Remarks Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Amtrak in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Hello, everyone. Great to be back in Philly. Great to be back at to 30th Street Station.
Blake, you didn't—we didn't treat each other like family, we are family.
Please sit down, guys. Sit down.
Your dad Gregg is here too. As far as I'm concerned, the Weavers are family. And, Justin Gray, speaking of family, your father and I fought a lot of fights together, planned a lot of those fights on Amtrak coming back to Philly—I didn't come all the way to Philly. It's a wonderful tribute to the station to bear his name.
And, Bill Flynn, thank you for having me. Governor Wolf, Mayor Kenney, Congressman Evans, thank you for the passport into the city. Appreciate it. And we have another—I don't know that they're all here still, but I met a lot of really important friends that were here to—for this occasion.
I understand Senator Blumenthal is here. There you go. One of the great Senators, former attorney general—took care of my son Beau when he was attorney general. Thank you very much.
And also, Dwight Evans. Dwight is here. You can't miss Dwight. Come on, Dwight, stand up there, man. And a good friend of mine, and worked like the devil to get me elected, Brendan Boyle. Brendan. That's the Irish of it, man. And Donald Payne, New Jersey. [Laughter] I keep telling, Donald, because Delaware is so small, it is a constitutional—there was a case in the Supreme Court—Delaware, the State of, owns the Delaware River up to the high watermark in New Jersey. Just want you to know that. You got to treat us with more respect.
And Mayor Kenney, thanks for the passport. Great friend. Thank you, Mr. Mayor. You're doing a heck of a job.
And a real close, close friend, who was a cochairman of my campaign, and just a great friend is—our whole time—Governor Ed Rendell. Eddie, thank you, pal. This city owes you a lot.
And Tony Coscia, Chair of the—Chairman of the Board. And one of my best friends in—in life, a guy named Bert DiClemente; we've known each other from high school. We went to rival high schools. Bert ran my operation in Delaware for years and years. The one election I got the most votes in was the last election I ran for the Senate. I was also running for Vice President at the time—because, under Delaware law, if you're not out of the Senate race in a certain time period, you've got to stay in. And so Bert ran—he was the "Senator" in Delaware campaigning for me. He got more votes than I got. So, Bert, thank you very much.
Also, Justin Gray, I've mentioned Justin already and his dad. And Gregg Weaver, Jr.—Gregg, you're—you are family. I mean, excuse me, Blake is family. And Mary Kate, what a lovely kid.
And Bill Flynn of Amtrak.
You know, folks. The fact is that, if I—in the past when I've ended up at the 30th Street Station—Amtrak station—it's probably because I took the late train back from Washington and I slept through the Delaware stop—literally, not figuratively. I only did it about four times. But—but I would have—I wouldn't have missed this for the world.
It's an honor to celebrate Amtrak's 50th anniversary. And I look forward to a bright future for all of American rail.
You know, back in 2016, I announced a Federal loan that allowed Amtrak to purchase the new Acela trains. That's what you see behind me. And they look great. I can hardly wait to ride.
And they made—they're made in America, and I wanted to see more of that. That's why the investments in my American Jobs Plan are guided by one principle: buy American. Buy products that were made in America. And American tax dollars are going to be used to buy American products to create American jobs.
When I became Vice President, one of the Capitol Hill newspapers estimated that I had taken more than 7,000 round trips on Amtrak over my career. I think that's an exaggeration. And I'm going to rely on—there's two conductors that Mr. Weaver will remember. One of them was a guy named Angelo Negri. And Angelo—there was an article—my—I guess, my fourth or fifth year as President—Vice President, saying, "Biden travels 1,000—1,300,000 miles on Air Force One [Two].*"
And I used to—the Secret Service didn't like it, but I used to like to take the train home. My mom was sick, and I'd come—try to come home almost every weekend as Vice President to see her. And I was getting on the train, and Angelo Negri came up and he goes, "Joey, baby!" And he grabbed my cheek, started to squeeze it like he always did.
