Amtrak hasn’t punched out yet

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Tools of the trade.

Score a win for AT&T. On recent train trip through California, I confirmed that Amtrak is indeed using a wireless bar code scanner to manage passengers, even if conductors haven’t given up their ancient badge of office, the ticket punch.

Confronted by a confused passenger who was certain he’d purchased an e-ticket but didn’t know quite what that meant, the conductor smiled and whipped out his new smart phone-sized gizmo. A couple of taps and he found the ticket.

“I love these things,” he said to no one in particular.

Turning to the next passenger, who had a genuine paper ticket, he pulled his punch off his belt and kept right on moving.

With happy passengers and crew and more room than a first class airline seat, an Amtrak trip up the California coast and through hidden hills and valleys is pure heaven. OK, so WiFi access isn’t universal yet and there are mobile broadband gaps. Who cares, when you have a stunning sunset and $5 cocktails in the club car?

Handheld computers help keep everyone smiling. But traditions die hard on the railroad, so I expect conductors will still carry ticket punches and skeleton keys a hundred years from now.

Mark Twain would feel right at home:

Conductor, when you receive a fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

Chorus:
Punch brothers! Punch with care! Punch in the presence of the passenjare!