Amtrak Express

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toddinde

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In September last year, Amtrak suspended Amtrak Express which was a convenient way to ship small shipments. I’m not talking about the refers and road railers from years ago, but just the express service offered to the public in baggage cars. I used it a couple times over the years. I’ve heard of people using it to move across country, and businesses using it for all kinds of things. The suspension was said to be pandemic related, and I suppose tri-weekly service was not conducive. It looks like Amtrak is committing to the national system, reevaluating food service, etc. Does anyone know if Amtrak Express will return?
 

jis

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Amtrak has made a business decision to exit the Amtrak Express business permanently. So that service will not be restored. This from Derrick James of Amtrak who is participating in the ESPA Annual Meeting that I am participating in today. I posed the question and his answer was as paraphrased above.
 
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toddinde

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Amtrak has made a business decision to exit the Amtrak Express business permanently. So that service will not be restored. This from Derrick James of Amtrak who is participating in the ESPA Annual Meeting that I am participating in today. I posed the question and his answer was as paraphrased above.
Thanks for the info. That’s too bad.
 

railiner

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Amtrak has made a business decision to exit the Amtrak Express business permanently. So that service will not be restored. This from Derrick James of Amtrak who is participating in the ESPA Annual Meeting that I am participating in today. I posed the question and his answer was as paraphrased above.
That is very unfortunate. Did he elaborate at all, as to the reasoning behind that decision?
The only sound one to me, would be if it cost more to run, than it earned. And i can't see that, unless they had to pay excessive claims. They provided a real niche service, somewhere between the package companies and LTL motor freight. And with Greyhound's future uncertain, they can help fill the vacuum that they are leaving.
 

toddinde

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That is very unfortunate. Did he elaborate at all, as to the reasoning behind that decision?
The only sound one to me, would be if it cost more to run, than it earned. And i can't see that, unless they had to pay excessive claims. They provided a real niche service, somewhere between the package companies and LTL motor freight. And with Greyhound's future uncertain, they can help fill the vacuum that they are leaving.
Exactly. Why not make money on an extra service when the trains are running anyway, and the baggage personnel are at the stations already. It's a solid niche that could easily make extra money for the company, and also provide a needed service to the public. Another dumb decision.
 

me_little_me

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Exactly. Why not make money on an extra service when the trains are running anyway, and the baggage personnel are at the stations already. It's a solid niche that could easily make extra money for the company, and also provide a needed service to the public. Another dumb decision.
Same reason for refusing (even pre-Covid) coach passengers access to "flex" meals in the diner. Same reason for always running out of food in the cafe - even stuff that keeps forever.
 

adamj023

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The freight railroads themselves should handle small packages via train or allow shipping providers like UPS, Fed Ex and the like use it for ground based services. Amtrak should be focused on passenger rail as the other services can compete more effectively. I believe there is enough capacity for air for small packages which is much faster and ground based shipping isn’t really necessary unless it is something non important and non time sensitive where price is the only concern.
 

Willbridge

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The freight railroads themselves should handle small packages via train or allow shipping providers like UPS, Fed Ex and the like use it for ground based services. Amtrak should be focused on passenger rail as the other services can compete more effectively. I believe there is enough capacity for air for small packages which is much faster and ground based shipping isn’t really necessary unless it is something non important and non time sensitive where price is the only concern.
I grew up in a family business that depended on passenger air, rail and bus express. Luckily my dad sold the business before things got really bad. Don't let him get started on the airlines! Rail passenger train shipments were the most reliable, Trailways was more reliable than Greyhound, Western and Continental were more reliable than United. but were still subject to weather delays and gross-outs.

During LBJ's secret troop build-up our truck driver, the Ford parts driver and the florist supply driver got to know each other better while hanging around on the clock at PDX because their scheduled delivery had been bumped by loads of duffle bags. Our driver had to move mail bags full of the Wall Street Journal to postal centers in Salem and Eugene before 6 a.m. and deliver bundles to a number of small locations before they opened to customers.

There are alternatives, of course, but the absence of all-or-most-weather scheduled service has contributed to the tensions and decline of life in small town America. The USPS has solved this problem by lengthening delivery times. Blood shipments to small-town hospitals went by train or bus express. They solve this problem now with pricey courier services or by going out of business.
 

Rasputin

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There would seem to be no reason why a limited type of express service could not be successful and even grow over time, however since it had the potential for success, it naturally had to be discontinued.
 

jebr

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Is there really much of an infrastructure cost to this? The only reason that I could see for discontinuing it is if the overhead to keep it running is more than the revenue earned through it. There's certainly some (training CSRs to know what it is, staffing at least a minimal customer service center to handle Amtrak Express-specific complaints, possibly a tracking system to monitor packages) but I can't imagine it's that much. Alternatively, it could be limited to contract-only and additional baggage service instead of general public availability - that could allow for steady business to be established while minimizing the cost of handling one-off shipments not attached to any other travel.
 

railiner

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I grew up in a family business that depended on passenger air, rail and bus express. Luckily my dad sold the business before things got really bad. Don't let him get started on the airlines! Rail passenger train shipments were the most reliable, Trailways was more reliable than Greyhound, Western and Continental were more reliable than United. but were still subject to weather delays and gross-outs.

