Best Amtrak CEOs

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

PaTrainFan

OBS Chief
Joined
May 1, 2017
Messages
503
Location
Pittsburgh, Pa.
There is much vitriol and gnashing of teeth aimed at the most recent two Amtrak CEOs, but how about about a new thread dedicated to discussion of the BEST Amtrak leaders? No need to further denigrate the worst of the worst, but let's keep it on a higher plain and discuss those CEOs who genuinely had the best interests of the traveling public and the railroad in mind. Of course given the ever-changing political winds over the years some have had their hands tied behind their backs, and "best" is a subjective word, but this ought to spark spirited discussions. There are enough "veterans" here who can provide meaningful perspective.
 

zephyr17

Engineer
Joined
Jul 22, 2009
Messages
5,160
Location
Washington State
Moorman and Boardman are my favorites!
Moorman made the right noises but wasn't there long enough to have an impact, aside from the hiring of the disastrous Anderson. Moorman had the potential to have been a good CEO, but he bailed really quickly.

Boardman did a decent job with what he had and wasn't out to take a hatchet to the LDs. Can't compare to Claytor, though.
 

crescent-zephyr

Engineer
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
3,868
Moorman wasn't there long enough to have an impact, aside from the hiring of the disastrous Anderson.

Boardman did a decent job with what he had and wasn't out to take a hatchet to the LDs. Can't compare to Claytor, though.
What did Claytor do?

I know what he did for the steam program but not really sure what he did for Amtrak (I was riding amtrak in those days but I was very young! Ha)
 
  • Like
Reactions: Cal
Joined
Mar 20, 2009
Messages
9,735
Location
x
From a purely passenger-friendly point of view, with extensive passenger railroading innovation and experience, Paul Reistrup was the best. Where he fell short, was his inability in dealing with Congress and political experience in general. That was where Claytor excelled. He was pro-passenger, and had mastery of the political process. David Gunn did wonders turning around the various transit agencies and Amtrak, but he was also not politically saavy.
In recent years, Boardman was fairly well balanced. Agree Moorman was not there long enough to really count, but was good in his brief tenure.

I won't comment on those I have little or nothing good to say about...
 

neroden

Engineer
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
8,663
Location
Ithaca, NY
Boardman was quite good.
Claytor was excellent except he left a mess for his successor. I can't make any other crititcism; he preserved and enhanced Amtrak during a period when passenger rail was actually declining in popularity. Most of the other Amtrak CEOs actually had the "wind at their backs", with constant rising passenger demand.

Reistrup and Gunn were both very good at running a railroad but not politically savvy.

So that's the four really good Amtrak CEOs.

Downs was the absolute worst by a country mile, probably followed by Anderson. Downs screwed up things which shouldn't be possible to screw up. So did Anderson, but Downs made a bigger mess. Downs also screwed up multiple other transit agencies in ways which shouldn't have been possible.

Boyd was also bad.

Warrington tried, while dealing with an impossible political situation, and the things he tried weren't actually disasters, though they weren't successes either, so I put him in the mixed category.

Hughes, Kummant, and Crosbie made no impression and frankly neither did Moorman. Flynn also hasn't yet.

Lewis is another mixed bag: most of his work was good, but he made probably the single biggest error in the history of Amtrak -- telling Congress that if they gave him several billion dollars he wouldn't know what to do with it.
 

Trogdor

Engineer
Joined
Aug 3, 2004
Messages
5,772
Location
Here
“Glide slope to self sufficiency” was a phrase actually used by George Warrington.
The earliest use of the phrase "glidepath to self-sufficiency" that I can find (per a Google search) appears in a document that was published several months before Warrington became CEO. Reference: https://www.oig.dot.gov/sites/default/files/tr1998095.pdf (page 2, paragraph above the bullet point).
 

jis

Engineer
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
29,192
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
The earliest use of the phrase "glidepath to self-sufficiency" that I can find (per a Google search) appears in a document that was published several months before Warrington became CEO. Reference: https://www.oig.dot.gov/sites/default/files/tr1998095.pdf (page 2, paragraph above the bullet point).
So I suppose Warrington accepted the job with the promise to carry out that mission. That is why the phrase is associated with him, even though OIG penned it during the Kummant regime.

Incidentally, I think David Gunn is given more credit than is appropriate. He virtually decimated the NEC Regional service with trains down to 4 and 5 cars all to make a point to Congress I suppose, and eventually got himself what amounted to "fired" in the process. He parked more than half the fleet of Amfleet Is. Hughes who was interim and did not achieve much and Kummant who was also a place holder for two years essentially, had to bear the brunt of bringing the fleet back on line. Can you imagine what the hue and cry would have been if more than half the Superliner Fleet was parked, considering what is happening with the SSL and such at present?
 

