• on Jul 16th, 2012 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 2 comments
    The U.S. Postal Service has a long and storied history of moving mail on rail dating from the beginning of the railroad industry in the early 1800s. Mail was sorted on trains and Post Offices and processing facilities were located near rail stations. Many innovations and changes to rail, including the very development of modern freight rail service, were closely tied to the movement of mail. Today, however, the Postal Service meets its surface transportation needs almost entirely by using trucks owned by highway contractors. By contrast postal competitors and many others have taken advantage of the dramatic changes in the rail industry in recent years and greatly expanded their use of rail, realigning their networks with the nation’s railroads. The Office of Inspector General’s new paper Strategic Advantages of Moving Mail by Rail studied this rediscovered opportunity and found: • Shifting a portion of mail volume to rail without changing the overall transportation network could save $100 million per year. • If the Postal Service made an even greater commitment to rail, altering its network, it could realize even greater savings. • The use of intermodal rail can contribute significantly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting the Postal Service’s environmental goals. • Because of its lesser sensitivity to fuel price increases and greater control of its own infrastructure, rail transportation has major, long-term strategic advantages over highway. Rail transportation meets the needs of the Postal Service’s competitors and has become the industry standard for long distance surface transportation. Where the use of rail would allow it to meet service standards, should the Postal Service give it another try? Let us know what you think.
  • on Nov 7th, 2011 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 18 comments
    U.S. Postal Service Mail Transport Equipment (MTE) consists of specialized containers such as sacks, pouches, trays, hampers, over-the-road containers and pallets. Although the Postal Service does not maintain a perpetual inventory of its MTE, a 2010 audit indicated approximately 359 million pieces in the system of 400 processing facilities, over 30,000 post offices and thousands of mailers nationwide. Proper MTE management and availability ensure the safe, secure, and timely movement of mail between Postal Service facilities and its customers or contractors MTE may be used only to transport mail, and borrowers of MTE (such as private mailers) are responsible for its proper use and return. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Over the past few years Postal Service has experienced a significant loss of plastic and wooden pallets. Since fiscal year 2005 the Postal Service has spent over $240 million on close to 19 million plastic and wooden pallets, many of which can no longer be accounted for internally or externally. Realizing the significant cost of leakage of MTE from its inventory, the Postal Service has studied both the movement of MTE as well as ways to reduce leakage. As a result of its precarious financial condition and a freeze on all information technology initiatives, two technological initiatives to better track MTE have been shelved. The Postal Inspection Service has been proactive in both reaching out to the public on this issue, and investigating MTE theft and misuse. The Inspection Service has an ongoing national MTE recovery initiative to locate misappropriated and misused MTE, especially pallets. What do you think about the MTE situation? Is there a cost-efficient way to track MTE? What else should the Postal Service do to reduce leakage? What are your experiences using plastic or wooden pallets? Give your comments below. And if you know of any pallets or other MTE being misused or taken from the system, contact the OIG Hotline, which accepts confidential and anonymous complaints. This topic is hosted by the OIG’s Transportation Directorate.
  • on Sep 5th, 2011 in Mail Processing & Transportation | 5 comments
    The U.S. Postal Service has aggressively moved to reduce costs by consolidating its processing network and realigning its delivery facilities. However, it has essentially eliminated rail transportation, which is the least costly way to move mail long distances. During the recent economic downturn, railroads invested heavily in infrastructure to improve service. Private industry shippers of time-sensitive materials have responded to these improvements by shifting volume from highway to rail. UPS (the largest rail customer in the U.S.) attempts to put any package traveling over 750 miles on rail. JB Hunt, one of the Postal Service’s largest highway contractors, has shifted a substantial freight volume to rail and now earns more than one-third of its overall revenue from intermodal rail transportation. The potential benefits to the Postal Service are clear. Rail is a less expensive and more environmentally friendly transportation mode compared to trucking. Recent estimates show that intermodal rail service can improve fuel efficiency by about 3.5 times relative to highway tractor-trailer service. In addition, rail gives the Postal Service more capacity flexibility as this mode can operate one-way, while highway transportation must be purchased in round-trips. Since Postal Service volumes tend to flow from north to south and east to west, utilizing rail would avoid the cost of paying for empty or near-empty trucks on the return trips. Rail is also far less susceptible to the weather interruptions that can wreak havoc on highways. The shift to rail, however, is not without its drawbacks. On average, rail is slower than highway transportation. It would also require greater monitoring and pre-planning and complex decision-making by management. For example, the Postal Service would need to choose when to dispatch to rail yards versus alternatives such as dispatching a highway trailer to a network distribution center or other consolidation points. Although it would require some additional efforts, the potential savings to the Postal Service of converting from highway to rail could be tremendous. While concerns related to speed of service moved the Postal Service almost completely away from rail, other shipping companies are embracing rail with vigor. This blog is hosted by the OIG’s Risk Analysis Research Center (RARC).

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