Time was, you could go to a train station in the UK, hand over a parcel (or a suitcase when I did it) and it would arrive at another station the same day. Someone in this new location could then happily trip out to collect whatever you’d sent. Back in the 1980s, this was lightning speed.
The service was called Red Star, and it was run by British Rail. The parcels — or suitcases — went on scheduled passenger trains. Express delivery indeed. It was great. I used it to send my stuff to university instead of trying to get on the train with it all myself.
The service is no longer with us. British Rail was sold off (quite often to the state-owned transport concerns of other nations; the Arriva network in Wales, for example, is operated by the German government’s Deutsche Bahn).
Red Star was one of the bits the government tried to sell first although no-one wanted it. It went eventually to a management buy-out, then it got bought by Lynx Express, who in turn were swallowed up by UPS.
Perhaps the vanishing of Red Star was inevitable. After all, instead of one national network, we now have an interlocked series of private passenger train companies. Why would one company be interested in another rail company’s parcel (or suitcase)?
If you go along to Brighton station, however, the ghost of Red Star lives on in the sign outside (as does the BR logo). It’s just a ghost, though, like Rediffusion, or Post Office Telephones, neither of which exist any more, either. If you go inside, there’s no parcels desk. Like other markers on our city streets, it’s a reminder of one of the things we just had, which we don’t any more.