WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden didn't want to be anywhere else Friday than helping his Amtrak family celebrate 50 years on the rails.
“I wouldn't have missed this for the world,” he said at Amtrak's station in Philadelphia, where he used the occasion to plug his $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal.
Biden rode Amtrak almost daily between Washington and his home in Wilmington, Delaware, during his 36 years as a U.S. senator. As vice president, he went home by train most weekends to visit his mother, who was ill, before she passed away.
“In the process, Amtrak became my family,” Biden said.
He told of how Amtrak once helped him get out of trouble with his daughter Ashley. It was his birthday and the 6-year-old had made him a cake, but was upset that he was in Washington because the Senate was voting and wouldn't get home for it.
Biden said he arranged to slip out between votes to catch an evening train home, where he quickly crossed the station platform to get on the next train back to Washington.
“I got off the train. My wife, Jill, was standing there, and my daughter had the cake, candle lit," Biden said. “I blew them out. Gave me a kiss. Walked across and got on the southbound.”
“So, it has been part of my life. I’ve been riding an Amtrak for almost as long as there’s been an Amtrak,” he said.
“He knew just about everybody that worked in the station and the conductors and other people and Amtrak folks who were on the train for those many, many years that he rode the rail,” Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn told reporters Thursday.
Flynn described Biden at Friday's event as one of the rail service's “most loyal customers.” Biden said he held annual Christmas parties for Amtrak employees and attended weddings, christenings and funerals for some of the workers he came to know over the years.
The Amtrak party was Biden's latest stop on a tour to sell the infrastructure, jobs and families plans he detailed in a nationally televised speech to Congress on Wednesday. He campaigned in Atlanta on Thursday and plans a stop in Yorktown, Virginia, on Monday.
The $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal would devote $621 billion to improving roads, bridges, public transit and other transportation infrastructure. Of that, $80 billion would go toward tackling Amtrak’s repair backlog, improving service along the Northeast Corridor and expanding service across the U.S. Biden said the Northeast Corridor is a critical part of the U.S. economy.
After Biden announced the plan, Amtrak said it would upgrade and expand service, including by adding 30 new routes and adding trains on 20 existing routes across the U.S. by 2035. New service would begin in portions of northeast Pennsylvania including Scranton, where Biden was born, as well as Nashville, Tennessee; Columbus, Ohio; Phoenix; Las Vegas; Houston; Dallas; and Austin, Texas, if approved by Congress.
Biden's lifelong association with Amtrak began soon after rail service launched in May 1971.
His first wife and baby daughter were killed in a car accident in Delaware, weeks after he was elected to the Senate in 1972. His young sons Beau and Hunter were seriously injured.
Biden considered not taking his Senate seat. But he ultimately took office and decided to go home every night to be with his sons — and Amtrak was the vehicle. He made the round trip every day the Senate was in session, for the 36 years he held the seat.
After he and Obama were elected, they rode an Amtrak train together into Washington for the inauguration in 2009. Biden rode it home in 2017 after their administration ended.
Biden also rode Amtrak during the 2020 campaign. He had wanted to recreate the 2009 train ride for his own inauguration in January, but those plans were shelved after the insurrection at the Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.
When he returned to Delaware in 2017, Biden estimated to CNN that he had taken more than 8,200 round trips and had traveled more than 2 million miles on Amtrak.
Amtrak renamed its Wilmington, Delaware, train station after Biden in 2011.
Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.