What with all the heightened security measures soon to be put in place thanks to the failed Christmas underpants bomber, air travel has never looked less enticing. That’s why I’m heartenedw when I remember that the Obama administration set aside billions of stimulus dollars to create a modern high-speed rail network that will connect major urban hubs throughout the US.
Vice President Joe Biden, no stranger to train travel, recently wrote a piece for Amtrak’s Arrive magazine (reprinted on the Huffington Post) on why America needs a modern passenger train system.
One of the Capitol Hill newspapers estimated that I’ve taken more than 7,000 round trips on Amtrak over the course of my career. But the one I made on Jan. 17, 2009 was a bit different. When I got there, there were 8,000 people standing in the freezing cold. And I wasn’t racing to reach the 7:46 a.m. Metroliner (later, the Acela) that I had taken thousands of times before.
I was meeting up with the train that would carry President Obama and me to our inauguration.
That day, Gregg Weaver, a conductor who started riding Amtrak the same year I did–1972–introduced me to the crowd. As Gregg spoke, it struck me that over the years, Amtrak provided me with more than a way to get to Washington to serve the people of Delaware every morning and a way to get home to my family each night. It has provided me another family entirely–a community of dedicated professionals who have shared the milestones in my life, and who have allowed me to share the milestones in theirs.
And it has provided me with one thing more, an understanding of–and a respect for–the role of rail travel in our society and our economy.
Though I don’t get to ride the train nearly as much anymore, those were the lessons I brought with me on that final trip to Washington as a United States Senator.
I began making the 110-mile commute shortly after I was sworn in as a Senator. It was the only way that I could have been a Senator at all. I had to be able to get home to spend evenings with my two sons after we lost their mother and sister in an auto accident a month earlier.
Since then, on those many trips down to Washington, I got into a routine. From Wilmington to Baltimore I’d read the papers and make phone calls. At Baltimore, I’d start preparing for that day’s hearings, amending my opening statement or going through the list of witnesses. And by the time I arrived in D.C., I’d be ready to jump right in.
Getting home was sometimes a sprint, too. One year, on my birthday, my daughter had planned a party for me. She really wanted to give me a gift and blow out candles. Senator Bob Dole was the Majority Leader at the time, and we were voting that night. I told him that I really had to be home for my daughter, which meant that I needed to catch the 5:54 p.m. train. Senator Dole backed up the votes until 9 p.m. I boarded the train and, in Wilmington, my daughter was standing there on the middle platform. She and my wife sang “Happy Birthday,” I blew out the candle, took a piece of cake, opened her gift, gave her a kiss, and caught the 7:23 p.m. going south–and managed to be there for the 9 p.m. vote.