And I thought that he was going to get shot. [Laughter] I'm serious. And I said: "No, no. He's a friend." He said, "Joey, what's the big deal? 1,200,000—300,000 miles on Air Force Two. You know how many miles you traveled on Amtrak?" I said, "No, Ange, I don't know." And he gave me the calculation, and he said, "you traveled 1,515,000 miles on Amtrak." So the fact is, I'd probably take Ange's word before I took the word of what the article said.
But the point is: In the process, as Conductor Weaver will tell you, Amtrak became my family. I literally—literally—every single day that I was in the United States Senate, got the—either the 7:28—it became the 7:32, and—or—and got home on—if I got lucky, I got the Metro that left—the last one left at 6, or I got the 7:30 coming home.
And you get to know everybody. You get to know the folks. And I used to have a Christmas party for Amtrak employees at my home, and it got so big, we ended up having it a summer party because family and retirees kept coming back.
I want to tell you: These guys and women, they work like the devil. They really, really, really do. And Amtrak wasn't just a way of getting home. It provided me, and I'm not joking, an entire other family—a community dedicated—that were professional, and that we've shared milestones in my life. And I've been allowed to share milestones in theirs.
I've been to an awful lot of weddings and christenings and, unfortunately, some burials as well. We're family. You know, I remember one night, my daughter was only 6 years old, and it was my birthday. And we were voting, and I went to Bob Dole, and I said, "Bob, when's the next vote going to take place?" He said, "Joe, what—why?" I said, "Well, my daughter is really upset I'm not going to be able to be home for the birthday cake she made for me."
He said, "What do you need?" I said, "I need just time to catch the 5 o'clock Metro, and I can get the 6:28 coming back," because on the platform, you can just—in Delaware, you walk from one side to the other. I got off the train. My wife Jill was standing there, and my daughter had the cake, candle lit. 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. And I've come to see that Amtrak doesn't just carry us from one place to another; it opens up enormous possibilities. And especially now, it makes it possible to build an economy of the future and one that we need.
Last week, I announced the target of cutting greenhouse gases and gas emissions in half by 2030. And most of that—of those emissions in this county—in this country come from transportation. But if just 10 percent of the freight shipped in the largest trucks went by rail instead, we'd be removing 3,300,000 cars from the road. And we've been planting—it's the same as doing that are planting 260 million trees in America.
And, as I've said from the beginning, when I think about fighting climate change, I think about jobs. And rail—and, hopefully, the expansion of rail—provides good union jobs, good-paying jobs. It also connects people to jobs and economic opportunities that can be reached from wherever you live.
Let's put this in perspective: 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. Amtrak carries four times as many riders between Washington and New York City as every single airline does within 50 miles of the shore, from Florida all the way up the coast.
Imagine what we'd have to do—a single day without the Northeast Corridor, for example—with Amtrak and the Northeast Corridor—would cost the economy $100 million. If you shut down all passenger service on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, the projects that compensate for the loss—you'd have to add seven new lanes of highway on I-95. And consider that cost: average of $30 million for a linear mile on I-95.
This is a bargain of bargains of bargains. It's economical, and it's, environmentally, a lifesaver. That's why, in my Rescue Plan—American Rescue Plan—we've worked hard to keep Amtrak running. At the height of the pandemic, because we weren't traveling, Amtrak furloughed 1 million—1,200 employees. And we were able to provide emergency relief to keep rail service running. And we've now brought back 1,200 union workers who had been furloughed. And by the way, you get a union wage, not 15 bucks an hour, a prevailing wage.
But we have to do more than just build back; we have to build back better. And today, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to position Amtrak and rail and intercity rail as well, in general, to play a central role in our transformation in transportation and economic future, to make investments that can help America get back on track, no pun intended.
Before the pandemic hit, Amtrak's ridership and revenues were on the upswing. The Northeast Corridor has been making money for a long while now, but last year, the whole of Amtrak system was projected to break even for the first time in history. But then, we had the pandemic.
But there's still a huge backlog of deferred maintenance, a huge need to modernize our trains, our stations, our bridges, our tunnels. But we're talking about critical jobs like the Hudson River Tunnel, the Baltimore Potomac Tunnel, the Susquehanna River Bridge. In my American Jobs Plan, I proposed spending $10 billion a year on passenger rail and freight rail. Of this, two-thirds would support existing Amtrak routes, including the Northeast Corridor, but nationwide.
