SINCE May 1, Amtrak has banned smoking on all of its short- and medium-range routes (although, interestingly, it hasn't banned drinking). As a result, the nation's passenger train service has learned something of the Law of Unintended Consequences: It is stranding hundreds of smokers on station platforms.
Smokers who board trains with time to spare are wont to step out on the platform for a few last precious puffs. (After all, most train rides are longer than most plane rides.) But Amtrak conductors years ago abandoned the practice of yelling "All 'board!" or "Board!" just before the train pulls out of the station. The doors simply close, and the train takes off.
A smoker we know missed the Metroliner from New York to Baltimore on Memorial Day. She was four feet from her car, when the doors suddenly closed and the train moved away -- bearing her jacket and luggage. She hammered on the train and shouted, to no avail. Fortunately, Amtrak personnel got her on a later train and radioed ahead, so that eventually she and her bags were reunited. She was told then that she was not alone, that many other smokers were paying the price for a last drag. While they were out for a quick smoke, a couple in the Midwest missed a train carrying their two children.
Vehement anti-smokers, of course, will say that the Amtrak addicts are getting exactly what they deserve. But that's awfully cruel. It wouldn't cost much for the financially strapped line to ring a bell to announce a departure. Better yet, bring back the "All 'board!" It's a nice railroad tradition that shouldn't have to go the way of the caboose.