Obama Builds Rail Cred With Biden Pick

bilde.jpgBarack Obama’s standing as an advocate for investment in US commuter rail looks to have gotten a boost with his selection of Joe Biden as his running mate. Whereas John McCain is the Senate’s sworn enemy of Amtrak, his colleague from Delaware is known as a "Champion of the Rails." Notes Daily Kos diarist MissLaura (via George Washington University):

Biden commutes to work each day on Amtrak and has been a strong
supporter of the beleaguered rail service. He is an original
co-sponsor of the Amtrak Reauthorization Bill (National Defense Rail
Act), S.104, introduced on January 7, 2003. Introducing an earlier
version of the bill with Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-SC) on March 6, 2002,
Biden stated, "For 30 years, I have witnessed Congress dangling a
carrot in front of Amtrak’s eyes, funding it just enough for it to limp
along. And I’ll tell you, this has to stop.  Now is the time to commit
politically and financially to a strong, safe, and efficient passenger
rail system." Biden has been particularly concerned with rail
passenger security, and has, in the words of communications director
Norm Kurz "worked furiously" to secure funding for Amtrak to upgrade
its tunnels, hire more cops and bomb-sniffing dogs, build more fences,
and add lighting to terminals.

Amtrak president George Warrington presented Biden with a "Champion
of the Rails" award in June 2001 and the American Passenger Rail
Coalition (APRC), a national association of railroad equipment
suppliers and rail businesses, presented him its "Rail Leadership
Award" in March 2002.

As Matthew Yglesias (and MissLaura) points out, Biden’s son serves on the Amtrak board. (R. Hunter Biden is the only Democrat among current Amtrak board members. He was appointed by fellow Yalie George W. Bush to fill a seat vacated by Michael Dukakis.)

So well known, or well publicized, is Biden’s affiliation with Amtrak that it’s already become a point of ridicule for Beltway media types. Undeterred, before heading to this week’s Democratic National Convention in Denver, Biden made an appearance at the Wilmington station, which he has passed through each day for the last 35 years, to greet workers and passengers.

Photo of Joe and Jill Biden at Wilmington Amtrak station via Delaware News Journal 

  • Shemp

    I’ve seen Biden a couple of times on evening trains heading north out of D.C. One Friday night there were also a few House members from the Phila area hanging out with him.

  • I was very excited to learn that Senator Biden is a regular rider of Amtrack. This will give the new administration great credibility in pushing for new and creative ways to fund and build public transit in our metro regions. This is way to important to stay on the back burner, and Senator Biden can be powerful voice in the national conversation.

  • I don’t think that Washington Post article is precisely “ridicul[ing]” Biden for riding Amtrak – they’re just pointing out the potential for it to become a broken-record point about him like 9/11 is for Rudy.

  • Okay, it’s great that Biden cares about improving Amtrak, but I find this part less-than-thrilling:

    “Biden has been particularly concerned with rail passenger security, and has, in the words of communications director Norm Kurz ‘worked furiously’ to secure funding for Amtrak to upgrade its tunnels, hire more cops and bomb-sniffing dogs, build more fences, and add lighting to terminals.”

    Yes, better lighting would be nice, but I’ve personally had enough of giving up my civil liberties, time, and convenience in the name of security while the Bush administration continues to make the world more dangerous for everyone by waging his oil wars in the Middle East. If this means I will now have to have my belongings x-rayed and submit to a humiliating routine where I have to remove half my clothes just to board the train to Albany, I will be pissed.

  • Right Josh. Hence “or well publicized.”

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Well Urbanis, this security focus is not unique to Biden. All transit agencies, the entire economy in fact has mined security in every conceivable way, up to and including Bush’s re=erection campaign in 2004. What is wrong with AMTRAK getting a piece of the action? Glad he did it.

  • We want funding that improves transportation, not funding that directly makes it worse. There is plenty wrong with “getting a piece of the action” when that is what it entails, unless your only concern is seeing money go into the organization. (And that may be your only concern Nic, but it isn’t defensible policy.) Our existing rail system doesn’t have that much going for it, and to undermine one of its biggest advantages over air (privacy and predictability), because some rubes still have unfocused jitters, is inexcusable. If we’re going to supposedly have enlightened leadership on transportation from Biden I expect him to realize we have bigger problems than terrorism to solve in surface transportation. (Oh, yes we do.)

  • Tim Gillespie

    Biden has long recognized that fuel efficiency offers the most immediate and largest potential for reducing our dependence on foreign oil and reducing CO2 emissions from the transportation sector over the next few decades. But he has been frustrated by the likes of Senators like John McCain who fight funding Amtrak at every step in the process.
    There are a number of transport emissions reduction policy measures that Congress could pursue, but the one that will have the most immediate impact is the one that will demand more from those modes of transportation that are currently the most fuel and carbon efficient—like passenger rail.
    Even Bush’s Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratories says, intercity passenger rail is 17 percent more efficient than air travel and 21 percent more efficient than auto travel. Today, our transportation policy makers place entirely too much emphasis on those modes of transportation that significantly contribute to our dependence on foreign oil and the emission of greenhouse gases.
    Maybe Biden can help change our focus.

  • Steven Reed

    I worked for 15 years and had people help from all across the state concerning getting rail service from St. Louis to Springfield and Branson and on the Tulsa. Last year in Missouri the highway department tried to convince the State Legislature to help get funding for Amtrak from Stylus to Branson and on. They say it will help relieve traffic on interstate 44 and help drivers have other options. Rolla, Lebanon, Springfield, Branson and many other cities could benefit from the economic development it could bring

    Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden has spent many years promoting the idea that additional routes will increase traffic in general on Amtrak. . What about those gas prices? If Biden becomes vice president he will bring more Rail Passenger Service to Missouri and the United States.


    Steven L. Reed
    1441 South Estate Ave.
    Springfield, MO 65804


  • It’s been a long time coming but it looks as if Amtrak is going to receive the kind of support it should have been getting from the start. If the new President wants to create jobs, save energy and cut down pollution then a serous investment in train travel makes good sense.



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