A porter is a railway employee. The role of a porter is to assist passengers at railway stations, and to handle the loading, unloading, and distribution of luggage and parcels. In the United States the term was formerly used for employees who attended to passengers aboard sleeping cars, a usage unknown to British or Commonwealth English where such staff are known as attendants or stewards,terms which are also common in translation in non-English speaking European train travel.
The word derives from the Latin portare, meaning "to carry." Hence, in railroad use, the application to someone who carries baggage and parcels of passengers, among other duties.
Porters arose in the Traffic Department of early railway companies, as junior staff grades in most of the independent railway companies. Station porters handled passengers' luggage, assisted passengers to and from trains, carried out general cleaning duties in the station and on its platforms, and often assisted on ticket barriers and in booking offices as they advanced towards higher grades. Goods porters (also known as parcels porters) worked in the handling of parcels and packaged goods, especially in left luggage offices and in relation to parcels vans on trains.
Porters were, in most railway companies, the most junior grade of station staff, although some companies had the more junior position of station lad, usually held by a young unskilled and unqualified teenager, who would aspire to the role of porter after training.
A typical career progression would see a porter advance to become a head porter, then a ticket collector or booking clerk, which could in turn lead to the senior roles of assistant station master or station master. Other career progressions were also common on some railways. Research at the London School of Economics has shown (with particular reference to the Great Eastern Railway) how advances in rail signalling in the late Victorian era led to a shortage of skilled labour, with many unskilled porters advancing to porter signalman, and ultimately qualifying as signalmen.
Although porters are traditionally associated with railway stations, the role of travelling porter also existed on the British railways of the pre-grouping and Big Four era. Travelling porters travelled in the parcels cars of passenger trains organising luggage and parcels so that those required at any given station were always closest to the door upon arrival at that station. It was heavy manual labour, but was one of the roles taken over by female workers during the second world war.
In Australia, a railway porter had various roles, similar to those described above. A baggage porter assisted with luggage; an operating porter assisted with safeworking duties; a station porter assisted with general station duties; and as in British usage a lad porter was a junior station porter.
In the United States and Canada, the term "porter" has a somewhat different history and contemporary usage, than the rest of the world. Until desegregation had its effect in the United States in the 1960s, the occupation of porter was almost the exclusive province of African American and Black Canadian men. It was the Civil War policy of George Pullman, head of the Pullman Company, who wished to tap into a huge potential work force that was also non-unionized. This eventually changed with the organization of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters under the leadership of A. Philip Randolph. In addition to carrying passengers' baggage to their berth or room, porters also provided personal services, such as clothes pressing and shoe shining.
In 2019, writer Cecil Foster published the book They Called Me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada, a study of the history of Black Canadian train porters.
Early Black Canadian civil rights activist, Charles Daniels, worked as a porter supervisor for the CPR in the early 20th century. He launched a discrimination lawsuit for $1000 in 1914 when the Sherman Grand Theatre in Calgary, Alberta, Canada refused to honor his floor ticket on account of his skin color.
Although the role of porter originated in the United Kingdom, and continued after railway nationalisation, it went into decline by the 1970s, with the general station duties role taken by station attendants, and the role of carrying luggage largely abolished. In more recent times however, following the privatisation of British Rail, the role of porter has made a limited comeback, particularly at busy city stations and stations with high numbers of tourists and holidaymakers in transit.
In India red-jacketed station porters are common at almost all stations across the network. Although Indian railway porters are not employed directly by Indian Railways they are centrally trained and licensed, holding a licence issued in the name of the President of India,and their role is carefully regulated, with local services (such as porters' offices, lavatories, and canteens) provided by the railway company. Their role is the traditional luggage-carrying job at railway stations.
In the United States the term porter had the somewhat different meaning of a member of staff attending to passengers on board trains, particularly in sleeping cars, a role known as steward in most other countries. The American term is now obsolete, "attendant" being preferred.
A train is a form of rail transport consisting of a series of connected vehicles that generally run along a railroad track to transport passengers or cargo. The word "train" comes from the Old French trahiner, derived from the Latin trahere meaning "to pull" or "to draw".
The sleeping car or sleeper is a railway passenger car that can accommodate all passengers in beds of one kind or another, primarily for the purpose of making nighttime travel more comfortable. George Pullman was the American innovator of the sleeper car.
A conductor or guard is a train crew member responsible for operational and safety duties that do not involve actual operation of the train/locomotive. The conductor title is most common in North American railway operations, but the role is common worldwide under various job titles. In Commonwealth English, a conductor is also known as guard or train manager.
A railroad car, railcar, railway wagon, railway carriage, railway truck, railwagon, railcarriage or railtruck, also called a train car, train wagon, train carriage or train truck, is a vehicle used for the carrying of cargo or passengers on a rail transport system. Such cars, when coupled together and hauled by one or more locomotives, form a train. Alternatively, some passenger cars are self-propelled in which case they may be either single railcars or make up multiple units.
