Alan Boyd, former Illinois Central and Amtrak president, dies at 98 (updated)

Trains Industry Newsletter
Get a weekly roundup of the industry news you need.
By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine. View our privacy policy.
Alan Boyd
TRAINS collection

Alan Boyd, a former president of the Illinois Central Railroad and Amtrak who was the first U.S. Secretary of Transportation, has died, the New York Times reports. Boyd was 98.

Boyd became IC president after leaving Washington, serving as the railroad’s president from 1969 to 1972. In a 2016 interview with the Eno Center for Transportation, he remembered that as a difficult period punctuated by two major rail tragedies — a 1971 derailment of Amtrak’s City of New Orleans that killed 11, and a horrific 1972 collision of two IC commuter trains in Chicago that killed 45 and injured 332.

“That was not a happy time, because we had the Amtrak [accident], and then we had two trains run through the computer in operation [a block signal failure], killed forty people,” Boyd said. “I was wondering, what the hell am I doing in this business?

Boyd was Amtrak’s third president, elected to the position in April 1978, serving until succeeded by W. Graham Claytor Jr. in June 1982. He arrived at a difficult time, as funding was curtailed under the Carter Administration, but his IC experience brought railroad experience and institutional knowledge into the company. He arrived as the passenger railroad was receiving its first Superliner cars; during his time as president, Amtrak ordered 150 Amfleet II cars, began operating the Crescent as Southern Railway exited the passenger business, and completed its conversion to head-end power for all equipment.

Current Amtrak President and CEO Bill Flynn hailed Boyd's importance to Amtrak and passenger rail.

“As the first Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and later as president of Amtrak from 1978 to 1982, Alan Boyd championed safety, the development of an integrated, multi-modal transportation system, and consistent federal funding for intercity passenger rail service to realize its full potential,” Flynn said in a statement. “By his emphasis on ensuring employees gained the training they needed and standards were adjusted to new business demands, Mr. Boyd left us after four years in a much stronger position than when he arrived.”

In a 1982 interview with the Washington Post as he left the Amtrak job, Boyd suggested Amtrak’s public subsidy was a reality that was unlikely to change, and had no problem with that.

“I don't see any particular reason why rail passenger service should operate without public support,” he told the Post. “We have any number of programs in this country which deal with the redistribution of wealth in the public interest. Subsidy represents a judgment by the government that the expenditure of this money is in the public interest.”

Boyd had been instrumental in the creation of the cabinet-level Department of Transportation under Lyndon Johnson, the Times reports. As undersecretary of commerce for transportation, he led the group that wrote the bill creating the agency, and was confirmed by the Senate as its first secretary without opposition. He served until Richard Nixon became president in 1969.

He also had significant involvement with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, serving as chairman of the private organization dedicated to saving historic sites. The organization at one time offered a paid internship, and then a fellowship, named in his honor.

Boyd was born in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1922. He received a law degree after initially flunking out of college, served as a C-47 pilot in World War II, and served as chairman of the Civil Aeronatics Board. His final job was as North American president of European aircraft manufacturer Airbus Industrie. He died Sunday at a retirement home in Seattle.

— Updated at 4:30 p.m. with statement from current Amtrak President and CEO Bill Flynn.

Leave a Comment
Want to leave a comment?
Only registered members of are allowed to leave comments. Registration is FREE and only takes a couple minutes.

Login or Register now.
Please keep your feedback on-topic and respectful. Trains staffers reserve the right to edit or delete any comments.


The Genesee & Wyoming 

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy
Subscribe Up To 58% off the newsstand price!
Subscribe To Trains Mag Today