During LBJ's secret troop build-up our truck driver, the Ford parts driver and the florist supply driver got to know each other better while hanging around on the clock at PDX because their scheduled delivery had been bumped by loads of duffle bags. Our driver had to move mail bags full of the Wall Street Journal to postal centers in Salem and Eugene before 6 a.m. and deliver bundles to a number of small locations before they opened to customers.

There are alternatives, of course, but the absence of all-or-most-weather scheduled service has contributed to the tensions and decline of life in small town America. The USPS has solved this problem by lengthening delivery times. Blood shipments to small-town hospitals went by train or bus express. They solve this problem now with pricey courier services or by going out of business.
When I retired from TNY in 2017 in NYC, we were still getting overnight blood shipments from Rochester...
Our biggest source of GPX shipments were outsize antique auto parts like doors and hoods, along with antique furniture.
We also shipped frozen seafood and wholesale flowers, for shorter same day service to upstate stations.
Still, it was a mere fraction of bus package express in the 60’s and 70’s, before Fedex and UPS really took off...
 

adamj023

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Is there really much of an infrastructure cost to this? The only reason that I could see for discontinuing it is if the overhead to keep it running is more than the revenue earned through it. There's certainly some (training CSRs to know what it is, staffing at least a minimal customer service center to handle Amtrak Express-specific complaints, possibly a tracking system to monitor packages) but I can't imagine it's that much. Alternatively, it could be limited to contract-only and additional baggage service instead of general public availability - that could allow for steady business to be established while minimizing the cost of handling one-off shipments not attached to any other travel.
UPS Ground did use rail but I don’t know if they still do. The cost for non prioritized air shipping has lots of competition and reasonable rates, Train excels in low costs for large shipments going to point to point destinations. Did Amtrak just add a package car to the regular passenger routes? I am not sure how Amtrak ran their business model. Trucks are way more common for ground shipping and they tend to load trailers full before they move them to lower costs. Rail seems to have been mostly phased out for package deliveries. For large items going abroad, ships can carry much more than airplane for much lower costs.

There could be a few city pairs where train for ground based services make sense for packages but you are seeing a lot more localized warehouses for last mile delivery.
 

jebr

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Did Amtrak just add a package car to the regular passenger routes? I am not sure how Amtrak ran their business model.
They just put it in the baggage car along with any passenger baggage. There was virtually no additional transportation cost - the package was dropped off at an Amtrak baggage counter, sent via unused space in the baggage cars, and then picked up at the destination Amtrak station. From my understanding, it was relatively cheap for larger/heavier packages compared to UPS/FedEx, and Amtrak's cost to provide the service was likely pretty small.
 

adamj023

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Did customers have to pick it up at local Amtrak station? Or did they use usps for final delivery? I guess if it used excess baggage capacity, it was all profit for them minus any last mile postage fees if they handed it off.
 

railiner

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Did customers have to pick it up at local Amtrak station? Or did they use usps for final delivery? I guess if it used excess baggage capacity, it was all profit for them minus any last mile postage fees if they handed it off.
Amtrak only provided station to station service, but there were courier companies that would for a fee, do pickup and delivery.

I should point out, that in addition to the package express, Amtrak had for many years a contract with the US Postal Service to carry bulk and "priority" mail (bundles of magazines, usually). These were loaded either "bedload" bundles, or enclosed in "BMC's"--bulk mail containers, that were loaded and unloaded with forklift trucks into the baggage cars at major stations. At Denver, we had an additional baggage car for many years that was set out in the morning off Train No 5, spotted by the Post Office Annex, and unloaded after the train departed. It was then reloaded in the afternoon, and cut into Train No 6 for Chicago.

I wasn't around after the Roadrailer fiasco came later...
 

Willbridge

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Amtrak only provided station to station service, but there were courier companies that would for a fee, do pickup and delivery.

I should point out, that in addition to the package express, Amtrak had for many years a contract with the US Postal Service to carry bulk and "priority" mail (bundles of magazines, usually). These were loaded either "bedload" bundles, or enclosed in "BMC's"--bulk mail containers, that were loaded and unloaded with forklift trucks into the baggage cars at major stations. At Denver, we had an additional baggage car for many years that was set out in the morning off Train No 5, spotted by the Post Office Annex, and unloaded after the train departed. It was then reloaded in the afternoon, and cut into Train No 6 for Chicago.

I wasn't around after the Roadrailer fiasco came later...
The storage mail cars show up in the attached consist. I can understand how that might have alarmed the Class 1's although what I've observed is that the business went to trucking contractors. The Class 1's never seemed to worry about the packages and bundles that were carried in baggage cars.

