Amtrak Mail and Express
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This page was last updated on October 27, 2022.
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Amtrak started its non-passenger mail and express business with its own startup in 1971. Mail and express were handled in Heritage Fleet conventional Baggage cars purchased from member railroads. Specialized cars entered service in 1986, with the growth period starting in 1997. The last of the dedicated equipment was removed from service in the 2004 (2006 for ExpressTrak).
In addition to Heritage Fleet conventional Baggage cars, there were three types of equipment for Amtrak's Mail and Express service. First were the 1400- and 1500-series Material Handling Cars, which were 61 feet over end sills. The MHCs were delivered in 1986 and 1988, and were used almost exclusively for bulk mail shipments.
Second were the standard-design express boxcars, numbered in the 70000- 71000- and 71200-series numbers. The express boxcars were delivered in 1997, and because they lacked HEP pass-through cabling, they were restricted to rear-of-train service.
The third group were the standard design mechanical refrigerator cars, and were leased to ExpressTrak.
In theory, Amtrak being in the express business seemed like a good idea, in the sense that adding a few cars to the end of a passenger train would have few costs. But the equipment was not cheap, the switching moves shuffling the equipment at stations were time consuming and expensive, and the impact on passenger convenience was severe. Too much had changed since the days of the traditional pre-Amtrak headend mail and express business. An interesting idea that should have worked, but it was poorly executed.
Amtrak does not own the majority of tracks it uses, and the special express cars were scattered all over the system, with no easy or efficient way to gather them from a wide variety of locations. The less-than-carload (LCL) and less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments were often not loaded properly, or not properly tied down, which allowed the shipments to shift during transit. Another big problem was that in too many cases, the destination of the cargo did not have a fork lift to unload the express shipments.
Amtrak was unable to complete the network expansion that it announced when it started handling the express traffic. The incomplete network resulted in the conventional boxcars, and later the ExpressTrak reefers, being pulled from service. The ExpressTrak reefers outlasted the express boxcars for two years because of contractual commitments.
Ed Ellis, Amtrak Senior Director, Mail & Express, wrote an editorial in the September 1995 issue of Trains magazine, that laid out the advantages of Amtrak getting into the LTL express business.
The need for reliable less-than-carload, and less-than-truckload service became obvious in 1996 when the UP and SP merged and melted down. "Then the CSX-NS breakup of Conrail resulted in more service meltdowns, so shippers wanted a reliable expedited service that the freight railroads couldn't provide. And UPS wanted to buy Amtrak, but that's another story." "UPS wanted expedited service nationwide, at truck-like speeds, and they still do. Amtrak is the only railroad that runs at truck-like speeds." There was a failed meeting with the president of UPS and several senior Amtrak executives, that resulted in UPS turning away from the potential deal for correlation between Amtrak for passenger service, and UPS for freight service. (Ed Ellis, Trainorders.com, December 7-8, 2016)
It was George Warrington (Amtrak president, 1998-2002) who backed Ed Ellis' Amtrak Express initiative in which fleets of boxcars and RoadRailers supplemented the existing Material Handling Cars, with many of them trailing the Southwest Chief, Texas Eagle, Capitol Limited and other long distance trains. (In November 1997, Ed Ellis was promoted from Amtrak's Senior Director, Mail & Express, to an Amtrak Vice-Presidency)
It was David L. Gunn (Amtrak president, 2002-2005) who shut it down and also unilaterally withdrew Amtrak from its contract with the U.S. Postal Service.
Three types of equipment were used in the 1986-2006 time period that Amtrak operated its mail and express service:
-- Material Handling Cars (in service: 1986-2003) (Two classes: 1400-class and 1500-class) purpose-built by Thrall Car Co. for Amtrak, were usually operated behind the power and ahead of the baggage car. They had high speed trucks and HEP cabling pass-through.
-- Express Boxcars (in service: 1997-2003) (Three classes: 70000 class, ex-SP/Cotton Belt boxcars built by PCF and converted by Gunderson; 71000 class, purpose-built by Trenton Works; and 71200 class, purpose-built by Trinity). Express boxcars were operated at the rear of Amtrak trains because they lacked HEP cabling pass-through.
-- ExpressTrak mechanical refrigerator cars (in service: 2000-2003/2006) (74000-class) rebuilt by Ebeneezer Rail Car from existing 57' mechanical refrigerator cars. ExpressTrak cars were operated at the rear of Amtrak trains because they lacked HEP cabling pass-through and were equipped with modified freight trucks.
Amtrak Express still exists, as small and easy to handle less-than-carload shipments, moved in Amtrak's conventional baggage cars.
Material Handling Cars
Amtrak's Material Handling cars numbered 1400-1479 were the first cars purchased in 1986 for the use of carrying express parcels via Amtrak. The cars were finally taken out of service in 2003. The MHCs were equipped with rebuilt REA trucks built for high speed service (maximum, 110mph) and were custom built for that purpose. When Amtrak removed the MHCs from service they were of no use to any other private railroad.
The Material Handling Cars were built using and new body and rebuilt high-speed trucks from former express cars. The MHC cars had pass-through cabling for HEP and usually operated on the head end of the train. The Southwest Chief usually had four or five daily.
Gene Poon wrote on March 9, 2015:
There were two groups of MHCs.
