Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a 2014 Amtrak locomotive unveiling in Philadelphia. AP/Michael Perez

When Vice President Joe Biden announced he would not be running for president, Washington lost its most visible passenger rail advocate.

Say goodbye to dreams of President Joe Biden, Amtrak advocate-in-chief.

In September of 2008—two months before he would be elected vice president of the United States—Biden made his return to Amtrak. We know this because enthusiastic reporters were allowed to crowd into the then-senator’s passenger car. And the reporters were enthusiastic because Biden, or “Amtrak Joe,” was (and is) well known for his love for passenger rail.

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.

Senator Joe Biden rides the rails with reporters in September 2008. (AP/Gerald Herbert)

“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.

But Biden has also been asked to answer for Amtrak’s failings. In May of 2015, when a train derailment killed eight people aboard Biden’s favorite Northeast Regional route, the vice president was prompted to give his own statement.

Biden, left, with Amtrak engineer Rick Stolnis, center, and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, right, in 2014. (AP/Matt Rourke)

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.

Vice President Joe Biden with wife Jill Biden and President Obama Wednesday, after announcing he would not be running for president. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

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?

Joe Biden whispers to an Amtrak cafe car server in September 2008. (AP/Gerald Herbert)

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