|The Railway Express Agency came into being when the United States Railroad Administration nationalized the express |
businesses of Adams Express Company, American Express Company, Southern Express Company and Wells Fargo and Company
Express into the American Railway Express in 1917. Adams Express, American Express, and Wells Fargo Express each owned
one-third of American Railway Express until they sold the company to the railroads, who changed the name to
Railway Express Agency in 1929.
The Railway Express Agency was the cargo company of choice in its days. The REA had an arrangement with the railroads that
they moved the cars and provided terminal space at their expense. The REA paid its own expenses and divided the profit among
the railroads in proportion to the traffic. REA had to take everything including hazardous material and Class A, B & C
explosives. It was saddled with a lot of undesirable traffic that truck lines would not handle, such as auto mufflers, tailpipes,
ladders, rugs, etc. REA handled carloads of cattle, race horses, and trainloads of fruits and vegetables. Carloads of radioactive
material were moved on regular schedules for the Atomic Energy Commission. There was practically nothing that was not
handled at one time or another including circus animals. Many people of a certain age remember Railway Express as the best or
even the only practical means to move their large and bulky items. After World War II, express volume decreased substantially
but due to rate increases express revenues remained at profitable levels until the late 1950s. In 1959, REA negotiated a new
contract allowing it to use any mode of transportation, including truck rights, piggyback and container operations to allow
continued service after passenger trains were discontinued.
REA was sold to five of its officers and renamed REA Express in 1969, after several years of deficits. By then its entire
business constituted less than 10% of all intercity parcel traffic and only 10% of its business moved by rail.
REA sued the railroads and the United Parcel Service for various reasons and became involved in suits and countersuits with
the clerks' union, and the Civil Aeronautics Board terminated REA's exclusive agreement with the airlines for air express.
REA Express terminated operations in November 1975, filed for bankruptcy and began liquidation.
This was complicated by trials of some of its officers for fraud and embezzlement.