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Biden: Both a Rider and 'Champion' of Amtrak

By now you've probably heard that Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), Barack Obama's vice-presidential pick, is such a homebody and all-around anti-D.C. guy that he rides Amtrak back and forth to Delaware every day when Congress is in session. But Biden isn't just one of the passenger rail system's most famous commuters, he is also one of its biggest supporters in the Senate.

"He's right up there," said David Johnson, deputy director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. "I'd say in the top 5 [in the Senate] for sure. I can definitely say he's the biggest user."

Amtrak is critical to Delaware's economy -- the state is currently the only one in the nation with no commercial air service -- so all three of its members in Congress are big backers of government funding for rail. Fellow Delaware Sen. Tom Carper (D) may actually play a bigger legislative role than Biden, since Carper serves on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. But Biden has certainly done enough advocacy to win the hearts of the pro-Amtrak community, even earning a "Champion of the Rails" award from Amtrak's president in 2001.

"Senator Biden's voting record is very clear in support of Amtrak," Johnson said. "Both his votes and his words have backed that up over the years, and we are certainly pleased that he was selected to be the vice presidential candidate."

Biden even has a family connection to Amtrak. As Capitol Briefing wrote in today's Washington Post, the vice presidential pick's older son, Beau Biden, is the Delaware state attorney general who some view as a potential inheritor of his father's Senate seat. But his younger son, Hunter Biden, is a lobbyist and the vice chairman of Amtrak's Board of Directors, having been nominated to a five-year term in the post by President Bush in 2006.

Papa Biden is an original co-sponsor of the Amtrak reauthorization bill, known as the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007, versions of which have passed both chambers and are now awaiting a conference committee. Biden is also a regular signatory to letters calling for increased funding for the service, which is always a target for cuts by conservatives and other critics (including John McCain).

Johnson warned that an Obama-Biden victory wouldn't necessarily translate into an avalanche of federal funds for Amtrak, pointing out that Al Gore was a big booster of passenger rail when he was in Congress, "and yet some of the biggest cuts in service came during the Clinton-Gore administration." So Amtrak fans won't be counting on a bright new dawn even if Biden wins the vice presidency.

"As Jerry Maguire said, 'Show me the money,'" Johnson said.

Speaking of money, let's get back to Biden's commute for a moment. As Capitol Briefing laments whenever he has to do so, riding Amtrak in the Northeast isn't cheap. A roundtrip between D.C. and Wilmington can cost upwards of $100 on a regular train, and well over $200 on the fancier Acela. A monthly ticket, which Biden presumably uses, still costs more than $1,000 per month. So along with his words, his votes and even his son, you can add one more tool the vice presidential hopeful has used to boost Amtrak -- his wallet.

By Ben Pershing  |  August 26, 2008; 1:24 PM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign , Senate  
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I am glad to hear this. As we begin to seriously suffer from peak oil and global warming, it is obvious that we need a first rate passenger rail system to cut down on automobiles and airplanes. Our passenger rail is a national scandal it is so poorly funded.

We must have a first rate rail system. It should be a key part of our energy independence plan.

Posted by: Larry Saltzman | August 26, 2008 8:21 PM | Report abuse

A down to earth politician. He doesn't have to bother about maintaining a private jet or seven homes. Finally one of us!

Posted by: Cook | August 26, 2008 9:57 PM | Report abuse

A down to earth politician. He doesn't have to bother about maintaining a private jet or seven homes. Finally one of us!

Posted by: Cook | August 26, 2008 10:02 PM | Report abuse

Hey Ben so are you getting paid to Shill for Amtrak or Shill for Mouthy Joe Biden or
Messiah Barack Hussein Obama or the DNC or
all of the above baby? As your too easy to
spot as just another phony WAPO shill and
why does WAPO even bother to pay you a
salary for the crap and BS you write Benny?

If Motor Mouth Joe Biden is so hot on riding Amtrax then why the Hell isn't Biden
leading the charge to get the USA nationwide High Speed Passanger Rail Service now then? Biden ia a fraud and
farce just like Messiah Barack Obama!

Posted by: Sandy 5274 | August 27, 2008 12:55 AM | Report abuse

The US Passenger Train System is a total
disaster and disgrace and I have yet to
see where Big Mouth Joe Biden or Messiah
Barack Hussein Obama or Sell Out Hillary
Clinton,or Mad Madame Speaker Nancy Pelosi
or Harebrain Harry Reid and their Do Nothing Democrat Congress do one thing to
fix it as well.

We know by now George W Bush and Draft
Dodger Dickey Cheney would abolish Amtrax
if they had their way and so can anyone
tell me where does Republican John McCain
stand on getting the USA World Class
Nationwide Passenger Train Service?