The 1400-class rode on secondhand trucks originally designed for Railway Express Agency reefers. In the late 1980s a part in those trucks broke and nearly caused a derailment of the Capitol Limited. Since those trucks were long out of production, Amtrak had to get the part redesigned and tested, then get a manufacturer to make it. Until that was done the cars were embargoed by all the freight railroads. Amtrak was not permitted to run them other than on the Northeast Corridor.
Once the redesigned parts were manufactured they were retrofitted to the entire fleet of 1400-class MHCs and the cars returned to service.
The 1500-class MHCs used the same basic truck as operates under Horizon, Superliner II, Viewliner, California and Surfliner cars. By the early 1990s, some of the freight railroads claimed that the trucks, the truck center spacing, and the weight distribution of the cars caused an instability that could cause a tendency to derailment. They embargoed the cars and Amtrak was forced to replace them with baggage cars. Even after the freight railroads had banned the 1500s, Amtrak continued to operate them on Northeast Corridor mail trains without incident.
MHCs were through-wired for HEP and generally maintained and serviced by Amtrak along with the passenger train consists they traveled with.
The 1400-class were built using rebuilt trucks from retired Railway Express Agency express refrigerators cars. These rebuilt express truck assemblies suffered metal fatigue cracking over time. Reportedly there were issues with their trucks "hunting" and jumping the tracks. After a failure of one of the reefer trucks almost caused a derailment of The Capitol Limited, the entire class was embargoed until new parts could be designed, fabricated and installed.
Due to various derailment issues, the Material Handling Cars were held to a maximum speed of 60mph. Because most Amtrak trains operate at much higher speeds (90mph), after the derailment issues came to a head, the MHC's were set aside.
Of the two series of MHC cars (1400 Class and 1500 Class), the 1500 Class had a permanent red light on each end, with its power coming the 480 HEP. When the permanent rear red light on the 1500s worked properly, it was easier then trying to find a portable red flashing light for the rear end of the train, in case the light on the Rear End Device failed.
The MHCs had been used primarily for handling bulk mail. Most of the mail Amtrak moved was periodicals (magazines and catalogs), still a strong market for the USPS. Amtrak handled less-than-carload (LCL) or less-than-truckload (LTL) palletized periodicals going to one of the more than two dozen bulk mail sorting centers. Printed magazines and catalogs would come out of printing plants in the northeast on several trains, and when the cars arrived at the mail dock in Chicago, the pallets would get repositioned into an MHC going out on Trains 3, 5, 7, or 21. Sometimes there would a full car of mail connecting between trains, but a lot of it was sorted by forklift. The Chicago Union Station sorting was unique and truckers just wanted to handle full truckloads. Mail couldn't be mixed with other commodities, so that was hard for truckers. Amtrak made good margins on this business, but now that the mail service has ended, the USPS is paying more than it paid Amtrak.
The MHCs had HEP pass-through cabling which allowed them to be on the head end, like baggage cars, and rode on passenger-car-like trucks. Those trucks (on the 1400s) proved to be problematic, though, and when the USPS refused to guarantee the business for a long enough term to justify the cost of new equipment, Amtrak pulled out of handling mail.
Once the MHCs were sidelined, Amtrak sought a USPS commitment for future volume of business sufficient to justify the capital cost of obtaining replacement rolling stock. USPS refused, so Amtrak got out of the bulk-mail business. At about the same time, USPS required its contract carriers to provide "door to door" delivery. Amtrak would have been responsible for getting the mail from the rail station to and from the post office or sorting facility, which are typically no longer located adjacent to downtown train stations.
Beginning in 1997, Amtrak got into the express business and started operating boxcars at the rear of the train. These were standard boxcars. The trucks were modified with dampers to improve their high-speed performance, but were always problematic at high speeds.
On September 16, 1997 Amtrak asked the Surface Transportation Board to force Union Pacific and its Southern Pacific subsidiary to operate Amtrak's expanded express service, using separate and dedicated cars attached to its regular passenger trains. To prevent this move by Amtrak into this expanded express business, and possibly into the freight business, Union Pacific objected to the Amtrak request, saying that moving freight was the exclusive right of the freight railroads.
On May 28, 1998, the STB released its decision, agreeing with Amtrak that express "need not be restricted by commodity, shipment size, type of equipment, or a variety ofother operational factors that may have been applied in the past, but instead should be defined more flexibly as a premium transportation service at premium rates — expedited, regularly scheduled train service provided at prices which are generally higher than freight service — that is provided as an adjunct to Amtrak's passenger service." (Surface Transportation Board Finance Docket No. 33469; Application Of The National Railroad Passenger Corporation -- Union Pacific Railroad Company And Southern Pacific Transportation Company; Decided: May 28, 1998)
There were three types of Express Box cars used by Amtrak. The first group, numbered as 70000-70049 (50 cars), delivered in July and August 1997, were rebuilt from standard 50' cars built new for Southern Pacific in 1976. They were painted green, supposedly matching the green color used by the earlier Railway Express Agency. As the cars were rebuilt, most were repainted to Amtrak's standard Platinum Mist color to match the other cars in Amtrak's trains.
The second group, numbered as 71000-71199 (200 cars), delivered in September to November 1997, were 60' cars built new for Amtrak. They were delivered painted in Amtrak's standard Platinum Mist paint scheme.
The third group, numbered as 71200-71299 (100 cars), delivered starting in November 2001, were 60' cars built new for Amtrak. They were delivered painted in Amtrak's standard Platinum Mist paint scheme.
