For 35 years William Waring has been a Red Cap, helping people with their baggage at Washington's Union Station. He knows some travelers need help and he can't imagine railroad stations without people like him.
But Amtrak plans to do away with the Red Caps by next Tuesday, it was announced this week. This will leave the luggage-laden on their own at stations in the Northeast corridor between Washington and Boston.
"I don't see how they can do it," said the 64-year-old Waring lifting his burgundy-colored cap with the yellow braid and smoothing his thinning hair. "People traveling on trains going to have bags, they've got to. Old ladies, even men with two or three suitcases, they have to have some kind of help - a Red Cap or somebody - so I don't see how they can do it."
The railroad tradition of hustling, quick-walking Red Caps, giving a smile as they get a tip at a taxi stand or at the train door, is being done away with to save money, Amtrak said.
The decisions affects the 30 remaining Red Caps at 10 Amtrak stations between Washington and Boston, the most heavily traveled rail sector in the U.S.
Waring, now the head Red Cap at Union Station, said he remembers 20 years ago when Union Station alone had 200 Red Caps to serve trains that were streaming into the station every 5 minutes.
Women wrapped in furs and holding leashes to toy poodles would step out of the trains in the old days, he recalled, and there were famous politicians, movie stars and millionaires. The Red Caps - at least 18 to every train - would scramble and stretch to grab bags and load carts before rolling them to taxi stands, he said.
Cutting out the Red Caps should save $1.4 million in salaries and benefits as the railroad tries to absorb a $50 million cut in its federal subsidy, according to Amtrak spokesman Brian Duff.
The Red Caps are among 180 persons who will be losing their jobs at Amtrak because of cutbacks. But the Red Caps are the only persons whose jobs are being totally eradicated.
Earlier this month, Amtrak announced that it is eliminating 22 daily trains between Washington and Boston and raising fares on remaining trains.These and other moves also were dictated by the $50 million subsidy cut.
In a press release, Amtrak said the only alternative to eliminating the Red Caps is reducing the number of ticket clerks. It said this would mean "longer lines and more inconvenience to passengers as well as direct losses in revenue."
The national passenger railway system added in the press release that "it is possible to divert other station personnel, including supervisory personnel, to Red Cap type service for a portion of the time they work."
Besides losing 18 Red Caps, union Station will be losing one general supervisor, one supervisor of ticketing, three supervisors of station services, five gatemen, and two ticket clerks. Duff, the Amtrak spokesman, said persons keeping their jobs will have to help make up for the loss in personnel.
These and dismissals in other cities will save the railroad $3.3 million annually, Amtrak said.
The Red Caps, mostly black men, stood at the end of track "H" Wednesday night after it was announced that their jobs will be done away with. They talked about their jobs and damned the management's decision.
Until last year, the Red Caps consisted of black men only.
"They really need us as far as I can see," said George Lacy, who has worked for railroads for 25 years. His first job, which he worked at for 20 years, was with the Richmond. Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad as a train porter. He's been a Red Cap for five years.
"Seems to me its because of these kinds of things, no Red Caps, no dinner cars, luxuries that made it special to go by train, that people are always taking planes nowadays," he said.
Lacy, who lost his job on the RF/P because the railroad decided it could not afford train porters, does not think that the train porters, does not think that the train industry and all its jobs are dying.
"Trains come down and go back up," he said. "Right now it seems to me like people are riding them pretty good."
Lacy, who with Waring is among five older Red Caps at Union Station, does not know what he will do in the future! Both he and Waring have union senority and will be able to "bump" other Amtrak employees out of jobs elsewhere on the railroad. "The "bumping" will go until young men are forced out of their jobs with the company.
But some Amtrak workers said they do not believe Red Caps will be gone forever.
"There won't be service for the elderly or, for that matter, anybody," said Paul Donovan a general supervisor, "It won't last for a month.It can't."