Posted by: Sherry Kay 2004 | August 27, 2008 8:21 AM | Report abuse

Of course he's a rider and a champion, it's in his self-interest. If Amtrak wasn't kept afloat by obnoxious federal subsidies he might have to be like the rest of Americans and actually pay the costs of his transportation.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 27, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Without other transportation options, the national security of this country is jeopardized everytime there's an oil squeeze.

If trains were subsidized at anything like oil, automobiles and roads are, we could have high speed inter-city trains and commuter lines that would reduce our consumption of terrorist-funding oil and reduce our output of dangerous green-house gases.

There's no new technology needed, it exists and is up and running in China, Japan and Europe. We just need Leaders in Washington that don't make energy-policy in secret with oil company executives.

How's 8 years of Republican energy policy working for you? Bush/Cheney/McCain. No More Years!!

Posted by: thebob.bob | August 27, 2008 1:11 PM | Report abuse

To the person who wrote about federal funds for Amtrak being obnoxious. Please give me some transportation that is not federaly funded?? Aiports - Yep. Space - Yep. How do you think those roads get built and paved for?? Federal Funds! Did you forget the Bailouts of Chrysler by the Govt?? OR the Airlines! At least Amtrak and rail does it cheaper and better for the enviroment than anything other than walking or horse and buggy.

Posted by: Stevida | August 27, 2008 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Of course he's a rider and a champion, it's in his self-interest. If Amtrak wasn't kept afloat by obnoxious federal subsidies he might have to be like the rest of Americans and actually pay the costs of his transportation.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 27, 2008 12:11 PM

really???? as opposed to opting for a Chevy Suburban and a driver..all on the government's payroll and thus our taxes. Before you make idiotic statements think about the crap you are about to spew.

Posted by: Sad Democracy | August 27, 2008 2:28 PM | Report abuse

What regular American has a Chevy Suburban and a driver..all on the government's payroll you ignorant bag of filth?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 27, 2008 6:06 PM | Report abuse

The railroads went out of business because there was not enough business to support the investment. Those calculations don't matter to politicians who subsidize and spend to keep going what there is not enough passenger demand to support. Government cannot run business and cannot account for its excessive spending which is driving inflation. The politicians ride on their chosen and subsidized transportation and the money loses more and more of its value. The fundamental issue is not transportation but fiscal soundness. Without fiscal soundness the horse and buggy days are coming.

Posted by: Dale Netherton | August 27, 2008 10:31 PM | Report abuse

Pave Amtrak

Posted by: Anonymous | August 28, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Oh well,those cheapskate Do Nothing Democrats are afraid to properly fund a
new high speed national passenger rail system as then Nancy Pelosi,Steny Hoyer,
Hopeless Harry Reid,Dirty Durbin,Howard
Screamer Dean,Der Leader His Arrogance
Messiah Barack Hussein Obama and Cheapskate
Obama Court Jester Old Mr Hairplugs Mouthy
Joe Biden couldn't whine about our mass
transit system and never do anything about
it. So just remember Obama,Biden,Pelosi,
Hoyer,Durbin and Reid all share that famous
"9% Democrat Controlled Congress Approval
Rating," and don't throw your vote away
on Obama and Biden or anyother Democrat
Do Nothing in 2008!

I'm Claudine 100o and I approved this message. Thank you!

Posted by: Claudine 1000 | August 29, 2008 12:12 AM | Report abuse

1000.00 is nothing when you consider car payment, gas, parking, maintenance. And maybe that is part of the reason Biden is so knowledgeable with those four hours per day to read and study.

Posted by: Paula | August 29, 2008 1:18 PM | Report abuse

What qualifications- a regular rider of a poorly managed government program who kept voting for funding just so he wouldn't have to drive to D.C. every day.

Posted by: ej | August 29, 2008 2:30 PM | Report abuse

To those that criticize Amtrak for being "wasteful" and Biden for supporting Amtrak "just so that he wouldn't have to drive to work every day": The point of Amtrak is that people would be able to have choices in transportation! Currently, in order to make a profit, airlines and bus system need to cram people in their vehicles like sardines. While this does wonders for fuel efficiency, it doesn't do anything for people's comfort levels aboard the vehicles, and so a little more space and a little less efficiency (not a whole lot, mind you) sounds like a good idea. Trains also have other benefits, and so do subsidies. On a train, you can sequester Ms. Obnoxious Passenger off in some vestibule or a side-chamber, thus saving people's sanity. How easily can you do that on a bus or a plane? Furthermore, subsidies help ensure that passengers on transit get the space they need and the service they need, rather than just being subject to the whims of profit at minimum cost. Some subsidies are overblown, but there IS a very valid need for subsidies in railroading and transit, including subsidies for new infrastructure. Amtrak is NOT a Bridge to Nowhere, it's a Bridge to Somewhere!

Posted by: Ricky | August 30, 2008 12:42 PM | Report abuse

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