"Express boxcars were an entirely different car, besides not having pass-through HEP, forcing their operation at end-of-train only; and had their own truck problems. There were two classes: the 70000 class were rebuilt from Southern Pacific (including Cotton Belt and Golden West Service) boxcars. The 71000 class were new construction. Both exhibited truck-hunting at speed when empty. Amtrak was not able to develop sufficient backhaul business to avoid having to run the cars empty to go back and pick up more cargo, and planned to run the empties on the back of scheduled Amtrak passenger trains. But due to the truck instability, which could damage track and make the car vulnerable to derailment, the freight railroads restricted the speed of any trains with empty express boxcars. The result was many very slow, late Amtrak passenger trains -- some reports from the time are of their going into sidings so that faster freight trains could overtake them." (Gene Poon, March 9, 2015)
With the truck hunting problems, and forced maximum speed for the empty cars, Amtrak was forced to run whole trains of empty express boxcars, and often they wound up being the slowest through trains on the railroad they were traveling on. The answer was to add hydraulic damping to the trucks. Tests showed that the damping stabilized the trucks sufficiently so that they were stable at passenger train speeds whether the boxcars were loaded or empty. However, the brackets for the hydraulic dampers were an inadequate design and developed cracks. The dampers had to be removed until the brackets could be redesigned, tested, and retrofitted.
Research suggests that after the shut down of Amtrak's Mail and Express business in 2004, the 50 ex SP 50' Express boxcars, and the 300 built-new 60' Express boxcars, being standard-design boxcars, albeit with special trucks that can be easily swapped for standard trucks, were distributed to various buyers and are in service as part of the national rail car pool, among a pool of several thousand other standard design cars.
During the 1990s, Amtrak began handling third and fourth class mail in 53' RoadRailers, tacked to the rear of selected passenger trains.
"Amtrak entered the temperature-sensitive commodities arena approximately a year ago [May 1998] when it purchased eight ReeferRailer refrigerated rail trailers from Wabash National Corp. Since that time, 'the service has gained the overwhelming support of numerous temperature-controlled shippers who view it as offering a clear-cut advantage over trucking schedules and prices in many lanes,' Amtrak said." (Trafficworld Magazine, February 10, 1999)
The Amtrak RoadRailers in the AMTZ 410xxx series, with the USPS logo on the side, were not like the normal RoadRailers. They were built heavier, have holes in the floor for to secure wheeled USPS containers, and boxcar doors on the sides. They were also the more maneuverable 48 foot length (53 footers have been all but banned from most downtown Post Office's congested docks). (Trainorders.com, May 20, 2003)
One researcher of the RoadRailer service has concluded that the Amtrak service was 1) way too long in development, so it was obsolete by the time it was fully deployed, and 2) that Amtrak tried to be all things to all customers while at the same time ordering very specialized equipment.
Beginning in 2000, Amtrak also operated refrigerator cars, under contract for a separate company called ExpressTrak. Those cars were rebuilt mechanical refrigerator cars, with a modern refrigeration unit on one end.
The following comes from the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, press release dated January 24, 2001:
ExpressTrak LLC, was an affiliate of Soave Enterprises of Detroit. The company signed a $10 million-plus contract with Ebeneezer Rail Car Services Inc. to provide the state-of-the-art, 57-foot railcars. The first of the 109 cars were rebuilt for sustained passenger train speeds of 90 mph, and were scheduled to come off the assembly line by March 28  at Ebeneezer's Buffalo (West Seneca), New York, facility.
ExpressTrak's Rapid Modal System had two prototype cars in service since last July . Shippers such as Sunkist Growers used the cars and Rapid Modal system successfully.
The Rapid Modal system utilizes local truck cartage to bring commodities to transloading centers where they are loaded into the refrigerated railcars and coupled to the next outgoing Amtrak passenger train.
The ExpressTrak Rapid Modal cars remain with the Amtrak train traveling almost nonstop across the country, without being shunted into railyards or sidings. At the destination city, the cargo is transferred to trucks for local delivery.
The 109 advanced-technology cars will feature the latest design in refrigeration units, remotely controlled from ExpressTrak's customer service center. Each car will be equipped with global positioning units that provide instantaneous tracking and monitoring information.
In operation since 1998, ExpressTrak has been operating RoadRailer bi-modal refrigerated trailers with Amtrak as well as the refrigerated prototype railcars.
"ExpressTrak got going with eight 'ReeferRailer' trailers in 1998, added two prototype refrigerator cars in 2000, expanded the reefer fleet to over 100 cars in 2001, and by 2002 Amtrak wanted out of mail and express entirely. ExpressTrak filed for bankruptcy, but went to court to keep reefers running. The litigation continued through 2006, when the company finally went out of business and the last of the reefers were parked, long after Amtrak had dropped the rest of its mail and express business. Reports in Trains magazine over that time period suggest most of the loads were fresh produce - apples, oranges, lemons, and assorted vegetables." (Evan Werkema, Trainorders.com, August 18, 2012)
The first ExpressTrak delivery of the new 74000-series cars (car number 74002) arrived in East Hartford, Connecticut, on July 18, 2000. (Trains magazine, December 2000, page 36)
Gene Poon wrote on Trainorders.com on July 8, 2005:
Part of the Amtrak vs. ExpressTrak litigation was decided in Amtrak's favor. Part of it, involving ExpressTrak's bankruptcy, Amtrak has thus far lost.
