Head End Profits On the Great Northern Railway


We have written a lot about the head end equipment on railroads

Now we found some great facts and figures on the importance of head end equipment on the Great Northern Railway.

The Great Northern Railway, running from St. Paul, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington, more than 1,700 miles, was the creation of the 19th century railroad tycoon James J. Hill and was developed from the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. The Great Northern’s route was the northernmost transcontinental railroad route in the United States. Now it is just a part of te Burlington Warren Northern Buffet Sante Fe.

Before RPO service was discontinued on the Great Northern in April 1971 and the GN still ran the fast mail between St. Paul, MN and Seattle, WA, a large mail contract on two daily streamlined passenger trains to the west coast, The Empire Builder and Western Star Trains carrying a significant number of passengers still in that day.

The ICC report for 1967 shows some revealing figures that shows that when the mail contract was terminated in 1971, it took a significant chunk out of passenger service revenue to cripple passenger service and led to the railroad abandoning its passenger service and the era of AMTRAK passenger service was born.

In 1967, revenue assigned to passenger services was $9,555,536; mail revenues $8,823,292; express revenues $1,220,767; as well as a number of other incidental revenue streams totaling $19,789,427 in 1967 dollars.

One can easily see, to take $8,823,292 mail revenue out of passenger service revenue of $19,789,427 would severely cripple passenger service if taken away as a revenue stream.

Meanwhile the revenue for freight operations was $235,705,044 compared to passenger operation revenues of $19 million, representing 11 times the revenue of passenger service…and then pull off the mail contract out of passenger revenue and freight revenue becomes 21 times greater than passenger service.

Stuart Holmquist did an excellent job in describing the Railway Mail Services on the Great Northern Railroad in a GN Historical Society Reference Sheet # 177 of June 1991.  Holmquist does an excellent job in showing changes in compensation when parcel post was introduced in 1913. He states that 1914 and 1916 were peak years for both passenger traffic and mail traffic. GN had 44 RPO routes at its peak in 1930. Railroads were compensated for equipment provided by the rail mile traveled and size of RPO (60 foot, 30 foot, or 15 foot space). Rate of pay was figured on a round trip. In 1916-18 the 60 foot RPO reimbursement was 27 cents per mile, 39 cents in 1928, and 61 cents in 1954. For storage mail, on a 60 foot mail storage car, in the same time periods, were 28 cents, 40.5 cents, and 72.6 cents respectively.

interesting stuff, how the RMS subsidized railroad passenger service in America.

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