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[UPDATED] Biden’s Inauguration Day Amtrak Trip Is A Game-Changer

January 13, 2021

Or, This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

By Jim Mathews / President & CEO

UPDATED (JAN 14th): By the time my enthusiastic blog post about President-elect Biden's Amtrak ride for Inauguration Day went live, the trip was off -- cancelled due to security concerns in the wake of last week's ill-fated insurrection attempt at the Capitol. We've decided to leave the post below intact because much of what I said below is still true and still important. But make no mistake, fellow advocates: what happened last week, regardless of your political leanings, will profoundly shape the way citizens get to interact with their elected representatives in Washington.

I don't know yet how this will affect our annual Day On The Hill lobbying day, for example, where all of you join us on Capitol Hill to share your own stories with your own legislators, explaining how important passenger rail and public transportation are to you and to the place where you live. My hope is that it's limited to perhaps more security hoops or a heavier emphasis on appointments made in advance. As of this writing, I don't know and none of us do.

What I do know, however, is that just as I said below, the incoming Biden team will need no education on how important rail is to the future of our country and its people. They will need no convincing about the value of mobility to the communities where we all live, work, play, study and pray. And with incoming DOT Secretary-designate Pete Buttigieg at the helm, DOT won't need to be persuaded not to abandon all of those communities served by Amtrak's long-distance network.

As always, the debate will be over resources, commitment, and vision and it will happen in Congress. We will have a good head start, but we will still need all of you.

If anyone needed a visual aid to understand how committed the incoming Biden Administration will be to passenger rail, well as the saying goes: “Here’s your sign.” While not surprising, we all now have formal confirmation that “Amtrak Joe” Biden will arrive in Washington, D.C., aboard Amtrak for his inauguration as President of the United States, retracing the daily commute from Delaware he made for many years as a U.S. Senator.

His decades-long journey to the Presidency will finish with Washington Union Station as his gateway to the White House. Is it symbolic? Sure it is. And symbols are important not only in politics but in life. Symbols help us communicate when words are inadequate or when the message needs to echo for a little longer. President-elect Biden is sending a signal that transportation policy is going to take the front-and-center role it deserves in his Administration.

All of us know how important transportation is to our communities. Mobility makes our towns grow as well as go. Mobility is opportunity. Mobility is freedom. Mobility creates the preconditions for all Americans to succeed and to thrive. By taking Amtrak to his inauguration, President-elect Biden is not just doffing his hat to a nostalgic routine. He’s putting down a marker for Congress and for his own team to show that he understands the role of mobility in creating a more vibrant and more just economy for every American.

Once Biden raises his right hand, no U.S. president will have logged as many miles by rail since the dawn of the Jet Age. And there has never been a president who understands Amtrak as well as Joe Biden—the good, the bad and the ugly. Biden understands the railroad’s unique structure, its corporate culture, the politics of getting it funded. One of his sons served on the Board, and he counts many past Amtrak executives (and even more important, front-line on-board employees) as close personal friends. For Biden, Amtrak is a family business.

That’s no small thing. So much of our job in your D.C. office is to educate incoming elected officials on the peculiarities of passenger rail operations in the U.S. A Biden Administration is going to understand the problems faced by the average American passenger on day one.

We told you in November that the Biden-Harris transition team seemed to be putting experienced professionals in place who will be ready to start executing a plan on day one. The transition team includes a deep bench of folks with a background in public transportation, now headed by DOT Secretary-designee Pete Buttigieg, a former Mayor who championed transportation investments in his Midwestern city because he, too, understands how mobility creates a more vibrant and just economy.

It is more clear now than ever that the incoming Biden Administration has a grander vision for its Department of Transportation than just building more highway lanes and runways.

In their public statements, transportation advisers to the President-elect demonstrate a clear understanding of the pressing needs faced by public transportation systems across the country, and the scale of relief needed to ensure their continued operations. That’s why Rail Passengers is committed to continuing our work with the Biden transition team through January, responding to requests for our policy proposals and for a short list of passenger rail projects that are ready to move quickly and worthy of funding.

Rail investments will play a big role, both as a long-term enabler of economic power and as a short-term pillar of reinvestment and relief for an American economy battered by a worldwide pandemic and deep recession.

There’s a bright future ahead for passenger rail and public transportation. Long-distance service enjoys strong support in the U.S. Congress, among both Democrats and Republicans. There’s also pent-up demand in Congress to do something about modernizing Amtrak and injecting stimulus funding into public-transit systems across the country. Amtrak’s ambitious corridor expansion plans (which Amtrak presented publicly for the first time during our September webinar on Amtrak’s growth plans) are achievable with strong congressional and grassroots support. And those corridor plans are intimately linked with the success of Amtrak’s long-distance trains -- the corridors depend on interconnection with long-distance routes. Amtrak’s Chairman has already committed publicly to ensuring that long-distance service survives and thrives as part of that plan.

All of this presumes that our members/donors, like you reading this today, continue to make themselves heard with their congressional representatives and Senators. The Biden Administration can be expected to present Congress with an aggressive investment plan, and we’ll need all of YOUR voices to chime in with support. A 50-50 split Senate means that even one skeptical Senator is enough to torpedo the whole thing. That's where you can help us!

Please consider responding whenever we send out Action Alerts asking members to email or call your congressional representatives or your Mayor or other officials. Every voice really does make a difference, and it's why we have such strong bipartisan support right now for long-distance trains. Also, donate when your financial circumstances allow. The generosity of others enables your professional Association staff to advocate for the needs of passenger rail and public transit.

Those elected officials need to know that their voters want those trains to survive. They won't know that unless you tell them over and over again!

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