What gets me is that Amtrak just took delivery on new baggage cars and then made that space redundant. If getting rid of package shipments made sense, then they should have ordered combines.

1997 Consist 25-35   001.jpg
 

railiner

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When Amtrak started running a 'freight only' Fast Mail from Boston to New York via the Inland Route, it certainly got Conrail's attention. They told Amtrak that they would not allow it on their line from Boston to Springfield until it had at least one 'rider' coach. Amtrak could either reroute the train over its NEC, or add the coach. They did the latter....
 

adamj023

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I personally wouldn’t use train for shipping along with a private courier. If Amtrak had little to no costs and overheads and had the space for it, it becomes a way to bring more money to Amtrak and provides at least some additional competition. I won’t do less than 2 day deliveries unless it was extremely large and cost was just way too prohibitive to get it sooner. Airmail is much quicker and it has lots of route pairs available and lots of supply available from cargo planes to commercial passenger planes which also carry cargo.

My last experience for shipping was from Amazon which delayed the shipping then said it was coming early, then delayed it again and it came the next day after that. They waited on a tractor trailer to fill up before they shipped it and delayed shipping over Amazon prime. I won’t be using Amazon again as I could have gotten it shipped and received quicker. It came from a local Amazon warehouse. If package was shipped from California to NY from somewhere else, it would have arrived quicker as it would have shipped quicker and been in transit for less time. I had a gift certificate so decided to give Amazon a try. Won’t make that mistake again. Amazon didn’t use rail but used Truck. They went from the fulfillment center to a sorting facility where it remained for awhile before it had a full load and a driver out to ship it to the post office DDU facility where it got sorted and sent to the USPS driver for delivery.
 
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bms

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The storage mail cars show up in the attached consist. I can understand how that might have alarmed the Class 1's although what I've observed is that the business went to trucking contractors. The Class 1's never seemed to worry about the packages and bundles that were carried in baggage cars.

What gets me is that Amtrak just took delivery on new baggage cars and then made that space redundant. If getting rid of package shipments made sense, then they should have ordered combines.

View attachment 21579
Love seeing so many cars in the consist, that would have been a glorious train from Chicago to Denver. So was this during the era when the Pioneer and Desert Wind both split off in Denver, or did they split off in Salt Lake City?
 

railiner

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The Pioneer and the Desert Wind both split off the CZ at SLC at first. Later, the Pioneer split off at Denver, and then was discontinued, leaving Wyoming with no passenger trains.
 
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toddinde

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The freight railroads themselves should handle small packages via train or allow shipping providers like UPS, Fed Ex and the like use it for ground based services. Amtrak should be focused on passenger rail as the other services can compete more effectively. I believe there is enough capacity for air for small packages which is much faster and ground based shipping isn’t really necessary unless it is something non important and non time sensitive where price is the only concern.
I agree. Amtrak should be focused on running a top notch passenger railroad, and not get into the LCL/LTL business. If it is desirable to have the freight railroads do this because of congestion or climate issues, the government could provide incentives for the railroads to get into this business or partner with the truck lines and express companies. There is one exception which is Amtrak Express. That needs to come back. It was a nice niche that required no real additional cost, and was useful for people. It’s a good service for our national passenger railroad to provide, and would be a solid source of revenue.
 

jis

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The Pioneer and the Desert Wind both split off the CZ at SLC at first. Later, the Pioneer split off at Denver, and then was discontinued, leaving Wyoming with no passenger trains.
All the car shuffling moved to SLC after the Zephyr was moved to the Moffatt Line. Before that all the car and passenger shuffling among the three used to take place at Ogden.

The Pioneer split at Denver happened in the third incarnation of the Pioneer a little after the Second incarnations of Pioneer and desert Wind were discontinued.

In the first incarnation the Pioneer was a Salt Lake City to Seattle train and the Desert Wind was an Ogden to Los Angeles train and neither exchanged any cars with the then San Francisco Zephyr in Ogden.

The second incarnation was when they started exchanging cars and notionally at least the eastern origin/termination point of both 25/26 and 35/36 moved to Chicago.
 
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OBS

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I agree. Amtrak should be focused on running a top notch passenger railroad, and not get into the LCL/LTL business. If it is desirable to have the freight railroads do this because of congestion or climate issues, the government could provide incentives for the railroads to get into this business or partner with the truck lines and express companies. There is one exception which is Amtrak Express. That needs to come back. It was a nice niche that required no real additional cost, and was useful for people. It’s a good service for our national passenger railroad to provide, and would be a solid source of revenue.
Absolutely! It is amazing how many people used Amtrak Express to assist in moving! They would ship 10-15-20 large boxes and pay Amtrak several Hundred Dollars to get the stuff moved!
 

daybeers

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Absolutely! It is amazing how many people used Amtrak Express to assist in moving! They would ship 10-15-20 large boxes and pay Amtrak several Hundred Dollars to get the stuff moved!
Honestly was planning on using the service when doing my next big move, so I was really sad to hear it was discontinued.
 
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