To Promote His Infrastructure Plan, Biden Revisits ‘Amtrak Joe’ Days


PHILADELPHIA — President Biden returned on Friday to a place that is nearly as attached to his identity as his decades-long pursuit of the presidency: an Amtrak station.

This time, however, Mr. Biden was not kicking off a presidential campaign from the back of a train in Wilmington, Del., as he did in 1987. He barely had time to rub shoulders with commuters, a daily tradition during his decades in the Senate.

And he flew into town on Air Force One.

“I’ve been riding an Amtrak almost as long as there’s been an Amtrak,” Mr. Biden said from a podium in the railyard, where he marked the rail service’s 50th anniversary and reminisced about a conductor named Angelo who would call him “Joey, baby!” and squeeze his cheeks.

The president came to Philadelphia to pitch his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal that critics say is too sprawling, with spending on disparate topics like broadband and care for older and disabled Americans as well as on projects meant to combat racial disparities. His appearance Friday was a message to Republicans that his plan includes plenty of money for more traditional projects, like railroads and bridges.

Just as he did this week during his first address to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Biden emphasized how the investments would not only combat climate change, but also create jobs. He made a direct appeal to blue-collar workers in his speech to Congress, saying 90 percent of the jobs created under his plan would not require a college degree.

On Friday, Mr. Biden said encouraging more people to ride Amtrak rather than driving cars or trucks would benefit the environment. The plan to expand service to would also connect big cities, and employment opportunities, to underserved communities, he argued.

“It’s going to provide jobs and it will also accommodate jobs,” the president said. “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.”

But Mr. Biden’s attempts to expand Amtrak lines will face challenges. A growing debate over whether to restore service between Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans could be a preview.

The White House says increased service will help reverse construction projects that have fueled racial disparities. But in Mobile, a city councilman, Joel Daves, said any city money spent to expand rail service in the Gulf Coast corridor was simply funding a “joy ride for the affluent.”

Freight rail companies — which own a majority of the United States’ railroad tracks — have also argued with Amtrak over concerns that sharing the tracks could hurt business. Amtrak’s petition to restore service is in front of the Surface Transportation Board.

“President Biden sees the importance of connectivity that passenger rail brings to cities large and small,” said John Robert Smith, a former board chairman of Amtrak. “Unless the impasse is solved between freight rail interest and passenger rail aspiration, then the broad vision by either party for passenger rail is not a vision but a hallucination.”

Jim Mathews, the chief executive of the Rail Passengers Association, an advocacy group, said in an interview that Mr. Biden’s support would build momentum in Congress “to broach transformative discussions.”

But on Friday, Mr. Biden was not heading back to Washington to lobby lawmakers. After his speech, he commuted home to Delaware — not on the train this time, but in a presidential motorcade.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs reported from Philadelphia, and Pranshu Verma from Washington.

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