The original deal was for ExpressTrak LLC to arrange acquisition and modification/rebuild of 110 refrigerator cars, convey them to a third party who was paying for them, Orix Financial Services, which would then lease them to Amtrak, which would sublease them to ExpressTrak. Orix suspended the deal after financing only 55 of the cars and Amtrak instead purchased the second 55, for direct lease to ExpressTrak. A new contract was supposed to be negotiated to cover the 55 cars Amtrak purchased, but that was never done and Amtrak/ExpressTrak did business with them "temporarily" under the same terms as the contract for the first 55 cars.
Then ExpressTrak went into arrears in payments to Amtrak for hauling the cars around on the railroads. Amtrak said this was a breach of the contract and moved to withdraw, park and sell the 55 cars they had purchased. ExpressTrak paid up three months late and under the Amtrak-filed breach of contract lawsuit, ExpressTrak claimed that any dispute cannot go to court but must be arbitrated, since that was a provision of the original Amtrak/ExpressTrak contract and was plainly the two parties' intent for the second 55 cars. Amtrak countered that the original contract didn't apply to the second 55 cars, that there was no contract, and that the dispute should be heard in court.
The first trial court agreed with ExpressTrak, that the clear intent of Amtrak and ExpressTrak was to arbitrate any disputes. On appeal, it was reversed on the basis that although the original intent of the two parties was to arbitrate, this would only apply if the dispute were "properly arbitrable." The court ruled that the dispute was NOT properly arbitrable and Amtrak prevailed; the dispute then went to court and it was ruled that Amtrak could withdraw the 55 cars they owned from the lease to ExpressTrak. They did so, and the cars were sold.
Currently, Amtrak continues to handle ExpressTrak traffic using the 55 cars financed by Orix, pursuant to a court order imposed when ExpressTrak filed for bankruptcy. Amtrak had claimed that it was legally allowed to terminate the agreement, refuse any more business, and repossess the remaining 55 cars financed by Orix. But the US Bankruptcy Court ruled that since Amtrak and ExpressTrak were continuing to do business with those 55 cars at the time the bankruptcy was filed, Amtrak would have to continue doing so as long as bankruptcy proceedings continued, under the provisions of bankruptcy law; but was allowed to seek further relief by litigation; that hasn't yet happened.
The perishable business for which the ExpressTrak cars were built never developed sufficiently to use the cars that were constructed; a hundred or so of the originally-planned order of 350. Most didn't see service and spent a decade or so, just resting and rusting in Amtrak yards at Harrisburg, Los Angeles, Oakland and other places. Amtrak and ExpressTrak LLC were even involved in legal action, each saying the other was responsible for the payments on the equipment. The court ruled that the issue go to arbitration; Amtrak had argued that it would suffer "significant monetary loss" if it had to go to arbitration, but lost that argument. (Gene Poon, March 9, 2015)
Two court cases:
National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. ExpressTrak, L.L.C., 330 F.3d 523, 527
National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. ExpressTrak, L.L.C., 233 F.Supp.2d 39
Under an agreement of October 27, 1999, ExpressTrak LLC agreed to acquire express cars, have them refurbished, and convey the express cars to a third-party lessor. The third-party lessor would then lease the cars to Amtrak, which, in turn, would sublease the cars to ExpressTrak.
After Amtrak solicited over 30 potential third-party vendors, Amtrak selected Orix Financial Services as the third party to finance the acquisition of approximately 110 refrigerated railcars at the maximum cost of $13.86 million. On December 28, 2000, Amtrak provided ExpressTrak with a letter in which Amtrak committed to finance the acquisition of the 110 cars if Orix failed or refused to enter into a lease transaction or to provide funding as provided in its commitment letter to Amtrak. Orix Financial Services, acting as the third-party lessor, agreed to purchase 110 express cars, and on May 15, 2001, Orix leased the express cars to Amtrak. On the same day, Amtrak entered a sublease with ExpressTrak, in which Amtrak agreed to sublease the 110 express cars to ExpressTrak.
On November 9, 2001, the Amtrak Reform Council issued its finding that Amtrak would fail to achieve operational self-sufficiency by December 2, 2002, after which on November 16, 2001, Orix suspended its funding, after financing only fifty-five of the 110 express cars. Amtrak and ExpressTrak subsequently entered into a letter agreement on November 30, 2001, whereby Amtrak agreed to purchase the fifty-five remaining express cars from the refurbishing vendor, and lease them to ExpressTrak.
On April 15, 2002, Amtrak informed ExpressTrak that because ExpressTrak had failed to make its January and April 2002 payments, it was in default and Amtrak was terminating the direct lease and the sublease. Amtrak also demanded return of all express cars leased to ExpressTrak. ExpressTrak paid Amtrak the overdue amounts on April 17, 2002, and by letter of April 25 to Amtrak, ExpressTrak denied that it had defaulted and that Amtrak could not demand return of the cars. Amtrak and ExpressTrak agreed on May 3, 2002 to continue the operation of the cars until September 8, 2002. During this period, Amtrak continued to run the ExpressTrak express cars and make payments to Orix. On September 9, 2002, Amtrak filed suit against ExpressTrak, alleging that ExpressTrak had defaulted under the lease agreements. On October 15, 2002, ExpressTrak filed suit against Amtrak seeking a preliminary injunction and an order compelling arbitration.
The district court consolidated the lawsuits, and on December 5, 2002, ruled that the dispute should go to arbitration, as called for in the original agreement, and stayed both cases, and entered a preliminary injunction requiring the parties to continue conducting business while such arbitration proceedings are pending. Amtrak appealed on December 5, 2002, and the appeals court hearing was set for May 9, 2003.