First class is the most luxurious and most expensive travel class of seats and service on a train, passenger ship, airplane, bus, or other system of transport. Compared to business class and economy class, it offers the best service and most comfortable accommodation.
Founded in 1925, The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) was the first labor organization led by African Americans to receive a charter in the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The BSCP gathered a membership of 18,000 passenger railway workers across Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Beginning after the American Civil War, the job of Pullman porter had become an important means of work in the black community in the United States. As a result of a decline in railway transportation in the 1960s, BSCP membership declined. It merged in 1978 with the Brotherhood of Railway and Airline Clerks (BRAC), now known as the Transportation Communications International Union.
Pullman porters were men hired to work on the railroads as porters on sleeping cars. Starting shortly after the American Civil War, George Pullman sought out former slaves to work on his sleeper cars. Their job was to carry passenger's baggage, shine shoes, set up and maintain the sleeping berths, and serve passengers. Pullman porters served American railroads from the late 1860s until the Pullman Company ceased operations on December 31, 1968, though some sleeping-car porters continued working on cars operated by the railroads themselves and, beginning in 1971, Amtrak. The term "porter" has been superseded in modern American usage by "sleeping car attendant", with the former term being considered "somewhat derogatory".
A combine car in North American parlance, most often referred to simply as a combine, is a type of railroad car which combines sections for both passengers and freight.
The Superliner is a type of bilevel intercity railroad passenger car used by Amtrak, the national rail passenger carrier in the United States. Amtrak ordered the cars to replace older single-level cars on its long-distance trains in the Western United States. The design was based on the Budd Hi-Level vehicles, employed by the Santa Fe Railway on its El Capitan trains. Pullman-Standard built 284 cars, known as Superliner I, from 1975 to 1981; Bombardier Transportation built 195, known as Superliner II, from 1991 to 1996. The Superliner I cars were the last passenger cars built by Pullman.
The Super Chief was one of the named passenger trains and the flagship of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. It claimed to be "The Train of the Stars" because of the various celebrities it carried between Chicago, Illinois, and Los Angeles, California.
A passenger car is an item of railway rolling stock that is designed to carry passengers. The term passenger car can also be associated with a sleeping car, a baggage car, a dining car, railway post office and prisoner transport cars.
A skycap is a porter employed at an airport and provides the following services to airline passengers:
A car attendant is a railroad employee placed in charge of a single coach, sleeping car, or lounge car on a medium-to-long-distance passenger train.
The Night Ferry was an international boat train from London Victoria to Paris Gare du Nord that crossed the English Channel on a train ferry. It ran from 1936 until 1939 when it ceased due to the onset of World War II. It resumed in 1947, ceasing in 1980. It was operated by Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits until 1977 and then British Rail.
The George Washington was a named passenger train of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway running between Cincinnati, Ohio and Washington, D.C. A section divided from the main train at Gordonsville, Virginia and operated through Richmond to Phoebus, Virginia. From the west, a section originated in Louisville and joined at Ashland. The train began service in 1932 to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of the first president of the United States.
The Tennessean was a named passenger train jointly operated by the Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W) and the Southern Railway (SR). Inaugurated on May 17, 1941, its route ran from Washington, DC, to Lynchburg, Virginia, on the SR, then on to Bristol, Tennessee, on the N&W, terminating at Memphis Union Station via the SR. The St. Louis Southwestern Railway inaugurated a new passenger train, the Morning Star from Memphis to Dallas, specifically to provide close connections with the Tennessean at Memphis.
The Challengers were named passenger trains on the Union Pacific Railroad and the Chicago and North Western Railway. The economy service ran between Chicago, Illinois, and the West Coast of the United States. The trains had full Pullman service and coach seating and were an attempt to draw Depression-Era riders back to the rails. Food service was advertised as "three meals for under a dollar a day."
The Cascade was a passenger train of the Southern Pacific on its route between Oakland, California, and Portland, Oregon, with a sleeping car to Seattle, Washington. The Southern Pacific started the train on April 17, 1927, soon after the opening of its Cascade Line between Black Butte, California, and Springfield, Oregon.
The Gull was an international passenger train service between Boston, United States and Halifax, Canada which operated from 1930 to 1960. Journey time was approximately 24 hours. Westbound trains left Halifax shortly after breakfast and crossed the Canada–United States border in the late evening, as eastbound trains were leaving Boston's North Station to cross the border about dawn. Travel was over the Boston and Maine Railroad from Boston to Portland, Maine, then over the Maine Central Railroad to the border between Vanceboro, Maine, and Saint Croix, New Brunswick, then over the Canadian Pacific Railway to Saint John, New Brunswick, and over the Canadian National Railway to Halifax.