President Joe Biden took planes, automobiles – but not trains – to Philadelphia to mark Amtrak’s 50th anniversary on Friday.
The president, who earned the nickname ‘Amtrak Joe’ during his Senate career, stood in front of a new Acela train outside of 30th Street Station and gushed about his ‘family’ of train workers while warning cuts to the service ‘would be a disaster for our environment and our economy.’
‘I want to tell you these guys, women they work like the devil. They really, really, really do. And Amtrak wasn’t just a way of getting home, it provided me – and I’m not joking – an entire other family,’ Biden said at a speech attended by real members of his family, his granddaughters Finnegan and Maisy.
‘We’ve shared milestones of my life and I’ve been allowed to share milestones of theirs,’ he continued. ‘I’ve been to an awful lot of weddings and christenings and unfortunately some burials as well. We’re family.’
He pitched what $80 billion – the number in his American Jobs Plan he’s proposed for Amtrak – could do for rail travel in the U.S.
‘Imagine a two-hour train ride between Atlanta and Charlotte, going the speeds of 220 miles an hour, and a two and a half hour trip between Chicago and Detroit,’ Biden said. ‘Or faster and more regular trips between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, a route that I imagine could be pretty popular on Fridays.’
President Joe Biden speaks at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station Friday to mark Amtrak’s 50th anniversary
A new Acela train is on the track behind President Joe Biden as he speaks in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Friday
President Joe Biden (cdenter) arrives at an Amtrak event in Philadelphia alongside granddaughters Maisy (left) and Finnegan (right). Maisy is wearing a vintage Joe Biden t-shirt
Maisy Biden’s t-shirt had a photograph of her grandfather, President Joe Biden, when he was 26 years old
President Joe Biden talked about his Amtrak ‘family’ at a speech Friday, but his real family tagged along too – granddaughers (from left) Maisy and Finnegan
Reporters sit and work on railroad tracks as President Joe Biden’s speaks at Amtrak’s 50th anniversary event
President Joe Biden, wearing a blue ballcap, steps off a Northeast Regional train car and walks to the podium Friday to deliver remarks
President Joe Biden (left) helps his granddaugther Finnegan Biden (right) off an Amtrak train car in Philadelphia on Friday
Biden said funding Amtrak would create jobs and help the environment.
‘Amtrak carries four times as many riders between Washington and New York City as every single airline does within 15 miles of the shore from Florida all the way up the coast,’ Biden said. ‘A single day without the Northeast Corridor, for example, would cost the economy $100 million. If you shut down all passenger service on the Northeast Corridor … you’d have to add seven new lanes of highway on I-95.’
Biden made the trek to sell his American Jobs Plan infrastructure bill – but also because the quasi-public railroad service is part of his political brand as the Delaware senator who commuted to Washington daily so he could kiss his kids goodnight.
He couldn’t resist telling some Amtrak anecdotes before getting to the meat of his speech.
‘The fact is, in the past when I’ve ended up in the 30th Street Amtrak Station , it’s probably because I took the late train back from Washington and slept through the Delaware stop, literally,’ the president recalled.
President Joe Biden’s staff was holding in an Amtrak cafe car during his speech Friday in Philadelphia
‘I only did it about four times,’ he added.
It’s a small number if either of his figures cited Friday were correct. He said a newspaper article had estimated he had taken 7,000 Amtrak round trips during his years in the Senate. He later quoted a former Amtrak employee who suggested he rode 1,151,000 miles on the rails.
‘I used to have a Christmas party for Amtrak employees at my home. It got so big we ended up having a summer party because family and retirees kept coming back,’ he recalled.
He said one year, when daughter Ashley was only six, she was upset because her father wouldn’t be home on his birthday to enjoy the cake she had made due to late Senate votes.
Biden said he approached GOP Leader Bob Dole with the problem.
‘I said well my daughter is really upset that I’m not going to be able to be home for the birthday cake she made for me,’ he said. ‘He said, “What do you need?” I said, “I need just time to catch the 5 o’clock metro and I can get the 6:28 coming back.’