Trogdor

Engineer
Joined
Aug 3, 2004
Messages
5,772
Location
Here
So I suppose Warrington accepted the job with the promise to carry out that mission. That is why the phrase is associated with him, even though OIG penned it during the Kummant regime.
Downs regime. Kummant followed Gunn.
 

jimdex

Train Attendant
Joined
Feb 19, 2020
Messages
56
If I recall correctly, it was Claytor who suggested to Congress that if Congress provided a steady stream of capital, Amtrak could fund operations out of its regular revenues. While that promise probably won him some Congressional support, it was probably the origin of the "glidepath to self-sufficiency claim.
 

jis

Engineer
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
29,192
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
If I recall correctly, it was Claytor who suggested to Congress that if Congress provided a steady stream of capital, Amtrak could fund operations out of its regular revenues. While that promise probably won him some Congressional support, it was probably the origin of the "glidepath to self-sufficiency claim.
I think you are correct. Clator laid the seeds of future mayhem by suggesting something that was unrealistic. But that might have save Amtrak then and later at Warrington's time too from the know nothing Congress simply zeroing out Amtrak which they threatened many times, specially during Republican majority times.
 

lordsigma

Conductor
AU Supporter
Joined
Sep 15, 2017
Messages
1,335
I think Anderson was somewhat misunderstood. I don’t think he had a personal beef with long distance service - I think it was more he looked at trying to make Amtrak more like a business and I think Anderson and Gardner somewhat misjudged the backlash they’d get at cutting the SW Chief. I think they saw long distance realignment as a way to try to shift resources and equipment to corridor development rather than a principled dislike of long distance service (which lets admit corridor service is probably where Amtrak needs to grow.) I don’t think they wanted to gut every single LD route - I think they saw more a setup where you have a few experiential fancy long distance routes but outside of that focus on areas with the potential for corridor development. You also have to wonder if the idea of the SW Chief plan was to basically say to Congress - if you want us to keep running this route you need to cough up the dough to deal with this - otherwise here’s what we’re going to do this bus bridge. He came off like a jerk but, like him or not it worked and Congress coughed up a whole ton of cash. Anderson’s biggest problem is he didn’t know how to talk to the railfan community and came off harsh. Flynn certainly comes off better PR wise. Not sure you can totally blame Anderson for the f&b cuts because they started before (but certainly continued on) you probably have to blame Mica for that mostly. Not arguing that Anderson deserves a high place on the ceo list but I don’t think he’s necessary satan incarnate either. I don’t think it’s fair to just completely gloss over the nearly break even year Amtrak had before Covid.
 
Last edited:

NSC1109

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Aug 14, 2016
Messages
454
Location
MI
I think Anderson was somewhat misunderstood. I don’t think he had a personal beef with long distance service - I think it was more he looked at trying to make Amtrak more like a business and I think Anderson and Gardner somewhat misjudged the backlash they’d get at cutting the SW Chief. I think they saw long distance realignment as a way to try to shift resources and equipment to corridor development rather than a principled dislike of long distance service (which lets admit corridor service is probably where Amtrak needs to grow.) I don’t think they wanted to gut every single LD route - I think they saw more a setup where you have a few experiential fancy long distance routes but outside of that focus on areas with the potential for corridor development. You also have to wonder if the idea of the SW Chief plan was to basically say to Congress - if you want us to keep running this route you need to cough up the dough to deal with this - otherwise here’s what we’re going to do this bus bridge. He came off like a jerk but, like him or not it worked and Congress coughed up a whole ton of cash. Anderson’s biggest problem is he didn’t know how to talk to the railfan community and came off harsh. Flynn certainly comes off better PR wise. Not sure you can totally blame Anderson for the f&b cuts because they started before (but certainly continued on) you probably have to blame Mica for that mostly. Not arguing that Anderson deserves a high place on the ceo list but I don’t think he’s necessary satan incarnate either. I don’t think it’s fair to just completely gloss over the nearly break even year Amtrak had before Covid.
I would agree while nearing break-even is a good, breaking even via 1000 cuts is not the way to do it.

I would also agree that Amtrak needs to focus on their corridor expansion and use the data from there to evaluate potential additions to the LD network for a more “direct” routing. Overhauling the coach experience on overnight trains or introducing some sort of “economy” sleeper (return of the Slumbercoach?) could help to boost ridership on the overnight services.
 

crescent-zephyr

Engineer
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
3,868
Little off topic but someone needs to decide what Amtrak is.

Imho Amtrak’s responsibility should be long distance rail. If states want corridors, they have to pay for them (as they are in many places).
 
  • Like
Reactions: Cal

jis

Engineer
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
29,192
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
Little off topic but someone needs to decide what Amtrak is.

Imho Amtrak’s responsibility should be long distance rail. If states want corridors, they have to pay for them (as they are in many places).
The political consensus these days appears to be leaning in the other direction except when some Senator's ox is gored. At that point they focus exclusively on their own ox rather than on the entire landscape.
 

Deni

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
May 11, 2008
Messages
272
Little off topic but someone needs to decide what Amtrak is.

Imho Amtrak’s responsibility should be long distance rail. If states want corridors, they have to pay for them (as they are in many places).
I think the problem with that is it is not a way to get to a complete integrated national train system. There has to be a big picture and corridors are very important to the viability of the LD trains. If, say, Illinois stops paying for their corridor trains then you can no longer get to Champaign-Urbana from Chicago, then someone who lives in someplace like NYC or DC no longer has a train option for getting to U of I so they choose to fly, losing a customer for an LD train due to the lack of a corridor connection. I think the either/or mentality with "what is Amtrak's purpose" has to stop.
 

AMTRAK709

Train Attendant
Joined
May 6, 2021
Messages
39
Location
Columbus, GA
I just want to cast my opinion for best Amtrak CEO: Graham Claytor. I had the rare opportunity to meet him twice (once on board the Crescent; and the other when he was in Palataka FL when Amtrak got hauled into court of dumping waste into the St. John's River in Putnam County FL). He was a real "railroad" man with that additional understanding of the politics of the Capitol beltway. Again, in my opinion.
 
Top