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Railway Express Building in DC

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Jay

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I'm new to the forum and a casual railfan at best, but I thought I'd share a discovery I made today. I work very near Union Station in DC, and was walking north along 2nd Street, NE, around the east side of the station, on my way to lunch today. I've noticed a long, low building parallel to the tracks there for quite awhile, and could tell it was at least in part open to the public, because there's a sandwich board sign for the "Railroad Cafe" outside one entrance. I walked in, passed by the Cafe (a tiny snack bar) and found myself outside on a 300 foot long patio/deck directly overlooking the tracks leaving Union Station to the north. I spent about 15 minutes standing there watching trains go by before leaving. There are some tables at one end where you can eat lunch, but it was mostly empty while I was there around 1pm. The building itself appears to be mostly Amtrak offices with some space leased to other tenants. As far as I can tell the deck is completely open to the public, although I'm not sure what would happen if you camped out there all day.

Anyway, it's called the Railway Express Building, at 900 2nd Street, NE. From Union Station, you'd need to come out the front and turn left, then follow F Street around past the SEC building to 2nd Street, NE, then up past the Kaiser Permanente building. The Railway Express Bldg will be on your left after you walk under the H Street overpass. Worth checking out if you have time, as it's right next to the tracks and you can see everything coming into or out of U.S. from the north.
 

The Davy Crockett

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Jay - Welcome to AU! :hi: You should join as a member - its free and you'll find your experience here less cluttered with advertising! You sound like you'd be a great addition to the site - since even as a "casual railfan at best" you've already made a nice contribution,

Thanks for the tip. :excl: For some reason (old brain farts die hard? :eek: ) I've never thought about going to the old REA building and checking to see if I could get to the platforms you are talking about.

Maybe its old memories, as I know the building from going there in the '60s with my Dad a couple of times when it was the REA. The area has changed 'just a wee bit' since then. It was not in a nice part of town then and the things that left the biggest impression on me back then - other than it had something to do with trains - was that it seemed tense and all the employees carried side arms!
 

AKA

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Can anyone expand to the side arms angle. Could it have been a condition of employment for some of REA employees. Due to handling of money or certain US Mail ?
 

abcnews

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What a good tip...

We have had some 2 to 3 hour waits there. I know that you can find some really good food options at lunchtime out in front of Union Station (to the right side - as you exit), over by Massachusetts Ave and the US Postal Museum. Generally there are several good catering/lunch trucks parked there. But just nowhere really nice to sit down and eat.

So now I know of a great location to sit and eat, watch train traffic, and also avoid the direct sunlight on a hot sunny day - and the rain on a rainy day.

Thanks!

Mike
 
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ne52

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Can anyone expand to the side arms angle. Could it have been a condition of employment for some of REA employees. Due to handling of money or certain US Mail ?
I don't know that all REA agents carried sidearms but there were indeed armed agents. I believe at least one clerk was armed in the car while it was on the road. Way before my time so someone else probably has more definitive info.

REA moved hard currency but also a lot of other documents that would've traveled with guard and kept in a safe within the car. Bonds were payable to the bearer and checks were physically sent between Federal Reserve branches each night. There was also no faxing so plenty of documents containing sensitive information would've been transported in and out of DC via the REA. You also have the Bureau of Engraving and Printing the Government Printing Office in DC so think passports, stamps, postal money orders being shipped too.
 

Bob Dylan

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The Reasons Train Robberies were so Popular back in the Day, that's where the Loot was!!! (Can you Hear "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" from "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" Playing??)
 
J

Jay

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Thanks, Davy. I will take a crack at joining when I'm at home tonight. The area around Union Station (particularly in that direction, towards the NE) has changed unbelievably just in the last decade or five years, so I can't imagine how different it was in the '60s. The condos and hipster bars are going up in earnest as we speak.

I hadn't spend all that much time thinking about trains in a few years, but took the NEC up to Penn Station last month and it re-piqued my interest. I took some long distance Amtrak journeys when I was younger (DC-Savannah and DC-Chicago), and rode along the last part of the City of New Orleans route a few years ago (Jackson, MS-NO). I used to enjoy the very long, black coal trains that would roll through Charlottesville when I was in school there.
 

The Davy Crockett

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Jay - Do join! There is a wealth of information here... amongst the jokes and BS! :p

I should clarify that when I say all the employees carried side arms - that was the memory of a young kid who ain't so young any longer :rolleyes: - but I do remember that all the clerks I saw who manned the counter when I would go there had a pistol at their side. It left an impression on my young and impressionable mind.
 

Ispolkom

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Some/all railway postal clerks were also armed. Of course, the post office was on the other side of Washington Union Station, but perhaps mail came from both directions, or certain types of mails were loaded at the REA. Or would they have been competitors after the institution of Parcel Post and free rural delivery?

Somewhere on Youtube I found an old training film for railway postal clerks, which made much of not loading the sidearm (a snub-nosed .38, as I recall) at home. I'll try to find it.
 
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J

Jay

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You probably already know this, but if you're interested in railway mail, you should check out the National Postal Museum on Mass. Ave, NW, just up from Union Station (in the old post office building). They have the interior of an old mail car preserved inside, together with a lot of other postal stuff. It's part of the Smithsonian, so closed at the moment, though.
 

Trainmans daughter

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My dad was clerk-in-charge on an RPO in the 40's and early 50's, and yes, it was required that he and all other RMS clerks carried a side arm. I believe it was a .38. One day, a postal inspector made a surprise visit to the car he was working and noticed one clerk was not wearing his gun. "Where is your weapon, son"?, he dememded. "I fastened it under the sorting table, sir", the young man replied. "May I inquire as to why you decided to put it under the table?" fumed the inspector. "Well sir", the young clerk said in a quavery voice, "In case of a robbery, that's where I would be"!
 