That gave the then-Delaware senator enough time to meet his family on the Wilmington station platform.
‘I got off the train, my wife Jill was standing there. My daughter had the cake, the candle lit. I blew them out, gave me a kiss. I walked across and got on the southbound,’ he said. ‘So it has been part of my life. I’ve been riding Amtrak almost as long as there’s been an Amtrak.’
President Joe Biden (left) and first lady Jill Biden (right) arrive in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Friday afternoon where he’ll deliver remarks at Amtrak’s 30th Street Station
On a blustery Friday, President Joe Biden (left) and first lady Jill Biden (right) are seen walking off Air Force One at the Philadelphia International Airport
President Joe Biden (right) will take planes, automobiles – but not trains – to Philadelphia Friday to mark Amtrak’s 50th anniversary. Here he leaves the White House with first lady Jill Biden (center)
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden board Air Force One on a windy Friday. They’re traveling to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to mark Amtrak’s 50th birthday
Then Vice President-elect Joe Biden (left) and President-elect Barack Obama (right) wave to crowds on their Whistle Stop Train Tour from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. on January 17, 2009 – a trip they took in advance of inauguration
Then Democratic nominee Joe Biden (left) and wife Jill Biden (right) took Amtrak through parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania in late September as he campaigned for the presidency
Democratic nominee Joe Biden gets onboard an Amtrak train in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in September as he campaigned to win the White House over President Donald Trump
He wanted to ride Amtrak into D.C. before his inauguration, but the plans were scrapped for security reasons as the swearing-in happened just weeks after the Capitol riot.
That ride would have been an homage to the pre-inauguration train trip he took on January 17, 2009 with President-elect Barack Obama, with the Obamas picking up the Bidens in Wilmington, Delaware, where the Amtrak station is named after Joe Biden.
His most recent Amtrak trip came this fall, when as the Democratic nominee he took the train line through portions of Ohio and Pennsylvania after the first presidential debate.
Biden was introduced by a conductor who worked the route the president traveled when he was a regular passenger, Blake Weaver, whose father also worked for Amtrak.
‘One of my first lessons my father taught me as a conductor was to look out for one of Amtrak’s most frequent riders, Senator Joe Biden,’ Weaver recalled.
Upon first meeting, Weaver said Biden stopped what he was doing and made Weaver sit with him on the train for a chat.
I’d like to thank you for all the support you have given Amtrak. I’d like to thank you for all the miles you added up over the year,’ Weaver said. ‘I’d like to thank you for being part of the Amtrak family, I would like to thank you for being part of my family.’
Amtrak released a map that shows new service and enhanced service that would be possible if the $80 billion in Amtrak funds that are part of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan get approved by Congress
The next generation of Amtrak’s high-speed train, the Acela, was behind the president during the event.
Biden mentioned he had helped secure the funding for the new trains – all made in the U.S. – in 2016 before leaving office.
Biden’s infrastructure proposal gives $80 billion to rail.
The money would be used for repairs, to improve service along the highly trafficked northeast corridor and to expand service elsewhere.
The price tag for all transportation infrastructure stands at $621 billion, but Biden has signaled he’s more willing to work across the aisle on this bill than the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill he signed into law in March.
A Republican counteroffer for Amtrak funds stands at $20 billion.
Even with $80 billion Amtrak isn’t expected to make much progress enhancing high-speed rail in the U.S., which is currently limited to the Acela trains traveling the Northeast Corridor.
The service did say with the funds Amtrak could add 30 new routs and add trains to 20 existing routes by 2035.
New service could begin in places like Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Biden was born, the AP said.
Additionally routes could be added to Nashville, Tennessee, Columbus, Ohio, Phoenix, Arizona, Las Vegas, Nevada, as well as Houston, Dallas and Austin, Texas if green-lit by Congress.
Amtrak started service on May 1, 1971.
Biden started frequently riding the rails after being elected to the U.S. Senate in November 1972.
A month later his wife and baby daughter were killed in an automobile accident.
Biden decided to keep his Senate seat, but to commute to and from Washington so he could be there for sons Beau and Hunter.