The U.S. Postal Service says it has contingency plans for the 5 percent of its mail volume shipped via Amtrak should the rail line follow through on a threat to stop operating if it doesn't get a $200 million loan by the end of June.
“We have redundant service to all of those places with things like surface trucking,” said Paul Vogel, vice president of network operations management at the USPS, “so if anything does go wrong with Amtrak, there are other opportunities to move mail.”
Most of the mail Amtrak handles is First-Class and periodicals that move along the Eastern corridor.
Amtrak president David Gunn said he was optimistic the loan would be approved and that the borrowed money would be repaid using a $1.2 billion federal subsidy Congress is expected to approve for the next fiscal year.
Vogel said that one way the USPS uses Amtrak is when there are shifts in mail flow.
“At certain times of the year we have more mail going from north to south, from Boston or New York to Florida, or the other way around, when all the snowbirds move,” he said. “So, rather than putting a truck into the system that is improperly utilized for a return trip, we will buy footage on Amtrak for one-way moves. It is a very good balancing tool.”
The printing industry also uses Amtrak regularly in conjunction with the USPS for shipping periodicals. For example, Brown Printing, Waseca, MN, sends about 20 percent of its periodical volume on Amtrak to as many as 70 USPS distribution centers nationwide.
“In a lot of cases, the post office has been able to reduce their costs as a result of using Amtrak because it buys rail usage for First-Class mail, and the periodicals mail rides in the space that they have already purchased,” said Frank Lynn, distribution manager at Brown. “It is an effective use of the space they have purchased.”
Lynn said that on average periodicals arrive in-house one to two days earlier when transported this way.
“We are anxious to see that this will be resolved for our customers' sake,” Lynn said, “but if it doesn't, we'll continue to give our mail to the post office. There are some inherent difficulties the post office will have due to the additional handling costs. They won't be able to take advantage of optimizing their volumes that they have purchased on those trains. And our customers may not get their mail as fast.”
Lynn, however, was confident that there would be no work stoppage.
“There is no way [Amtrak] is going to stop working.” he said. “Amtrak is very confident that everything will be worked out.”