Ex-Amtrak President Says it May be a While Before Biden Puts his Stamp on Amtrak

During his time in Congress, Joseph Biden often traveled on Amtrak to and from Washington from his home in Delaware, thus earning him the moniker “Amtrak Joe.”

Although he won’t become the nation’s next president until late January, speculation has already begun as what effect his election will have on Amtrak.

Former Amtrak President Thomas M. Downs told Trains magazine he believes Biden will be supportive of the national network.

Downs recalled riding with Biden in 1994 aboard a Metroliner and discussing Amtrak’s funding needs.

“‘Listen, Tommy. I can count!” Downs recalls, quoting Biden. “‘I need 51 Senators who support funding for Amtrak. And they come from around the rest of the country. If they don’t have a dog in the fight, Amtrak can’t survive,’ he told me.”

However Downs also believes it may be some time before Biden might begin to exhort any influence over Amtrak.

Downs believes Biden will not be supportive of the current management’s scaling back most long-distance trains to tri-weekly operation.

Noting that Biden once visited the Amtrak maintenance facilities in Wilmington and Bear, Delaware, Downs recalled Biden saying during his visit,  “‘I know Amtrak stops at 542 communities and all of those folks are important to Amtrak.’”

Downs, who headed Amtrak between 1993 and 1997, was critical during his interview with Trains about reducing the frequency of service of the long-distance trains.

“My immediate concern is [management’s] dismemberment process of pulling apart the long-distance trains. You start with the dining car, reducing service to three days per week where you kill the network effect, and then for reasons I can’t begin to understand there are no online schedules available for all the trains — this is an intentional attempt to kill the long-distance train service.”

He predicted that if the service cuts are not reversed soon “there won’t be any service to save.”

Amtrak’s fifth president described the long-distance trains as “an odd mix of essential service linking rural and urban communities and a land-cruise business; if you cut both of those, I don’t know how you ever get them back.”

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