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These illustrations show some of the most common styles of RPO equipment. Cars of these general types can be found on railroads throughout North America.
The full 60' RPO car is used for main line operations where maximum volumes of mail must be handled. The sacks of mail are piled in bins at either end of the car and sorted in the central area. General mail is thrown into sacks held in metal frames along the car walls, while Special Delivery and other priority mail is sorted in the central bays.
When the volume of mail is especially large, a storage mail car may be coupled at either end and used for additional storage capacity - the sacked mail being carried to and from the central working RPO car. The crew of a 60' working RPO car may number as many as a dozen.
A 30' RPO/express car, such as this, is a general purpose car used on many local runs to provide delivery services from the working express car and local RPO service to towns along the route.
Note that the express and RPO compartments are separated. The first class sorting table has been turned and placed across the back wall of the RPO compartment. On the express car side: this is a working express (which has a messenger assigned) so the facilities include a desk for record keeping, a toilet and a safe for valuable shipments. The express parcels are stacked on shelves (called "fish racks") along the car sides, or - in the case of something bulky - it can be left standing in the isle and tied down with rope to prevent shifting.
Each compartment is leased by their respective agencies, who provide their own crews. The 30' RPO compartment will have a crew of up to 6 and the 40' express compartment will have 1 or 2 express messengers.
These 70' shorty RPOs are a relatively uncommon design used for lightly populated branch lines. Note that the express compartment has grown enormously: as the small towns and villages this car serves are highly dependent on express delivery service. The 15' RPO and the express compartment will each have a crew of 2-3. A lot of these are seen in the South.
This is a more typical design for a light branch line RPO/express car, with each compartment being 30' long. Crews will be 3-4 RPO clerks and 1-2 express messengers (with the slower pace that branch line trains set, the smaller RPO crew will have plenty of time to handle their sorting tasks).
Another, more typical, example of shorty RPO/express cars for light branch line duty - this one with more emphasis on express capacity. Often, a local passenger train will consist of a 4-6-0, one of these short RPO/expresses, a coach, a few freight cars and a caboose. Crew is 1-2 RPO clerks and 1-2 express messengers.
These are typical designs for 60' and 70' cars. RPO and express equipment is built is small batch lots, and minor variations of number and placement of windows, size and location of freight doors, underbody details, etc., are common. Each road will have its own specifications for head end equipment, and most of their head end equipment will have common design features.
Common feature distinctions include turtle vs monitor roof, location, number and size of express doors, and underbody detailing. These cars will ride on either 4 wheel or 6 wheel trucks, depending on the weight of rail, speed and standardization by the owning railroad.
Refer to "Free Downloads" for a summary of Pullman car types.
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North East Rails © Clint Chamberlin.