Bob Dylan

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My dad was clerk-in-charge on an RPO in the 40's and early 50's, and yes, it was required that he and all other RMS clerks carried a side arm. I believe it was a .38. One day, a postal inspector made a surprise visit to the car he was working and noticed one clerk was not wearing his gun. "Where is your weapon, son"?, he dememded. "I fastened it under the sorting table, sir", the young man replied. "May I inquire as to why you decided to put it under the table?" fumed the inspector. "Well sir", the young clerk said in a quavery voice, "In case of a robbery, that's where I would be"!
:cool: Nice Story! my Grandfather worked as a Rail Clerk also before he switched over to SP and Spent 40 Years in Section Work!

He lost a Finger in WWI, his Trigger Finger, so we used to Tease Him about Not Being Able to Use His Weapon If He Was Robbed! ^_^
 

afigg

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Anyway, it's called the Railway Express Building, at 900 2nd Street, NE. From Union Station, you'd need to come out the front and turn left, then follow F Street around past the SEC building to 2nd Street, NE, then up past the Kaiser Permanente building. The Railway Express Bldg will be on your left after you walk under the H Street overpass. Worth checking out if you have time, as it's right next to the tracks and you can see everything coming into or out of U.S. from the north.
I will have to check this out the next time I have time to kill at WAS. This location is just north of H Street and the eastern end of the Hopscotch bridge. Which means the H Street streetcar line runs right pass it on the bridge. The H St/ Benning Rd streetcar line construction work is supposed to be completed by end of October or early November, so anyone checking the location in the next month can walk eastward on H Street to also check the streetcar construction. Or take a streetcar from the 3rd and H St stop on the starter stub line by early 2014 if there are no serious schedule delays.
 
J

Jay

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Yes, it's close to the streetcar construction on H Street, although there's not much to see so far -- just a lot of orange barrels and some tracks in the street. Maybe they'll start test runs late this year.
 

me_little_me

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The Southeastern Railway Museum has a restored RPO car. And yes, they had to be armed.

My dad was clerk-in-charge on an RPO in the 40's and early 50's, and yes, it was required that he and all other RMS clerks carried a side arm. I believe it was a .38. One day, a postal inspector made a surprise visit to the car he was working and noticed one clerk was not wearing his gun. "Where is your weapon, son"?, he dememded. "I fastened it under the sorting table, sir", the young man replied. "May I inquire as to why you decided to put it under the table?" fumed the inspector. "Well sir", the young clerk said in a quavery voice, "In case of a robbery, that's where I would be"!
:cool: Nice Story! my Grandfather worked as a Rail Clerk also before he switched over to SP and Spent 40 Years in Section Work!

He lost a Finger in WWI, his Trigger Finger, so we used to Tease Him about Not Being Able to Use His Weapon If He Was Robbed! ^_^
The Railway Express Agency and the RPO cars were not related to my knowledge. The RPO (Railway Post Office) cars were cars with armed postal workers and they transported mail and sorted it along the way. They were postal employees (not employees that went postal :giggle: ).

The Railway Express Agency was a government company that provided package delivery and did not, to my knowledge, carry mail or have armed postal workers.
 

The Davy Crockett

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The Railway Express Agency was a government company that provided package delivery and did not, to my knowledge, carry mail or have armed postal workers.
The REA was owned by the railroads. From this article at AmericanRails.com:

The REA was actually not a railroad at all but an express service owned by the railroads themselves. It began life in 1917 as the American Railway Express. The ARE had actually come about through a nationalization by the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) of the express businesses operated by three different companies. These three companies included the Adams Express Company, American Express Company and Southern Express Company and each owned a one-third stake in American Railway Express.

Soon afterward these three companies sold their interest in ARE to the freight railroads in 1929, which promptly renamed the company the Railway Express Agency. The REA from that point forward was actually its very own company. However, being owned by the railroads its profits were divided amongst its many owners (which was broken down by how much traffic each railroad moved using the REA) and it incurred all profits and losses.

While the REA didn't get to keep any of its own earnings it did have an exclusive and unique setup whereby it was the sole express business to move goods via rail and the railroads transported freight cars and provided track and terminal space for REA shipments. While most of you who are old enough probably remember the REA as a parcels service whereby one could ship boxed goods and items by dropping it off at your local depot the company also went beyond this.
 

haolerider

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The Railway Express Agency was a government company that provided package delivery and did not, to my knowledge, carry mail or have armed postal workers.
The REA was owned by the railroads. From this article at AmericanRails.com:
The REA was actually not a railroad at all but an express service owned by the railroads themselves. It began life in 1917 as the American Railway Express. The ARE had actually come about through a nationalization by the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) of the express businesses operated by three different companies. These three companies included the Adams Express Company, American Express Company and Southern Express Company and each owned a one-third stakeO in American Railway Express.

Soon afterward these three companies sold their interest in ARE to the freight railroads in 1929, which promptly renamed the company the Railway Express Agency. The REA from that point forward was actually its very own company. However, being owned by the railroads its profits were divided amongst its many owners (which was broken down by how much traffic each railroad moved using the REA) and it incurred all profits and losses.

While the REA didn't get to keep any of its own earnings it did have an exclusive and unique setup whereby it was the sole express business to move goods via rail and the railroads transported freight cars and provided track and terminal space for REA shipments. While most of you who are old enough probably remember the REA as a parcels service whereby one could ship boxed goods and items by dropping it off at your local depot the company also went beyond this.
I remember the REA very well. In 1965, as I was returning to the US from military duty, I signed all my papers, received my pay, booked my flight home and happily threw my duffle bag into an REA truck for shipment to my house.....not really caring if I ever saw it again!
 
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