That summer, Senator Biden had been selected as Senator Barack Obama’s running mate for the presidency, which meant that the Delaware resident had spent a few weeks on the campaign trail instead of making his usual commute between Wilmington and Washington, D.C. In 2014, Biden estimated he had made that round trip 210 days a year during his 36 years as senator—almost 8,000 Amtrak rides in all.
“You’re like family,” a New York Times reporter heard Biden tell one Amtrak employee as the senator got off the train in Delaware.
Though Biden rides the train less frequently now, Amtrak Joe has been inextricably linked with the passenger rail service, in good ways and in bad. That Biden embraced the train rather than, say, a 1981 Trans Am is a potent and oft-cited symbol of his middle-class background. He’s also spoken to the environmental advantages of train commutes. Based on his own 2014 travel estimates, Salon calculated that the vice president saved 476 tons of carbon dioxide by choosing the train rather than a car.
Amtrak certainly needs Biden’s help. Small government conservatives have long supported legislation that would see Amtrak broken up and privatized. In the days after the May 2015 derailment, House GOP members passed legislation to cut Amtrak’s budget by $242 million. Meanwhile, the passenger rail service can’t even afford critical service updates—like revamped tunnels that would speed up service and reduce delays in the heavily trafficked northeast.
A President Biden might have led an Amtrak renaissance. "He knows more about Amtrak than anybody else running for president," AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Ed Wytkind said in an interview with The Hill in September.
But Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he isn’t running for president. And so dies that transportation-infrastructure dream.
"In previous cycles, not counting 2008 when there actually were some candidates talking about infrastructure, [transportation] has been a non-issue [among presidential candidates]," Wytkind told The Hill.
"The people running for president are inheriting the biggest infrastructure deficit in history with no way to pay for it," Wytkind continued. "This is probably going to be one of the two biggest headaches for any new president."
Amtrak’s issues go deeper, perhaps, than what a President Biden could have accomplished in four years. But who will speak for the rails now?