very first staff memo he complained about the appearance of the
reception area outside Amtrak's executive offices, directing that
thereafter the number of magazines permitted on the coffee table
would be limited to no more than four.
In putting together his team, Lewis surrounded himself with
other executives equally unfamiliar with the railroad business.
W. Graham Claytor Jr., the head of Southern Railway at the time
and himself a future Amtrak president, grumbled that “Amtrak
doesn't have a railroader above the level of trainmaster” and
dourly predicted that the new Amtrak brain trust (people Clay-
tor considered to be near-hopeless amateurs) would “screw it up
beyond . . . redemption.”
It took a while—organizing a coast-to-coast system of pas-
senger trains would be a monumental task under even the best
of circumstances—but on May 1, 1971, the first train to operate
under the Amtrak banner rolled out of Washington's Union Sta-
tion and headed north for New York City.
Off to a Rocky Start
An old Madison Avenue axiom says, “Nothing can kill a busi-
ness faster than great advertising.” Translation: If you create
demand for a product or service, it had damn well better meet
customer expectations. If it doesn't, the negative word-of-mouth
can destroy you. Amtrak stumbled into that trap in its early days
with the catchy advertising slogan, “We're making the trains
worth traveling again.” Unfortunately, they weren't.
From day one, Amtrak people found themselves with a main-
tenance and operations nightmare on their hands. Being saddled
with a variety of equipment collected from more than a dozen
railroads caused some nasty surprises. Employees often discov-
ered, for example, that the electrical systems in one or two pas-
senger cars of a train's consist were incompatible with the rest