All aboard! Biden to help Amtrak mark 50 years on the rails

Pennsylvania

Biden’s appearance in Philadelphia, his third visit to Pennsylvania while in office, comes as he marks his first 100 days as president

In this Sept. 30, 2020, file photo, then-Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden boards his train at Amtrak's Pittsburgh Train Station in Pittsburgh.

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden, once a regular Amtrak rider, is set on Friday to help the nation’s passenger rail system celebrate 50 years of service.

As a U.S. senator, Biden was a fixture on Amtrak trains between his home in Wilmington, Delaware, and Washington, D.C., when the Senate was in session. He continued riding Amtrak as vice president. He has sometimes been referred to as “Amtrak Joe.”

But with a presidential train trip unlikely because of security concerns, Biden instead will fly to Philadelphia for Amtrak’s celebration at its busy 30th Street Station. He is to be introduced by a conductor who worked the route when Biden was a regular passenger, while the next generation of Amtrak’s high-speed Acela train, scheduled to enter service next year, will be on display.

“He knew just about everybody that worked in the station and the conductors and other people and Amtrak folks who were on the train for those many, many years that he rode the rail,” Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn said of the president.

“He regularly engaged with them and knew quite a bit about them, and I think that’s why he was anxious or willing to be part of our 50th anniversary,” Flynn said.

Biden’s appearance in Philadelphia, his third visit to Pennsylvania while in office, comes as he marks his first 100 days as president. It also follows his speech to Congress on Wednesday, when he outlined his $2.3 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan and previewed some $1.8 trillion in proposed spending on education, child care and other family needs.

The Amtrak party will be Biden’s latest stop in a post-speech tour to sell the infrastructure, jobs and families plans. He campaigned in Atlanta on Thursday and plans a stop in Yorktown, Virginia, on Monday.

The infrastructure proposal would devote $621 billion to improving roads, bridges, public transit and other transportation infrastructure. Of that, $80 billion would go toward tackling Amtrak’s repair backlog, improving service along the Northeast Corridor and expanding service across the U.S.

Amtrak said after Biden announced the plan that the corporation would upgrade and expand service, including by adding 30 new routes and adding trains on 20 existing routes across the U.S. by 2035. New service would begin in portions of northeast Pennsylvania including Scranton, where Biden was born, as well as Nashville, Tennessee; Columbus, Ohio; Phoenix; Las Vegas; Houston; Dallas; and Austin, Texas, if approved by Congress.

But while the $80 billion represents a significant investment, the money would not go far in terms of funding high-speed rail. Amtrak has estimated that it has a $31 billion repair backlog for its trains in the Northeast Corridor alone, and transportation analysts say adding new lines in that region could easily use up the funds that remain.

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