And we're talking about union jobs, as I said. And we're taking care of the riders, laying track, wiring switches, fixing bridges, tunnels, modernizing stations, and repairing and rebuilding this vital infrastructure.
This would allow for a—the potential to expand passenger rail service. Imagine a 2-hour train ride between Atlanta and Charlotte going at speeds of 220 miles an hour. And 2½-hour trip between Chicago and Detroit. Or faster and more regular trips between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, a route that I imagine could be pretty popular on Fridays.
Bill, as you've said, your vision for Amtrak calls for a new intercity rail service, up to 160 previously unserved communities being connected. Think of what it will mean for opportunity if we can connect Milwaukee to Green Bay to Madison, Scranton and Allentown to New York, Indianapolis to Louisville, and much, much more.
It's going to provide jobs. It will also accommodate jobs. And what this means is that towns and cities that have been in danger of being left out and left behind will be back in the game. It means families don't have to sacrifice the cost of living or quality, of access to opportunity that sometimes only occurs if they live in a big city.
We have a huge opportunity here to provide fast, safe, reliable, clean transportation in this country. And transit is part of the infrastructure. And like the rest of our infrastructure, we're way behind the rest of the world right now.
We need to remember: We're in competition with the rest of the world. People come here and set up businesses. People stay here, people grow because of the ability to access: access transportation, access all the infrastructure. It's what allows us to compete and—with the rest of the world to win the 21st century. We've got to move.
China already has 23,000 miles of high-speed rail—220 miles per hour—two-thirds of all the high-speed rail in the world. Two-hundred and twenty miles an hour. And the way—and they're working on transit, on trains, that can go as high as 400 miles an hour.
We're behind the curve. But, folks, as I said the other night, America is on the move again. We need to remember that we're in the United States of America. There's nothing beyond our capacity, nothing we can't do if we do it together.
And we celebrate Amtrak's birthday. I was thinking about America—Amtrak's role, as I said, on my birthday, when they allowed me to come home and blow out that candle. There's a lot of things that Amtrak does. And you know, the fact of the matter is, if we're able to—which is now beyond the ability to pay for it—but if we're able to straighten out three curves from Washington to New York, you could make it from Washington to New York in an hour and 32 minutes—an hour and 32 minutes.
Folks, there's so much we can do. And it has such an incredibly positive impact on the environment, incredibly positive impact on work—present—on opportunities. And again, all the things we have to do to put Amtrak in place and be one of the great, great contributors to our country is, we have to invest.
And so, you know, if you think about it. When we were—when I was Vice President with Barack, he allowed me to put together a budget for Amtrak. And it had money for high-speed rail at 200 miles an hour from—excuse me, from Charlotte—one—another line going from—in Florida down to Tampa. Another line—if we had moved, Gov, we'd have that tunnel fixed in New York now. The money was there to get it done. There's so much we can do. And it's the biggest bang for the buck we can expend.
So, on this momentous birthday of Amtrak, I want to—I want to thank you for making so many birthdays possible. I believe that the best days for Amtrak and for rail and for America are ahead. I really believe that.
And I'm just confident—I'm confident—we can get this done. And I must tell you, I'm anxious to see the new train.
Thank you all so very much. God Bless America. And may God protect our troops. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 2:54 p.m. at the William H. Gray III 30th Street Station. In his remarks, he referred to Amtrak conductor Blake Weaver, who introduced the President, and his father, retired conductor Gregg Weaver; William J. Flynn, Chief Executive Officer, Anthony R. Coscia, Chairman of the Board of Directors, and Albert DiClemente, Chairman of the Security, Safety and Environmental Affairs Committee, Amtrak; Justin Gray, son of former House Majority Whip William H. Gray III; Reps. Brendan F. Boyle and Donald M. Payne; former Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania; and former Sen. Robert J. Dole. He also referred to his daughter Ashley.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Amtrak in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/349731