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Biden promotes $16.4B in passenger rail projects

Katie Tabeling
President Joe Biden Amtrak Bear Maintenance Shop Bidenomics

President Joe Biden makes a stop at the Bear Amtrak Maintenance facility off Porter Road. He touted $16.4 billion in rail project investments. | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

BEAR — With the 2024 election almost exactly a year away, President Joe Biden returned to his home state to announce billions in federal dollars to upgrade the Amtrak rail corridor that connects Boston to Washington D.C.

The $16.4 billion funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will support 25 passenger rail projects on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor which supports around 800,000 trips per day. Biden,  nicknamed “Amtrak Joe,” is famous for riding the train thousands of times himself when he served in the United States Senate.

“You don’t need to tell me how badly this corridor needs upgrades, I’ve lived it,” Biden said during his speech at the Amtrak Bear Maintenance Shops. “I know what it feels like to be stuck on the tracks when you’re trying to get home to see your family or trying to get out to vote because on a track, something went wrong.”

The $16.4 billion is a part of Biden’s $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed in 2021, which includes $66 billion for Amtrak investments alone. The infrastructure law is also a key legislative achievement in his first term and one he can point to as he prepares for a re-election bid. Biden made the trip amid dealing with global issues, notably the Israel-Hamas war and talks of a potential government shutdown.

Amtrak’s network includes 21,000 miles of track, but a 2013 Brookings study shows that more than 80% of its passengers travel on routes shorter than 400 miles. The Northeast corridor is the busiest rail corridor in the country, including stops in the First State.

Inside the $16.4 billion federal funding, Biden highlighted projects such as the Gateway Hudson River Tunnel between New York and New Jersey, which is a century old and damaged by Superstorm Sandy; the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel; the Susquehanna River Bridge; the Penn Station improvements and more.

“If this line were to shut down, it would cost our economy $100 million a day. This line has tunnels and bridges that are over 100 years old. I know, because I’ve walked through some of these stations,” the president said.

For 36 years, Biden caught the Amtrak from Wilmington to Washington, D.C., daily, logging what he believed was more than 1 million miles. When he and President Barack Obama went to Washington for the 2009 inauguration, it was by train. Biden hoped to do the same in 2021 before he took the oath of office, but security concerns nixed that idea.

“I haven’t seen a major upgrade for generations,” Biden added. “Look, folks, it has real consequences. This outdated infrastructure raises more than 4,000 hours of delays each year on Amtrak.”

Biden’s stop in Bear — less than 15 miles from his Wilmington home — also served to underline his administration’s Bidenomics plan, that making smart public investments to grow the middle class will raise all boats. The president also said he was investing billions to replace trains and train cars with electric models made in America.

“The fully electrified trains on these corridors emit 83% less greenhouse gasses, by the way, than driving your car; 72% less greenhouse gasses than taking a plane,” he said.

In Delaware, the Newark and Wilmington stations tallied 456,000 riders in Fiscal Year 2022 almost a quarter million drop from five fiscal years prior. Still, Amtrak has a strong place in Delaware’s economy, with 1,072 Delaware employees who earned $106 million in wages.

With the investment in Amtrak comes 100,000 union jobs, according to the White House. In the First State, Amtrak hired more than 200 union mechanics in shops in the last two years and 50 apprentices.

Bear Amtrak worker Sterling Rapposelli Jr., flanked by his brother and his nephew, spoke before the president. He noted that rail work has been in his blood for generations, and his family had collectively 100 years of experience — and countless interactions with “Uncle Joe,” as he’s called among the Amtrak crew.

“I remember growing up that my father would say to us at the dinner table, working for the railroad won’t make you rich. But you’ll be able to raise a family and afford the good things in life,” Rapposelli said. “To me, [those jobs] is proof that President Biden is not only invested in our present, but our future.”

Biden ended his speech on an optimistic note, commenting that China has a train that can travel 210 mph.

“We have the same ability to do that for a rail from Florida to Mississippi. There is so much we can do to the environment, the quality of life, and make us more competitive,” the president said. “Sometimes we forget: This is the United States of America. There’s not a damn thing we can’t do if we set our mind to it. Not one.”

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