For $2,900 -- $2,100 to charter the Amtrak coach and $800 for the catering -- Westcon, a New York City distributor of computer-network hardware and purveyor of network technical training, bought itself four uninterrupted hours of access to several dozen of its customers, potential customers, and trade-press journalists.

Chartering the train wasn't just a lark. All those people had to get from Manhattan to Boston for an industry trade show, anyway. So six-year-old Westcon, which had sales last year of more than $30 million, made the trek a promotional event. In one part of the car, Westcon instructors finished the second half of a daylong training course that had started in New York City earlier in the morning. "We called it 'Training on the Train,' " says Bruce Hanson, vice-president of educational services, "and sent out invitations that looked like boarding passes."

Renting the Amtrak coach was cheaper than throwing a dinner party. What's more, it had some practical purposes -- not just training, but transportation as well -- and it was unique.

"We were trying to establish that we are more innovative than the competition," says Hanson, who plans to put another Westcon training train on the tracks this fall to Washington, D.C. -- Tom Richman