What’s the Same in 2008 as in 1958?Posted: April 21, 2008
Back in October, I identified two things in our lives today which, against all odds, are unchanged in the last fifty years. Here’s another.
Intercity train conductors.
And thank God for them.
In this day and age, a system which requires a human to walk through a train car and physically take tickets—then put stubs into slots above the seats in order to signify who has produced a ticket, where he got on, and where he’s getting off—then walk through at each new stop to check the stubs and collect tickets from new passengers who don’t have stubs yet—then remove stubs from above the seats where previously-boarded passengers have detrained—seems antiquated. Surely there must be a “better” way! But can you think of one? I can’t.
Not only that; I can’t think of any other solution that would work at all, if railroads are not to let passengers ride free at will.
A typical Amtrak run—say, the one that starts in Washington and ends in Boston, with stops in Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, New York, and Stamford—during which any given car contains a mix of passengers who boarded in any of these several cities and who are destined for any of them—creates the possibility for no other solution than the train conductor. He is unchanged since 1958. Essentially, he is unchanged since 1858!
And every Amtrak train conductor I’ve ever met has been a thorough professional, well-trained in his work, friendly and helpful to passengers. In 2008, how remarkable is that? He, or she, provides one remaining contact with humanity in this increasingly dehumanized world.
Someday, someone may invent an electronic way to do what the train conductor does today. I hope that day does not come until after I’m dead.
When it comes to train conductors, I am “all aboard.”