I wonder how many of us who model passenger operations from the pre-Amtrak era model one of the important aspects of their operations. One of the most important aspects of a passenger train, at least to the accounting department, was the head end traffic. This traffic is the reason some passenger trains lasted as long as they did. Today, Amtrak is again looking to head end traffic to help the profitability of its trains, especially the long distance trains. The only differences now are that the cars are material handling cars and are at the end of the train because most do not have the necessary electrical connections to transfer power to the passenger cars to operate the heat, air conditioning, lights, and air circulation systems.
Prior to Amtrak, the passenger department relied on the head end traffic to supplement revenue from the paying passengers in order to keep the train in the black or increase its profitability. Head end traffic consisted of perishables such as produce, food stuffs, mail, and other high priority items. (Please note that milk ran in either head end traffic or it could run in solid dedicated milk trains.) Railway Express Agency (REA) used head end traffic to market the parcel delivery system which was the equivalent to UPS today. These items moved on the head end of a passenger train that had an established time schedule. This guaranteed the quick delivery of items that were time sensitive. In exchange for this high priority service, which was also somewhat more labor intensive, the customer paid a very high rate. This traffic earned the railroad a handsome profit.
Usually these cars would require movement from a specific area such as a post office center like the one in downtown St. Louis or produce row and would then be transferred to the head end of a specific passenger train. The railroad that owned the train received the profits. In addition, the railroad marketed this service and handled all negotiations for moving the high priority items. Sometimes a terminal railroad or other such transfer railroad would have to transfer the rail car from the shipper to the railroad.
These cars were then taken to the passenger terminal. There they were placed at the head end of the train and a hostler would then bring over the motive power to handle the train. Because these cars were at the head end they had to have steam lines and air lines in order to pass not only air but also steam to the cars behind the head end cars. The steam was used to generate both heat and air conditioning. These cars would then travel to their respective destination which was almost always a major terminal. It should be noted that on manned postal cars the clerks would sort the mail en route; kick mail out of the cars as intermediate destinations; and, grab mail sacks with the metal arm attached to the outside of the mail car. Other cars were not manned and no work would take place en route.
When the train would reach its destination, the local crew would remove the head end cars, ice them if they needed it, and sort the cars for their destination or to make a connection with another train. I know of at least one railroad which stopped the train outside the main yard for a sweeper crew to remove the head end traffic and ice it. This did not take place in the terminal but on the main track outside of the yard.
Mail contracts were very important to the railroads. Toward the end, the contract revenues deteriorated to levels which caused a loss. Other head end traffic also paid the bills. After the roaring twenties with the emergence of the car and the decline of passengers and passenger miles (a measure of revenue based on the number of miles a passenger was carried aboard a train) head end traffic provided a reason to keep the trains running. In fact, I have seen pictures of trains with large numbers of head end cars and as little as one coach.
These operations can be easily modeled in miniature. First, think about your major yard (provided you have one) and determine the traffic patterns for passenger trains between this yard and other parts of your rail empire. This will dictate head end traffic flow. Your destination may require certain products which would be handled by head end traffic. Does any industry or business near the yard require the use of head end traffic? If so, your marketing forces need to acquire the business and supplement the passenger income of your passenger trains. This even applies to Amtrak today.
If you do not have a large enough yard to justify head end traffic originate or terminate in it, you can simulate the activities associated with head end traffic. For instance, how about a mail drop or arm? The town can receive its mail in sacks. An excellent article appeared a few years ago regarding the distribution of mail into a soft sand area near the station. How about a quick stop to pick up milk? Surely there is something on your layout that can generate or receive some head end traffic. Think about it and see if you can add this entertaining aspect of railroading to your operation.