Thinking Small.

The Rail Passengers Association has been around for almost 60 years as an advocate for more, better and faster passenger trains. The typical RPA member is pretty much like me: an old  guy. Wait! Let me amend that:  The typical RPA member is a cranky old guy. And I understand that. There’s plenty to be cranky about. 

For instance, a few years back, Amtrak stopped providing printed timetables for sleeping car passengers. Guys like me really use those timetables. At every stop along the way, we’d know if the train was running late and, if so, by how much.

And I liked the little gifts that sleeping car passengers found in our 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. All these years later, we  raise those very same glasses at least once a year in a toast 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 wooden 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’s a ceramic cup bearing the Amtrak logo. It’s from another Amtrak trip some time ago . . . either the Southwest Chief or the California Zephyr.

It sounds corny, but I appreciated those little  gifts and accepted them for what they were: small tokens of Amtrak’s appreciation for our decision to take the train instead of American Airlines. And I still have three coffee cups and both champagne glasses. And the coaster.

I know, I know . . . I can hear Amtrak’s chief bean-counter complaining that those damn tchotchkes  probably cost two or three dollars each. He says they saved thousands of dollars a month when they stopped giving away those damn timetables . . . more than that when they stopped giving away all those coffee mugs and coasters.

What he doesn’t understand is, when they stopped giving passengers timetables and those coasters, that’s when Amtrak stopped saying “Thank you for riding with us.” 

It was short-sighted, too, because just a couple of bucks added to the cost of the ride would never have been noticed and would have paid for those little extras and bought a lot of good will, too.

But that’s what happens when the bean counters are running things.