The nation’s train-rider-in-chief visited an Amtrak maintenance shop in his home state Monday to tout $16 billion in projects to improve rail service in the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s busiest line in the country.
“We’re announcing a historic investment in America’s railroads. I’ve been talking about this for a long time, I know. But finally, finally, we’re getting it done,” President Joe Biden said at Amtrak Mechanical Services in Bear, Delaware, just a half hour from his namesake train station in downtown Wilmington. “More than $16 billion dollars ― 16 with a ‘B’ ― billion dollars.”
Biden was famous for his daily commute from there to Washington, D.C., and back over the three decades that he was a U.S. senator. Most members of Congress maintain residences in the capital, but Biden says he spent some three hours each day on the train so he could be with his children each night before bed.
“Amtrak wasn’t just a way to get home to family. The conductors and engineers became my family,” Biden said. “I’d have a major event in my home every year, [with] all the conductors and engineers from New York on down to Washington when I was Vice President.”
The money for Amtrak upgrades, $66 billion in all, was included in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package Biden pushed through Congress in 2021. It includes funding for several major projects along the Boston to Washington, D.C., stretch, the busiest corridor in the country with 800,000 daily riders.
Among them is a new tunnel beneath the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey. Biden said the existing tunnel still has seawater from superstorm Sandy in 2012, which continues to damage both concrete and electrical equipment.
Another is a new tunnel in Baltimore, replacing one built in the 19th century, which has both a sharp curve and an incline that forces trains to slow to 30 mph.
“Ulysses S. Grant was president when that tunnel was built,” Biden said.
“We’re trying to make train travel easier, faster, safer, more reliable. They’re trying to make it slower, harder and less safe,” Biden said. “You can’t make this stuff up, but that’s okay. We’re not going to let them stop the progress we’re making. I promise you that.”
Biden said a renewal in train travel in the United States in the coming years could rival Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s rural electrification program and Dwight Eisenhower’s interstate highway system, dramatically reducing carbon emissions by taking millions of cars off the roads. He pointed out that the U.S. still has a ways to go to match the fastest trains in other countries, some of which travel twice as fast as Amtrak’s 125 mph maximum because of outdated track.
“Think about it: Why in the United States of America do we not have the best rail system in the world?” he said.