at the time, George Warrington, said this revenue would be used to make Amtrak self-sufficient.

Shown is the eastbound Southwest Chief cruising through Riverside, Illinois, on May 20, 2004. No. 4 is 13 miles away from Chicago Union Station.

On the rear is a cut of refrigerator cars that were a mainstay on Nos. 3 and 4.

But not for long. Within a year Amtrak would have a new CEO, David Gunn, and he would discontinue the mail and express gambit.

The only head-end car the Chief carries today is a baggage car.

Reminder of a Past Discarded Business Plan

May 9, 2018

I’m not sure why Amtrak hung onto these two express cars. I spotted them at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal in March 2012.

Amtrak got out of the mail and express business in the early 2000s and sold or otherwise disposed of many of the cars devoted to that service.

Perhaps these cars have not yet been sold and were awaiting a decision on what to do with them.

I recall a time when cars such as these were common sights on many long-distance trains.

Express Cars Remind Me of George Warrington

October 29, 2016


Whenever I see a photo of an express car attached to an Amtrak train I think of George Warrington.

I will always remember the former Amtrak president for saying that Amtrak was on a glide path to profitability. Mail and express revenue was the centerpiece of the “flight plan.”

On paper the idea that Amtrak could use head-end revenue to wipe out its operating deficits might have made sense.

For many years the private railroads did well with head-end business. Then the post office yanked most of the railway post office cars and head-end business was diverted to freight trains.

Of course the railroads had more of an infrastructure to handle head-end business back then. They also had dedicated mail and express trains and/or carried most of their head-end business on slow locals.

So Amtrak was trying to gin up business that it had never seriously sought before. Amtrak over the years has carried some mail, but it never sought to emulate the late Railway Express Agency until the early 2000s.

Warrington was probably telling Congress what some of its members wanted to hear. They didn’t want to fund Amtrak in the first place and there was political advantage to be gained by sniping about its financial losses.

Shown is an express car on the rear in the Southwest Chief, which is passing through Riverside, Illinois, on the BNSF raceway.

If you rode Amtrak back in the early 2000s, you probably remember your train pulling out of Chicago Union Station and stopping to add head-end cars.

The crew assured you the time needed to do that was built into the schedule.

Warrington’s sucessor, David Gunn, gave up on head-end business although it took awhile for it to cease altogether.

Some of those express cars that Amtrak leased or acquired are still in service and can be spotted on manifest freights from time to time. Some of them are still wearing their Amtrak silver.