On June 6, 2003, Amtrak won on appeal and the case was returned to the District Court to hear Amtrak's claim of breach of contract by litigation rather than arbitration. On June 25, 2003, Amtrak notified ExpressTrak that it would stop operating the 55 cars owned by Orix, leased to Amtrak and subleased to ExpressTrak, which it did on August 13, 2003.
On September 16, 2003, Amtrak notified ExpressTrak of its intent to stop its operation of the other 56 cars owned by Amtrak and leased directly to ExpressTrak. On October 3, 2003, ExpressTrak filed for bankruptcy, which had the effect of preventing Amtrak from repossessing the 56 cars that Amtrak owned. Amtrak canceled the sublease for the 55 cars owned by Orix and leased to Amtrak, and on October 9, 2003, these 55 cars were removed from service, leaving ExpressTrak with the 56 cars directly leased from Amtrak.
On October 16, 2006, the D.C. District Court denied all claims by both Amtrak and ExpressTrak, except ExpressTrak's claim that, because it was in bankruptcy, Amtrak could not repossess, and therefore deny the operation of the 56 cars Amtrak owned.
(As a side note, the car numbers of these two fleets of 55 cars, a total of 110 cars, were intermingled and were not sequentially numbered among the series 74001-74111.)
Between October 2003 and October 2006, while it worked through its bankruptcy proceeding, ExpressTrak continued to operate the 56 cars leased directly from Amtrak. The 55 cars owned by Orix, leased to Amtrak, and subleased to ExpressTrak had been removed from service in October 2003.
December 11, 2005
"ExpressTrak, which is in bankruptcy, and Amtrak, which will get about $1.3 billion from Congress to keep it out of bankruptcy, have been jousting in court for years over a 15-year contract they signed in 1999 requiring the railroad to haul premium freight like fruits and vegetables. Amtrak says ExpressTrak defaulted on lease payments for cars the railroad provided, which ExpressTrak denies." "ExpressTrak now has only 56 cars for premium freight. Amtrak repossessed 55 others in the lease payment dispute, and they are now sitting on a siding in Pennsylvania." (New York Times, December 11, 2005; article includes much more information about the political maneuvers to keep ExpressTrak in operation.)
(See also: Produce News, December 12, 2005, for a summary of the $8.3 million Congressional earmark that was withdrawn.)
The contract between Amtrak and ExpressTrak ended on October 30, 2006, and ExpressTrak ceased operations on October 31, 2006.
The following comes from the August 2007 issue of Trains magazine:
ExpressTrak Is Missed -- There were originally 111 cars built and in operation. Amtrak had withdrawn 55 from service prior to the court ruling, leaving ExpressTrak with 56 to operate for several years until the final termination in October 2006. (The cars, while virtually new in every respect, actually used the bodies of reefer cars from the 1970s). The original plan was to have up to 350 cars but only 111 were funded. As further confirmation of Roy Blanchard's last line in the article, I can say that I recently contacted all of ExpressTrak's major shippers in California and Washington state and the support was unanimous. They all hoped the service would return, due to its speed, dependability, and cost. The shippers told me that most of the perishables they moved by ExpressTrak are now back on the highway, at greater expense to them and to their customers. (Kevin McKinney, Former ExpressTrak Vice President)
(See also: Trains magazine, June 2007; "Legal Squabbles Doomed ExpressTrak Service," pages 18-19)
Removal From Service
Mail Handling Cars (1400s and 1500s) were taken out of service on February 11, 2003.
The 1500-series were restored to service on the Northeast Corridor on November 15, 2003. Instead of the refurbished former Railway Express Agency express reefer trucks like the 1400-series, the 1500-series MHCs were equipped with new trucks, very similar to what was under the Horizon, Superliner II, Viewliner, California and Surfliner cars, and were not speed-restricted. At least thirteen of the 1500-series MHCs were converted by Amtrak for maintenance of way service on Amtrak-owned tracks (Northeast Corridor), and were renumbered to the 16800-series.
"Amtrak is exiting the express business. It has offered for sale or lease 344 50- and 60-foot boxcars and 116 RoadRailer trailers. ExpressTrak, now three years into a 15-year contract with Amtrak, still carries oranges and apples in 111 refrigerated boxcars on Western long-distance trains and eastern connections. In December , a U. S. District Court judge ruled that Amtrak must maintain the status quo while the parties go into arbitration. Regardless, Amtrak at the end of 2002 still planned to cut back the express-laden "Pennsylvanian" service to a New York-Pittsburgh train on January 27." (Trains magazine, March 2003, page 10)
August 13, 2003
Amtrak stopped operating the 55 ExpressTrak mechanical refrigerator cars owned by Orix, leased to Amtrak and subleased to ExpressTrak, which entered bankruptcy on October 3, 2003. Numbers were intermingled within the entire 74001-74111 number series.
April 9, 2004
"Amtrak has available for sale and/or lease the equipment listed below."
50 - Greenbrier 50' Boxcars (70000 series)
131 - Greenbrier/Trenton Works 60' Boxcars (71000 Series)
67 - Wabash National RoadRailer CouplerMates (5000 Series)
"The equipment is located at Fenton, MO"
August 27, 2004
The following letter from Amtrak president David Gunn was sent to employees on August 27, 2004:
Dear Amtrak Co-workers:
You have probably heard the rumors that Amtrak is getting out of the mail and express business, and those rumors are true. Mail and express no longer makes business sense for Amtrak and has negatively impacted the quality of our passenger service, so the decision has been made to exit the business.
