Will ‘Amtrak Joe’ give us Passenger Trains once Again?
By Alise Jarvis
Passenger trains have almost become a thing of the past. In an age where the emphasis has shifted away from railroads, many have left passenger trains behind. Rarely do people travel by train today; instead, they tend to opt for travel by car or by airplane.
Joe Biden however, has chosen to faithfully ride the Amtrak train for decades, earning himself the title, “Amtrak Joe”. His loyalty to passenger trains has prompted questions regarding his plans for Amtrak should he win the presidency in November.
Since he began his travels via Amtrak in 1972, Biden has spent over 2 million miles on board. This is equivalent to four years of his life. When recounting his time spent commuting to work each day by railroad, Biden stated, “[Amtrak] has provided me another family entirely—a community of dedicated professionals who have shared the milestones in my life, and who have allowed me to share the milestones in theirs.”
In 1970, Nixon created the National Railroad Corporation, which allowed companies to shut down their passenger trains. NRC gave Amtrak the responsibility of seeing the passenger train network continue into the future. After they inherited all the routes, they had to determine the minimum required to keep passengers boarding their trains.
After cutting away 50 percent of the routes, they began refurbishing their cars and repairing their rail-lines. It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Amtrak over the following years, however, for it has faced many challenges.
While the government has issued money to Amtrak, the rail company hasn’t had enough to make all the needed repairs. Additionally, they have faced multiple budget cuts over the years. For example, in 2017, Trump halted the $13 billion federal spending plan that Obama had put in place. Obama had created this plan to allow Amtrak to repair the bridge on the New Jersey to New York track. This route alone serves 600,000 people each day.
While in certain areas Amtrak is doing fairly well, in others, the company has found difficulty in maintaining ridership. Amtrak trains were running out of steam before COVID-19 hit the US, but have since found themselves faced with increasingly lower ridership. According to Amtrak officials, the company has found itself forced to furlough over 2,000 of its workers. Additionally, if Amtrak doesn’t receive emergency funding by December, another 2,400 workers will have to be laid off.
When this news reached the ears of “Amtrak Joe,” he tweeted, “It’s safe to say I’ve gotten to know the hardworking men and women of Amtrak over the years—I’m proud to stand with them as they face furloughs due to funding cuts. These essential workers have kept us moving during this pandemic—now it’s time we have their backs.”
Biden voices his support for Amtrak and their employees, but if elected president, will “Amtrak Joe” do anything for them?
With election day fast-approaching, this is the question on the minds of many voters. While Joe Biden’s campaign has not directly stated what Biden’s plans are concerning Amtrak, the spokesman for the campaign, Matt Hill, has been reported to have stated, “A President Biden will step up for Amtrak’s workers.”
Based on past precedent, this statement appears to be one we can trust. Throughout his years in D.C., Biden has stood up for Amtrak. He had opposed the budget cuts proposed during the Reagan-era and has resisted the movement by George W. Bush to privatize the trains. Additionally, he has aided Amtrak in receiving a $2 billion loan for them to use on their trains and stations.
The main modes of public transportation in our society today are buses and airplanes. But despite this, Biden appears to wish to resurrect railroads. He has stated that he would “spark the second great railroad revolution.”
Initially, the National Rail Passenger Corporation would need to be funded to get back onto its feet. Despite this, the hope is that someday it would become independent again, no longer needing government aid. Biden has stated, “I look forward as much as anyone to the day when Amtrak states that it no longer needs any assistance.”
We can’t know for sure yet what steps he will take to preserve and aid Amtrak. However, we can look at his track record to see that he wouldn’t simply watch the passenger rail system collapse.
Since 1972, Biden has been a loyal passenger on board the train from DC to Delaware, causing notice from the employees who work his route. A retired Amtrak conductor, Gregg Weaver stated, “Every café car attendant up and down that corridor knows him. He didn’t care whether you were carrying a briefcase or a lunch pail, he had time for you.”
With more modern modes of transportation, trains appear to be becoming antiquated. There is still a chance that with the right funding and a leader who cares about the passenger railway system, it could live to see the light of another day.
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