The Problem? Thinking Small.

On one of my first long-distance overnight train rides—I forget where we were going—the on-board service crew included a Chief of On Board Services, an Amtrak employee in white shirt and tie, grey slacks and a navy blue blazer. His job was to supervise all the other on board Amtrak employees and assist passengers with whatever their needs night be. 

Amtrak dining cars in those early days had a steward in charge. He or she  wore a blue blazer, greeted patrons as they entered the diner, and ushered them to a table and passed out menus.

Both these two staff people helped to create an atmosphere that added—there’s no other way to describe it—a touch of class to a long-distance train ride. Alas, the chiefs and the stewards are long gone.

So, too, are the little gifts that sleeping car passengers found in their rooms when we boarded one of the long-distance trains. On the Silver Meteor—this was probably 30 years ago—my wife and I found a small chilled bottle of inexpensive champagne and two long-stemmed glasses waiting for us in our bedroom when we boarded. We  still have those very same glasses and raise them at least once a year when we welcome the New Year.

Every morning when I take the first sip of coffee at my desk, I set the cup on a wood and felt coaster bearing the Coast Starlight’s logo . . . a souvenir gift left in our room when we boarded the train in Seattle probably 25 years ago. And that coffee is in a ceramic cup bearing the Amtrak logo . . . that’s from another Amtrak trip some time ago.

I know, I know . . . I can hear the Amtrak bean counter complaining that those damn coffee cups cost more than four bucks apiece and they’re giving away one in every roomette and bedroom on every departure of the Coast Starlight.  He says they can save $5,400 a month if they just stop giving away those damn coffee cups!

But those coffee cups keep reminding me of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight every day, day after day, month after month . . . and all it cost the railroad was a one-time cost of four bucks a person.  Why not just raise the fare by four dollars? It’s a small increase, no one will notice because fares fluctuate, and the coffee cup promotion is more than paying for itself.

Alas, that’s not the way the cost-cutters think.