As a first step, I have informed the Postal Service of our intentions. I realize that this will be painful for some employees, but we will make every effort to provide opportunities for affected employees to remain with the company.
There will be more information in a week or two about these changes and the specific actions that will occur over the next few months. However, it is my intention to have all mail and express activity concluded by early October.
/s/ David L. Gunn
"On August 27, 2004, Amtrak, in a special advisory, announced that all mail and express service would be eliminated by early October. As of early October, many boxcars had been stored. RoadRailer service at Philadelphia had been terminated. There were still reports of sporadic equipment moves, though except for refrigerated ExpressTrak moves, these were generally empty equipment moves. Package Express and Checked Baggage services continue to be offered." (On Track On Line, as of October 31, 2004)
After the end of Amtrak Mail and Express, most of the express boxcars were sold off and the hydraulic damping removed, as it was unnecessary for use at freight train speeds. If you spot such a car, the brackets may still be on the trucks. (Gene Poon, March 9, 2015)
After being removed from service, and beginning in October 2004, the three types of cars were stored at several locations, notably in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Santa Maria, California.
Beginning in mid October 2004, at least 50 former Amtrak express reefers and boxcars were stored on the Santa Maria Valley Railroad, where they remained for about four years.
Amtrak terminated its lease of fifty of the 60' TrentonWorks express boxcars in the 71000-71199 series. The original lease took effect on September 1, 1997, and was terminated on March 30, 2006. In the lease documents, Amtrak described these cars as "TrentonWorks Ltd 100-ton 60'9" Plate C Boxcars." (STB Recordation 21009-B, dated March 30, 2006)
"Half of these cars (100 of them) [AMTK 71000-series] were sold to CarMath a couple of years ago ; I see them all the time (CMHX, same numbers)." (Carl Shave, October 29, 2008)
(CMHX = CarMath, Inc., a rail car repair and leasing company based in Brandon, South Dakota)
October 31, 2006
ExpressTrak ceased operations on October 31, 2006. The fleet at the time consisted of 56 cars owned by Amtrak and leased to ExpressTrak.
In November 2007, about 100 Amtrak express boxcars in the 71000-series, and about 50 Amtrak mechanical reefers in the 74000-series were stored on the Santa Maria Railroad at Betteravia, California. The boxcars had arrived prior to January 2007, but the mechanical reefers arrived in about June 2007.
As of February 28, 2008, the 1400-series cars had been sold.
Amtrak acknowledged that the 66 remaining 1500-series Material Handling Cars (of 70 original total) were subject to the original lease dated May 30, 1990. (STB Recordation 6690-D, dated January 4, 2010)
By this time, the entire 1500-class was assigned to Amtrak-owned service areas along the Northeast Corridor. Some cars had already been scrapped, while some were in secondary company service, and some cars were renumbered and assigned to maintenance of way service.
Amtrak terminated its lease of ninety-five 60' TrentonWorks express boxcars in the 71000-71199 series. The original lease took effect on September 1, 1997, and was terminated on July 22, 2011. In the lease documents, Amtrak described these cars as "TrentonWorks Ltd 100-ton 60'9" Plate C Boxcars." (STB Recordation 21009-E, dated July 22, 2011)
During July and August 2011, single examples of these former AMTK 71000-series cars were seen with newly applied CMHX reporting marks, operating in regular BNSF trains in eastern Missouri. (Trainorders.com, June 24, 2014)
Amtrak terminated ExpressTrak LLC's sublease of 55 of the 74001-74111 series mechanical refrigerator cars. The original sublease went into effect on May 15, 2001, and was terminated on August 31, 2012. The same 55 cars were purchased by Amtrak from Orix Financial Services on the same day. (STB Recordation 23505-W,-V, dated August 31, 2012)
The result of this change was that in addition to the 56 ExpressTrak mechanical refrigerator cars Amtrak already owned, and had leased to ExpressTrak, Amtrak took full ownership of the 55 refrigerator cars that had previously been owned by Orix, leased to Amtrak, and subleased to ExpressTrak. This gave Amtrak full ownership of all 111 cars.
During August 2012, about half of the ExpressTrak refrigerator cars stored in the 8th street yard in Los Angeles were being moved out of storage and were in the process of having the reporting marks painted over and replaced with Iowa Pacific Fruit Express (IPFX) marks. There were reports that the cars were to be used for hauling potatoes from the San Luis Valley, primarily to the Houston area. The cars were to have their refrigeration units serviced in Alamosa, Colorado, and it was hoped that they would be in service by September 2012. Two cars had already been tested in the service and had successfully handled potato loads.
Fifty-five of the original ExpressTrak cars were leased by RALCO LLC (Rail Asset Leasing Co.) to San Luis Central Railroad, and were given RWIX (RailWorld, Inc.) reporting marks. (STB Recordation 30572, dated December 21, 2012)
The remaining 55 cars became IPFX (Iowa Pacific Fruit Express).
