Joe Biden says he loves ice cream, aviators and Amtrak. But as incoming president, his love for the rail agency may be put to the test. Amtrak is facing a crisis.
The coronavirus has led to scores of riders abandoning its trains, causing huge drops in revenue.
The agency has cut back on service to America’s heartland. It has furloughed over 2 000 workers. If it does not get $2.8 billion (about R43.4 billion) in emergency funding by next month, another 2 400 employees could lose their jobs, Amtrak officials warn. High-profile projects across the country, including those in New York and New , are facing delays. All the while, Congress has stalled on approving any further relief, despite bipartisan support for the rail agency.
Biden is a longtime Amtrak rider and perhaps its most famous advocate but when asked about Biden’s position on Amtrak’s personnel cuts or reduction in service, the Biden campaign could not provide specific details. Matt Hill, a spokesperson for the campaign, said: “President Biden will step up for Amtrak’s workers.”
Amtrak is core to Biden’s personal and political identity. In 1972, one month before he was sworn in as a senator from Delaware, his first wife and infant daughter died in a car crash. He soon began a decades-long daily ritual of riding the train between Washington and Wilmington to fulfil a pledge to be home with his children every night, earning the moniker “Amtrak Joe”. As a senator, he was a staunch supporter of Amtrak funding.
As a presidential candidate, he relied on his love for the rail network to support his common man image with voters. In 1987, Biden kicked off his first presidential bid from the back of an Amtrak train. Last month, the day after his first debate with President Donald Trump, he chartered an Amtrak
train to talk with voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania on his “Build Back Better Express” tour.
Current and retired Amtrak workers have said Biden’s connection with the train staff during his 30-plus years as a rider exemplifies his personality. “Every café car attendant up and down that corridor knows him,”
Gregg Weaver, a retired conductor who worked on Biden’s train route, said. “He didn’t care whether you were carrying a briefcase or lunch pail, he had time for you.” Under Trump, Amtrak’s budget has repeatedly been on the chopping block.
In February, the White House proposed cutting its budget by half. Biden has said his administration would “spark the second great railroad revolution,” and move to electrify Amtrak trains. John D Porcari, who is a cochair of the Biden campaign’s working group on infrastructure, told media company Politico this month that a Biden administration might aim to not only restore Amtrak but expand it, creating new corridors that connect cities where airlines provide limited service.
That plan is similar to Amtrak’s own 2050 vision. “Under a Biden administration, short and long-term needs will get the attention they,” Oregon representative Peter DeFazio said. “They don’t call him ‘Amtrak Joe’ for nothing.”
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