A Bit of Amtrak History.

(The following is from my book, All Aboard–The Complete North American Train Travel Guide. This excerpt is about Graham Claytor, former head of Souithern Railway, who became president of Amtrak in 1982.)

First and foremost, W. Graham Claytor Jr. was a railroad man. On every Amtrak trip he took, he was known to “walk the train” relentlessly, looking for the smallest out-of-place detail. But Claytor also proved to be a skilled politician. Already respected by his peers, he soon came to be viewed in the same way by members of Congress as well. Many of them felt a good deal more comfortable about continuing federal support for Amtrak with the no-nonsense former president of Southern Railway in charge. Unlike most of his predecessors, Claytor was able to speak from experience and with authority. And to the disbelief of many doubters, under his leadership, Amtrak actually began to deliver.

A shape-up program at Amtrak, begun by Claytor, would continue all through the 1980s. Training improved for employees and despite elaborate procedures required by union contracts, those with unsatisfactory performance records were gradually weeded out. 

Claytor knew, as the railroad barons of a century before knew, that what passengers remember most about a long-distance train ride was having a good meal in the dining car. And so, little by little (when you’re habitually underfunded, there’s no other way), plastic was replaced by china and the quality of food served in Amtrak diners rose to more-than-acceptable standards.

Graham Claytor was a hands-on leader who took a personal interest in every aspect of the Amtrak operation. Many an Amtrak passenger, who had written a letter of complaint about some lapse in service, was surprised to receive a personal letter from Claytor himself, assuring him that within 24 hours the matter would be addressed.


In the late 1970s, my wife was treated rudely by one of the dining car servers on the Silver Meteor and I wrote a letter to Amtrak Customer Relations reporting the incident. Ten days later I received a letter of apology on behalf of Amtrak and reporting that the food server in question was no longer an Amtrak employee. That letter was signed by Graham Claytor.