In July 2019, during a ride on the San Luis Central, Russell Sharp reported seeing several former Amtrak Express cars in service on the San Luis Central. He wrote, "...as we shove the malt load to the scale track, we pass a string of former Amtrak Mail and Express reefers, now used to haul potatoes in season, parked just north of the SLC shop. Fifty-five of these cars were purchased directly from Amtrak by Rail World International (RWIX reporting marks). SLC acquired 20 additional cars form lessor Iowa Pacific Fruit Express (IPFX reporting marks). This fleet of cars replaced the fleet of former ATSF reefers that were expiring on the 50-year rule." (RGM&HS, The Prospector, Volume 19, Number 1, 1st Quarter 2020)
Amtrak terminated the lease of the fifty 50' express boxcars in the 70000-70049 series. The original lease took effect on September 1, 1997, and was terminated on April 29, 2013. In the lease documents, Amtrak described these cars as "Fifty (50) remanufactured Greenbriar Railcar, Inc. Medium Speed Material Handling Cars III." (STB Recordation 21009-F, dated April 29, 2013)
Forty-two of the former Amtrak express boxcars were seen passing through northeast Oklahoma on the BNSF, en route to being scrapped.
A total of 75 former Amtrak 60' express boxcars in the 71000-71199 series (original total of 200 cars) were among 9,100+ rail cars owned by Flagship Rail Services and set aside as financial collateral. Flagship Rail Services was formerly known as AIG Rail Services. All of the 75 former Amtrak cars received new BLHX (SMBC Rail; Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp.) reporting marks and numbers in the BLHX 56000 series. Of the 75 former Amtrak cars, 45 still had their AMTK reporting marks, and 30 cars had ITFX (Infinity Transportation) reporting marks. (STB Recordation 30963, dated October 30, 2013)
In an example of confusion in record keeping, AMTK 71027 is shown among these 75 cars as becoming BLHX 71027. However, AMTK 71027 was seen in July 2010 on a BNSF train in eastern Missouri, with a CMHX reporting mark.
Amtrak terminated the lease from Trinity Industries for the 67 remaining 60' express boxcars in the 71200-71299 series (original total of 100 cars). The original lease went into effect on December 5, 2001, and was terminated on June 2, 2014. (STB Recordation 23750, dated June 4, 2014)
Many of these cars had been in storage near Bakersfield, California (near the Meadows Field Airport, and near Arvin). During late June 2014, the cars were re-stenciled as CMHX. (Trainorders.com, June 24, 2014)
About 20 to 30 former Amtrak express boxcars are among the 200+ cars stored in the former Nevada Northern yard at Shafter, Nevada. (Trainorders.com, April 28, 2021, reported by Jeff Moore)
|Type||Series||Year In Service||Total||Notes|
|Baggage||AMTK 1000 series||Various||53||1|
|Baggage Express||AMTK 1701-1740||1997 (rebuilt)||40||2|
|Baggage Mail||AMTK 1750-1763||1997 (rebuilt)||14||2|
|Express Box||AMTK 70000-70049||1997||50||5|
|Express Boxcar||AMTK 71000-71199||1997||200||6|
|Express Boxcar||AMTK 71200-71299||2001||100||7|
|ExpressTrak (Refrigerator)||AMTK 74000-74109||2000 (rebuilt)||110||8|
|RoadRailer (Mail; 48')||AMTZ 410000-410165||1996||166||9|
|RoadRailer (Refrigerator)||AMTZ 414500-414507||1998||8||10|
|RoadRailer (53')||AMTZ 460000-460253;
|RoadRailer CouplerMates||AMTK 5000-5099;
|RoadRailer Intermediate Bogies||AMTK 5500-5849||Various||350||13|
1. 1000-series Baggage cars; Heritage cars; conventional passenger car design; 53 cars, numbered between AMTK 1001 and AMTK 1272; still used by Amtrak for current express services.
2. 1700-series Baggage cars; rebuilt from former coaches; conventional passenger car design; AMTK 1701-1740 (40 cars) were express cars; AMTK 1750-1763 (14 cars) were mail cars.
"The 1700 series baggage cars were constructed from retired UP 44 seat coaches and AT&SF 48 seat coaches. These were heritage coaches in the 4600 and 4700 series on Amtrak. They are very easily spotted with the single center opening with a roll-up type overhead door and a vestibule on one end. Budd built the AT&SF cars in 1953. The UP cars were also Budd built (with flat stainless steel sides) at various dates from the late '50's through the early '60's. The UP cars were built in 1961. The UP and AT&SF chair cars were some of the finest (and latest) examples of superb Budd craftsmanship. It was a total abomination that Amtrak gutted these cars and converted them to lowly baggage cars. If that wasn't enough, the Amtrak idiots overloaded a few cars which caused the sills to sag mid-car. It never occurred to them that a purpose-built baggage car is designed for the mid-span load whereas a chair car isn't." (Trainorders.com, December 22, 2004)
3. 1400-1479 series; Material Handling Cars; built by Thrall in 1986; equipped with rebuilt former REA trucks; pass-through cables for Head-End Power (HEP)
4. 1500-1569 series; Material Handling cars; built by Thrall in 1988; pass-through cables for HEP
5. 70000-70049 series; 50' Express boxcars; former SP boxcars class B-100-40 (built in 1976 by Pacific Car and Foundry) and B-100-43 (built in 1978 by Pacific Car and Foundry); purchased by Amtrak in 1997 and prepared for use by Gunderson in Springfield, Oregon, during July and August 1997; "B-100-40 SP 656200-656449" "B-100-43 SP 656450-656549" (David Casdorph list)
6. 71000-71199 series; 60' Express boxcars; built in 1997 by TrentonWorks Ltd., Trenton, Nova Scotia, delivered September to November 1997; "200 new-built 60'8" IL Plate C 6,288 cubic-foot single-plug door boxcars. Built 9-12/97 Trenton Works. Load limit is 120,000 lbs." (David Casdorph list)
7. 71200-71299 series; 60' Express boxcars; built in 2001 by Trinity Industries, Springfield, Missouri; equipped with electric brakes, delivery started in November 2001
8. 74001-74111 series ExpressTrak; 57' refrigerator cars rebuilt in 2000 from 57' mechanical refrigerator cars to allow them to be used on Amtrak's high-speed passenger trains (90mph maximum); improvements included high-speed trucks, upgraded braking system, tight-lock couplers and state-of-the-art refrigeration units.
