Back When Railway Express Agency Did It All


I have always been fascinated about Railway Express. They shipped things nobody else would even “touch with a ten-foot pole”

Found the following on the New Haven RR forum:

From the October 1955 consist book we get this little tidbit.

Railway Express Agency Service.

The Railway Express Agency, Inc., is authorized to handle their traffic in available baggage space in trains unless otherwise restricted.

Railway Express in Freight Service

HN 2 Harlem River-Stamford

HN 2 Harlem River-New Rochelle
HN 2-362 Harlem River-New HavenON 6 Danbury-Bridgeport

NX 8 Poughkeepsie-Hopewell

CF 1 Taunton-Fall River

FC 2 Fall River-Taunton

FC 2-LB 2 Fall River-Boston

Might the car(s) involved have been “baggage” cars, with or without messenger?

I would assume (dangerous lacking any evidence) that such a car (or cars) would be at the front of the train to facilitate loading/unloading under the head-end crew’s watchful eyes?  Also, at least in the case of the HN-2/362 entry, setting out and/or picking up a car at Stamford.

July 1, 1948 REA General Rules and Instructions.

So I don’t have an answer as to what types of cars they would be, or where they would be handled on the train. Although looking at the Arranged Freight Train Service books I have, they don’t call out REA traffic, so my assumption would be that they would be blocked in the appropriate classification (N. Rochelle, P. Chester, Stamford, S. Norwalk, Bridgeport, and Cedar Hill for HN-2 for example).

So looking through this, I had no idea that they shipped so many things. For example, there are a lot of rules for shipping animals, even horses. Although Rule 86 makes it clear that “Men, women or children must not be received for transportation at any price or under any circumstances.”

Shipments can be sent to non-agency locations, and they also shipped carloads, not just packages. They can be shipped directly to a consignee, which I think was primarily regarding shipments by truck, but it doesn’t specify that.

So at least in some cases, such as livestock, a shipment would be in something other than a baggage car. Carloads might be from one consignee to another (although can’t imagine why they would send it REA rather than just via the railroad), but I suspect that shipments like this would have to move via freight service for some, if not all of their trip.

I’m not sure these were regular movements, but they have to have the rules in place to handle them when they do occur.

Yes, REA handled animals and I think a wider variety than FedEx, UPS, and the USPS combined these days. Race horses in special horse cars (essentially nominally-70-foot baggage-express cars with collapsible stalls) are probably the best known but from this mid-1950s law case one gets the impression that the otherwise ‘normal’ working baggage-express car with an express messenger handled a wide variety of smaller critters on an everyday basis:

https://casetext.com/case/frye-v-railway-express-agency-inc

“Digestive relief”. Indeed. I like that term.

Someone in the Buffalo Terminal area likely got themselves a pure-bred Blue Tick Coon Hound at a bargain price some 60-plus years ago…

Honeybees and human remains (in caskets, of course) immediately come to mind.  Have seen both.

In the 1948 movie, The Miracle of the Bells, the body of Polish-born actress Olga Treskovna (Alida Valli) is delivered by train to her hometown.  The railroad station was Nanticoke, Pa., and the train was a PRR D-16 4-4-0 pulling a combine, or maybe a coach and combine.  The baggage section of the combine would, of course, have fallen under REA contract for the human remains cargo.

Always fascinating

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