It's not as if the railroads weren't trying. But no matter what they do, they still get stuck with a few passengers.
As any child who has tried to put Playskool people in a Lionel Train will tell you, passengers can ruin a railroad. Unlike airmail and other freight, they want to get to their destinations at certain times, they want to eat and drink along the way, and they complain when unhappy. Railroads have always known this, and since the advent of the airplane, they have felt free to drive people off the tracks.
The standard method - and a good one it is, too - is to keep raising fares and cutting services. Amtrak did that again just a week ago. But there is a natural limit built into that system, when you have to charge more than the cruise fare would be for the same distance, but can't collect it because there aren't any trains in service.
The most spectacular method of eliminating the passenger-pestilence was to abolish the railroad station. It cost millions of dollars to reduce Union Station into a series of closed windows hidden where nobody could be expected to find it, and just in case that didn't work, an enormous hole was dug into the area that unwary passengers would have to cross to get to tracks. It was a brilliant move, but it was not entirely successful. Sneaky train passengers walked around the hole, instead of falling into the trap, and managed to discover the trains.
Then Amtrak came up with another bold plan, which it had to drop because of the protests it evoked. But it did show the boldness with which the problem is being attacked.
It announced the abolishment of Redcap or porter service.
Redcap service is a fine railway tradition, dating back to 1896. It works like this: You carry your bags around and around the waiting room of the station, going from the Information Desk to a variety of tracks named for your train before it arrives. To entertain yourself as you wander, you play a game called Looking for a Redcap.
Then you carry the bag down the platform, where you see many porters. They are standing in the doors of train cars, and they courteously tell you to keep going and get the next car down. Finally, one agrees to accept you. He watches solicitously as you drag your bags up the narrow steps, and as a reward, he takes one bag from you for the last two steps, thus throwing off the balance you have achieved by dividing your luggage evenly.
He then places your bag at the end of the car, where you will not be able to watch it. But you are entitled to pick it up again yourself, carry it to your seat, and, as soon as the train jerks to a start, toss it to a rack two feet above your head.
At the end of the trip, the process is reversed. If you can get your bags near the door as the train comes into a station, the porter will toss them to you as you stand halfway down the steps.You may then carry them back up the platform and play Looking for a Redcap again, unless you are saving your energy to play Looking for a Taxi.
This smooth system will presumably continue, now that the porter service is to be retained. But Amtrak still has the problem of people wanting to take trains. Here are two suggestions for achieving that state, derived from great railway tradition.
1. Hire a man to walk through the cars during the trip, looking for people who are napping, and then shouting in their ears, "Peter Paul MOUNDS! Almond JOY!"
2. Revive the railroad sandwich: ham or cheese, with nothing else on the bread.