All Aboard the RMS


With long distance rail travel about as necessary as drafting your letter on an Underwood typewriter these days, the railway mail service (a.k.a. RMS) is all but forgotten about by most modern people. But for many railway history aficionados, the RMS remains a significant part of the post office’s past; one worth paying tribute to.


Considering the times during which the RMS thrived, it makes sense that our desire to pull mail-dedicated train cars was substantial. As a matter of fact, many rail lines that were unprofitable in terms of filling passenger seats would make their money back and then some just by including a single railway post office (RPO) car.


Read on to learn about the RMS, then check out our stamp collector supplies page!


Why a Railway Mail Service Anyway?


For speed. The post office did two things that would change the speed of delivery around the same time. The first was the introduction of the RMS, of course. Secondly, they put their best staff members to work on them. With highly skilled sorters and clerks doing their job in real time while the train moved, the speed of delivery couldn’t be paralleled. That was, until the Curtiss Jenny helped take mail airborne—then the post office was really flying!


Later on, the post office would apply the same idea to mail trucks through its HMS (highway mail service) program, which turned out to be less successful than the RMS.




At a certain point, the RMS provided almost half a billion miles of service on an annual basis. It existed for over a century. But why was it so successful? As it turned out, the idea of sorting mail on the moving trains, rather than at a centralized location, was very efficient for the time, and virtually guaranteed next-day delivery—an unheard of idea back then.


People who wanted to ensure quick delivery could use the train station as their post office, and drop letters in a slot on the side of the RPO car as it pulled into the station, as if it were the mailbox outside the standard post office.




Of course there isn’t a need for the RPO in 2017, but the program dwindled long before today. As we approached the mid-20th century, and by 1967 the Post Office Department cancelled the program entirely—switching first class service to be carried by air. At its height, the RPO existed on nearly 10,000 train routes, which accounted for big profits for the train companies that pulled those cars. When the program ended, so did the profits for many of those lines, and the termination of the RPO directly caused several passenger routes to shut down due to lack of profitability.

Although the RMS is no more, our top-notch stamp album inventory isn’t! Head on over to our online store to see all we have to offer.