When it came time to celebrate 50 years of Amtrak, there was only one person the time-honored company could turn to – President Joe Biden.
The 46th president of the United States spoke at the passenger railroad service’s 50th anniversary virtual event on Friday, praising the company for years of timely service and pledging to ask for an $80-billion investment in rail as part of his infrastructure proposal.
"I wouldn't have missed this for the world," said Biden during the live event, which was held at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.
As a 29-year-old senator, “Amtrak Joe” frequently commuted between Washington, DC, and his home in Wilmington, Delaware. After his wife and infant daughter died in a car accident in 1972, it was important for the sudden single father to be home every night to be with his two young boys.
As a constant sight on the rails, Biden and the Amtrak staff quickly became something special. Over the years, Biden has even hosted a few Christmas parties for Amtrak employees at his home. The gathering got so big that they were forced to move the event to the summer.
"Amtrak became my family," he said. "I've been to an awful lot of weddings and christenings and unfortunately some burials as well."
Just how many miles and trips Biden has taken over the years on Amtrak is up for debate. There are some calculations that have the former vice president at over 7000 to 8000 roundtrips, while Biden said a longtime conductor figured he's traveled 1,515,000 miles.
"I've been riding Amtrak for as long as there has been an Amtrak," he joked.
Joining Biden on the day was Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn who called the president one of the company's most loyal customers.
"Thank you for being here today to mark this milestone and thank you for your tremendous support of Amtrak," Flynn said.
Amtrak’s first route was from New York City to Philadelphia on May 1, 1971.
"No one could have imagined what lay ahead," Flynn said.
Today there are more than 21,400 miles of routes across 46 states, Washington, DC, and three Canadian provinces and over 500 destinations.
Like all transportation companies, Amtrak took a big hit in 2020 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. The company reportedly lost $801 million and saw a 47.4% decrease in riders from the year before.
"Our employees made sure America kept moving," Flynn said. "They were on the front lines every day providing essential transport to those who needed it."
As COVID-19 vaccination numbers increase and the world looks to travel once again, Amtrak has high hopes for the future.
The company has announced plans to combat climate control thanks in large part to the recent unveiling of its new high-speed, low-carbon Acela line. There are also plans to modernize the rail system and expand service throughout the country. A few new proposed lines include a Cincinnati to Columbus to Cleveland, OH, route, a southwest route that will connect Atlanta, GA, to Nashville and Chattanooga, TN, Savannah, GA, and Montgomery, AL, and a route from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.
"I believe the best days for Amtrak and rail are ahead," Biden said.
In celebration of its half-century milestone, Amtrak is offering 50% off all tickets across the country.