President Joe Biden urged Congress to revitalize Amtrak as part of his plan to rebuild infrastructure, calling train service essential to the economy and environmental protection as he recognized the 50th anniversary of the U.S. passenger rail system.
“For years I fought efforts to cut funding for Amtrak because cutting funding for Amtrak would be a disaster for our environment and our economy,” Biden said Friday at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. “We have to invest.”
Increasing spending on trains, he said, could lead to faster and more efficient transportation between scores of U.S. cities, including Washington and New York. He said that adjustments to “three curves” on the route between the two cities could reduce travel time to an hour and 32 minutes, and also indicated support for the proposed Gateway rail tunnel under the Hudson River.
“Imagine a two-hour train ride between Atlanta and Charlotte going at speeds up to 220 miles per hour,” he said, and “faster trips between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, a route I imagine could be pretty popular on Fridays.”
The president’s sweeping $2.25 trillion infrastructure package would provide the passenger rail system $80 billion to upgrade and expand service.
Biden is a well-known Amtrak passenger who picked up the nickname “Amtrak Joe” due to 36 years of daily commutes on the rail system between his home in Delaware and Washington, when he served in the U.S. Senate.
“Amtrak wasn’t just a way of getting home,” Biden said, recounting several stories from his travels, including large parties he hosted for the train service’s employees. “It provided me, and I’m not joking, an entire other family.”
He continued to take the train occasionally as vice president. But security requirements of the presidency forced him to fly to Philadelphia, rather than ride the rails.
Biden’s trip to Philadelphia is part of a nationwide tour by the president and other administration officials to boost popular support for spending plans that Biden laid out in a Wednesday address to a joint session of Congress.
Biden held a rally Thursday in an Atlanta suburb and plans to travel Monday to Yorktown, Virginia. In addition to the infrastructure and jobs proposal, Biden detailed a $1.8 trillion measure on education, child care and family leave.
Biden’s infrastructure plan would dedicate $621 billion to improve roads, bridges, railways and public transit. The Amtrak funding -- long sought by the beleaguered rail system -- would go toward clearing its multibillion-dollar repair backlog, speeding up service in its busy Northeast Corridor and expanding routes across the country.
After the plan was announced, Amtrak said it would create 30 new routes and add trains on as many as 20 existing routes over the next 15 years. Cities that have no Amtrak service -- including Las Vegas; Nashville, Tennessee; Phoenix; and Columbus, Ohio -- would get it if Congress approves Biden’s plan.