For a majority of his political career, President Biden was a commuter, making the 90-minute Amtrak Metroliner trip between Washington and his home in Wilmington, Del., when the Senate was in session. There were even a few trips thrown in when he was vice president.
On Friday, he arrived in Philadelphia — transported by presidential plane — to celebrate the railroad’s 50th anniversary; deliver a passionate case for his $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal, which includes $80 billion for mass transit; and reminisce.
“Amtrak became my family,” Mr. Biden said, ticking off the railroad’s environmental and economic benefits while standing in front of a parked Acela train at the William H. Gray III 30th Street Station.
“It provided me with, and I’m not joking, an entire other family,” he added. “Amtrak doesn’t just carry us from one place to another, it opens up enormous possibilities.”
Mr. Biden, blue presidential baseball cap pulled down over his brow on a blustery day, proceeded to go through an anecdotal memory reel.
On many nights, he would be so exhausted that he would wake up in Philadelphia after sleeping though his stop, he said.
Then there was the time he rushed from D.C. to Wilmington to watch his daughter blow out her birthday candles on the platform, then rode back to Washington for a vote.
When Mr. Biden was vice president, his buddy Angelo, one of the conductors, would squeeze through the phalanx of jittery Secret Service agents, risking bodily harm, to wish him well.
“Angelo came up and said, ‘Joey baby!’ and would grab my cheek and squeeze it like he always did,” Mr. Biden recalled. “I thought he was going to get shot.”
Many politicians have emphasized their workaday origins (the image of Abraham Lincoln as a rail-splitter was an early campaign ad). Mr. Biden’s “Amtrak Joe” nickname was earned from an estimated 8,000 round trips on the line, often in a window seat, often reading the day’s newspaper by the morning light en route to the Capitol.
“This is a birthday I certainly wouldn’t miss,” he wrote on Twitter, posting a picture of himself on the train from his middle-age years.
The trip is part of what the White House is calling the “Get America Back on Track Tour,” with Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris hitting the road to sell the infrastructure package. The plan calls for improvements to Amtrak’s high-traffic Washington-to-Boston corridor and expanded service to Las Vegas, Nashville, Atlanta and Houston.
The commuter railroad traces a roundabout route through Mr. Biden’s mid-Atlantic life, through loss, revival and relentless transit as a person and politician. And on Friday, he spoke about Amtrak as if it were his friend, not a battered and underfunded federal railroad system patched together from the remnants of dying regional lines.
Mr. Biden’s journey mirrors that of Amtrak. He began riding in the earliest days of the railroad in the 1970s, when he traveled back home every night to care for his two young sons, Hunter and Beau, after his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash.
“I’ve been riding an Amtrak for almost as long as there’s been an Amtrak,” he said.