While coach cars provide the accommodations passengers need for a rail journey, there has to be a place onboard to store their checked baggage, since not all of a traveler’s luggage can be carried onto the train and stored in the overhead racks. This is where the baggage car comes into play. Some baggage cars also had a Railway Post Office (RPO) in part of the car, because, until 1967, most mail being shipped by the United States Postal Service was moved by rail. These were called combine cars or just “combines.” Combines also may be a “coach-baggage” combine. These were largely used on branch lines due to the lower number of passengers on those lines, especially after the automobile became more common.
In the streamliner era, most railroads used the same type of rolling stock as and painted their baggage cars to match the rest of the consist.
The railway Express Agency was the railroad equivalent to today’s FedEx or UPS. In which they handled express packages until the 1970’s, which is when they went out of business.
Baggage cars, like the rest of passenger train travel in the United States, experienced a serious decline in use starting in the 1950’s and continuing through the 1960’s. The end of mail and express service by passenger train was largely completed in 1967. By the time Amtrak was created in 1971, there was little need for baggage cars, but Amtrak still continues to use them on most of their long distance trains. In fact, Amtrak recently replaced all their “Heritage Fleet” baggage cars with new ones through an order for Viewliner II’s placed in 2010. The baggage cars were fully delivered by late 2015. Amtrak also ordered 10 “Baggage-Dorm” combines, so they could free up additional sleeper capacity on some long distance trains for revenue passengers, capacity of which was formerly being used for crew accommodations. These were delivered in the past few years.