If you follow our blog, you have seen we write a lot about “head-end” equipment on railroads
Now the most interesting piece of head-end equipment is a Railway Post Office (RPO). There is even a museum about them. At the end is the full details about the museum, but below we have come comments by Dr. Frank R. Scheer, Curator of Railway Mail Service Library, Inc.
The original topic was “E-Mail on the state of working on the Railroad today.” But some of these comments are very far-reaching.
Americans have completely lost any connection with the railroads. Only those few of us who work for the railroads or who are fans actually pay any attention to trains at all. For urban commuters who ride the train to get to work I’m afraid it’s nothing more than a streetcar to them. They pay it no special attention unless it’s late or delayed, and then it’s all the conductor’s fault no matter the problem. I avoid working on the Metra commuter trains because when there’s a delay, 1,800 people get out their cell phones and call HQ to complain about the delay and they always blame the train crew for not doing anything about it. They have no idea or understanding about the linear nature of this mode of transportation so when we try to explain to them about the red signal or the stopped train ahead of us, they lose patience and call to complain. A lot of the guys in passenger service wear fake name tags for good reason.
Trains were once the go-to mode of long-distance transportation; replaced by planes. The trains that remain are subsidized by states that no longer have budget to keep them running at 25% capacity. I see 10 Amtraks go by me every day. They’re not full; nowhere close to that. Some would argue that Amtrak trains are full. Easily accomplished on higher interest routes by removing cars to make shorter trains. They keep getting shorter.
It was a go-to mode of mailing letters, when people actually mailed letters, you could actually stick your mail into the slot on the side of the RPO car; removed from passenger trains even before most of those trains were eliminated. For larger packages and express type mailing there was Railway Express; replaced by UPS and interstate trucking. Then there’s the general decline of the neighborhoods that these old passenger stations used to be located inside of. The whole infrastructure deteriorated, pushing people farther and farther from the tracks. Railroads became a distant memory of the general public many, many years ago.
I am always amazed at how many people write to me to say their dad or grand dad worked for a railroad. Yet none of them have any idea what he did there. It seems that even inside of railroad families, what happened at the railroad stayed at the railroad. Kind of a strange dynamic I’d say.
Yesterday I was on a way freight and we crossed 34 roads crossings that we had to blow the horn for. They all had warning cross bucks. At 70% of them we encountered cars crossing directly in front of us with nary a driver even turning their head to see the oncoming train. If the cross bucks, bells and horn blasts don’t get their attention you would think that a bright orange locomotive the size of a house moving into their range of view and across their path of travel might entice them to step on their brakes. But I’m afraid they don’t even take their eyes off of the road 20 feet in front of their own car. It is like the railroad itself is utterly invisible.
Working on the railroad and for the railroad is very different today from when the RMS ran the mail on America’s railroads in RPO cars.
NOW THE CONTACT DETAILS WE PROMISED
Dr. Frank R. Scheer, Curator
Railway Mail Service Library, Inc.
(202) 268-4996 – weekday office
(540) 837-9090 – Saturday afternoon
In the 1913 former N&W Railway depot along Clarke County route 723
117 East Main Street
Boyce, VA 22620-9369 USA
Please note: only parcels sent via USPS can be accepted at this address.
Visit at http://www.railwaymailservicelibrary.org or
Click to access RMSL2013.pdf
“Owney Day” at the National Postal Museum: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2062104465440.2115624.1029546011&l=906bc64b9f&type=1
If you have an interest in RPOs, please visit the RailwayPO group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/RailwayPO