Railway Post Offices—Catching and Delivering Mail Bags on the Fly

From the mid-19th to mid-20th century, the post offices of the United Kingdom, United States, and some other countries operated railway post offices to speed sorting and delivery of mail. Clerks in special post office cars would sort mail as the train was travelling along its route, picking up mail and dropping it for local delivery at stations on the way. Railway post offices were usually attached to fast passenger trains to expedite delivery time, but these trains did not stop at many local stations which were served only by local and regional trains. (Steam locomotives accelerated slowly, and each stop and start cost substantial time.) To provide service to these stations, a “catcher pouch” was used, which could be hung on an arm at the station and snagged from the passing post office car without slowing or stopping, while at the same time dropping pouches with mail for delivery in the station’s vicinity. In the U.K., this on-the-fly mail bag collection and delivery was used from 1855 through 1939.


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