the assistant conductor is often assigned to look after the rear
portion of the train.
Finally, and this brings us back to the issue of gender once
again, if the assistant conductor happens to be female, many pas-
sengers assume that she has little or no responsibility other than
taking tickets. Not so. She takes the same tests, meets the same
requirements, and must have the same knowledge of railroad
operations. Usually the only real difference between the two jobs
is length of time on the job.
These are the folks who look after the comfort of passengers on
all of Amtrak's long-distance trains. There are no train attendants
on short-haul trains or on trains that may cover a lot of distance
but don't operate overnight.
Note that the correct term is train attendant or car attendant
and not porter . It's not a major issue with most people, but in the
minds of some, porter is a term that carries with it a reminder of
another time. Its origins date back to the days when virtually all
sleeping cars were manufactured, owned, and operated by the
Pullman Company and only black males were hired to staff those
cars. The jobs were highly prized, especially during the Great
Depression, and those who got them took justifiable pride in the
quality of their work. Not surprisingly, however, a good deal of
latent racism came with the territory. It became the unfortunate
custom for many passengers to call every porter “George,” after
the company's founder, George M. Pullman. Hearing that every
day from passengers who neither knew nor cared what their por-
ter's given name was had to be a humiliating and dehumanizing
experience for many of the Pullman porters and, it seems to me,
accounts at least in part for the passing of the term. Incidentally,
that bit of history is one of the reasons Amtrak has made a point
of providing all employees with name badges.