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REA Baggage Car Restoration Picking up Steam

posted Jul 29, 2017, 10:20 AM by James Lilly   [ updated Jul 29, 2017, 10:33 AM ]

DCNRHS' Railway Express Agency (REA) cars are notable in their history in that they were Railway REA cars assigned to the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad (RF&P) railroad.  Much like the United Parcel Service today, REA  provided shipment of individual parcels, goods and money at higher than standard shipping freight rates, quickly, securely, and safety between parties in different parts of the country.  A shipper would take his package to the local railroad depot or REA office, pay the clerk, and the package would loaded on an express, mail, or baggage car to be hauled to its final destination as quickly as possible.  A package might change trains several times en route at intermediate points before being delivered to the recipient or picked up at the local depot.  REA was well known for its the red-and-white diamond herald.   REA, which was wholly owned by the railroads on which it operated and traces its roots back to the 1830s, went out of business in the 1970s.


DCNRHS' three REA baggage cars were built for the RF&) for use as mail and express service primarily between Washington, D.C. Richmond, VA. The RF&P, which was founded in 1834, was the most direct North South mainline route (114 miles) across the Potomac River from the Northeast to the mid-Atlantic., The "Richmond-Washington Line" as the RF&P was known for many years, hauled passenger and freight trains between the Chesapeake & Ohio, Atlantic Coast Line, and Seaboard Airline railroad terminals in Richmond and the Pennsylvania, Southern, Washington and Dominion, and Baltimore & Ohio railroad terminals and stations in the Washington, D.C. area, merged into CSX in the 1990s. Today the RF&P hosts numerous CSX freight trains and Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express passenger trains daily.


DCNRHS' three REA cars, numbered No. 171, No., 174, and No. 186, are heavyweight era cars built by the American Car & Foundry Company in the 1930s.  They typically would have run on the head end of passenger trains. They are about 70 feet long, 10 feet wide, have concrete and wood floors, double steel riveted walls, friction bearings, heavy under frames with three sets of wheels at each end, and multiple sets of doors on each side for the quick loading and unloading of parcels big and small.  When the cars were retired from REA service, RF&P used them in maintenance of way trains before donating them to DCNRHS in the late 1980s.

The project is to preserve and restore the exterior color and appearance of the three cars.  These cars, which are located at the DCNRHS siding in suburban Washington, D.C., are a critical part of our equipment program.  They provide storage and a workshop space that supports the restoration and operation of our three historic Amtrak qualified railroad passenger cars, including our 1923 Pullman Dover Harbor.

The project will use a combination of contract and volunteer labor.  We will clean and power-wash the car bodies and under carriages, scrape the car exterior, make repairs to weakened body panels, apply caulk to seal any exposed seams, and prime rusted metal.  Steel plates will be placed on the outside wooden doors to reinforce them and make them more secure.

Then the cars will be painted in a Pullman green color to match their appearance during operations during the early part of the 20th Century.  The undercarriages will be painted black as appropriate.  The roofs will also be painted or covered with roofing material to ensure their watertight integrity for years to come.  Each car will have its original RF&P marking number restored to its exterior on both sides in gold paint using the correct Railroad Roman Font.  small plaque in the interior of each noting that the UPS Foundation's support for the project.


We began the project this spring, installed the water connection, and already have over 100 volunteer hours invested in the project and expect to have over 500 before the project is completed. We hope to complete it before winter but will need funding and contract assistance to do so.  The contract labor will primarily support heavy sanding work, roofing, and assist with the final painting.  The project is being led, managed and directed by our Chief Mechanical Officer who is a professional public-sector project manager.

The total cost of the project, including volunteer labor valued at $15.00 per hour, is expected to be about $24,455.00. Donations toward the project will be cheerfully accepted.  We are also looking for volunteers to help complete the project.

To date, we have made good progress on the first car, which is almost ready to paint.  Below you ca see some pictures.

Volunteer Richard Walter works on scraping the exterior of the first car.

Original RF&P Markings on a truck frame. *uncovered by power washing)

Volunteers Wayne Poates & Bill White (on ladder)
work on cleaning and prepping the exterior of the first car.

Richard Walter and Donna Dolan scrape and prime the exterior of the first car.