9. RoadRailer (48'), with side doors
10. RoadRailer, with side doors "ReeferRailer"
11. RoadRailer (53'), without side doors
12. RoadRailer CouplerMate, with standard couplers; allows interface with standard railroad equipment
13. RoadRailer Intermediate Bogies; intermediate connections between RoadRailer trailers
Photos of Amtrak Material Handling Cars -- Photos at the Amtrak Photo Archive (Hebners.net)
Photos of Amtrak Express Cars -- Photos at the Amtrak Photo Archive (Hebners.net)
Photos of ExpressTrak Cars -- Photos at the Amtrak Photo Archive (Hebners.net)
With Amtrak now, the mail will not go through.
by Bob Johnston
(From December 2004, Trains magazine)
Passenger railroad ceases most USPS service to concentrate on passengers
Citing a determination to "concentrate on its core business of transporting passengers," Amtrak abruptly announced before Labor Day  that it would let all its U.S. Postal Service mail contracts expire by the end of October .
Amtrak President David Gunn's intense scrutiny of expenses when he took office two years ago led to the immediate demise of most of the express business, which was generating insufficient revenue to justify the huge investment in boxcars and Road Railers that Amtrak began leasing in 1996 to provide long-distance passenger trains with a year-round revenue stream.
Developed by the company's intercity business unit, the strategy's promise of future income did save the Texas Eagle in 1997 and rapidly attracted enough express customers on the transcontinental lanes to regularly swell the Southwest Chief to more than 30 cars -- eventually providing more than half of that train's revenue -- and extend both the Three Rivers and Pennsylvanian west of Pittsburgh.
On the mail side, Amtrak invested in personnel and scanning equipment to help add value in capturing 2nd Class and some 1st Class mail contracts. Two Chicago "feeder" trains, the Lake Country Limited from Janesville, Wis., and the Kentucky Cardinal from Louisville, were launched to help expedite shipments through the congested Windy City.
But revenue quickly failed to cover costs after several miscalculations:
-- Limited capacity: Norfolk Southern blocked the New York-Chicago Skyline Connection (actually listed in the April 2000 timetable, it never turned a wheel). Too much capital investment doomed the proposed Crescent Star over Kansas City Southern between Meridian, Miss., and Dallas. Union Pacific took Amtrak to court (and lost) over Amtrak's right to handle express when Amtrak proposed the Chicago-Portland Challenger. And BNSF allowed no more than five express cars on certain trains unless Amtrak wanted to pay a big penalty.
-- Mechanical breakdowns: The boxcars' 90-mph swing motion trucks rode fine when a loaded car was on good track but required vertical dampers when empty. Brackets holding the dampers broke off after multiple fixes, adding to the cars' unavailability for extended periods. Although masked for more than a decade, the Material Handling Cars' tendency to climb rails on marginal track was confirmed by two separate, but seemingly insignificant, derailments in early 2003, so all but a few (operating through Northeast Corridor tunnels) were sidelined. This pushed mail into boxcars in the West and a fleet of Heritage baggage cars in the East that needed constant attention from an already stretched-thin workforce.
-- Congestion and penalties: The $77 million of mail and express earned in 2003 -- about 3.6% of total revenues -- was being squeezed by penalties imposed when badly delayed trains missed agreed-upon cut-off times and by USPS's insistence on competitive pricing in the face of declining volume, policies that had already chased several major airlines away.
Although Amtrak declined to furnish the expense figures that led to the decision to drop the business -- in part, perhaps, because the numbers attributable strictly to mail and express have been so hard to quantify -- a knowledgeable source claims the company paid $765,000 in U.S. Postal Service penalties in fiscal 2000, with more than half that amount charged in weather-challenged January and February. However, Amtrak had the benefit at the time of a Chicago-Philadelphia Pennsylvanian to offset what have become full-day delays when connections are missed today.
Aside from patrons who will lose the rail option as a result of the decision and the 300 or so Amtrak employees around the system whose jobs are being eliminated, service delivery on the remaining trains should be expedited without the delay-inducing compromises that handling bulk mail has entailed. Time-sensitive package shipping (such as fresh flowers to rural communities) will continue on trains that carry checked baggage, but the RoadRailers are going to Triple Crown and the boxcars to whomever wants them.
Once David Gunn exploded the Congressionally mandated "glidepath to self sufficiency" business model myth -- embraced at least for political consumption by predecessors Tom Downs and George Warrington -- that the mail and express initiative was supposed to help facilitate, there could be no justification for keeping it. In retrospect, it is unfortunate all that investment wasn't directed instead to a smaller, yet more useful, fleet of passenger cars that could be used to increase frequencies and capacity today to Akron, Youngstown, and Fostoria, instead of having those cites lose their one remaining train for the second time in a decade after spending state and local funds totaling $287,500 for station improvements.
But the Congressional majority wouldn't have bought the concept then -- just as it steadfastly refuses to entertain the idea of a passenger rail-inclusive transportation policy now. - Bob Johnston