What a difference a vice president makes.
Vice President Biden, a longtime Amtrak rider and supporter, announced Friday the nation's rails would start running better with $1.3 billion worth of help from the economic stimulus package secured by President Obama.
Amtrak, which uses federal subsidies to cover 41 percent of its expenses, will receive the money as part of the $787 billion bill passed last month.
Biden strongly defended the federal subsidies that are supplied to Amtrak, saying he was "tired of apologizing for help for Amtrak. Amtrak has not been at the trough. Amtrak has been left out, far too long, in my opinion."
The 2008 federal subsidy for Amtrak was $1.3 billion, which angered many congressional conservatives who felt the rail system was inefficient, and some of it's little used routes should be discontinued. While more than 28 million passengers ride Amtrak every year, most of those are on the Northeast Corridor rail system that runs from Washington to Boston.
In its fiscal 2009 budget request, the Bush administration proposed cutting $500 million from Amtrak's budget, saying it "continues to hemorrhage taxpayer funds," and that was better than previous Bush proposals, which wanted to completely eliminate federal subsidies for the ailing rail system.
At a time when White House officials, including the vice president, criticized Congress for inserting earmarks into the stimulus package, Biden's home state of Delaware will receive $21 million to update a historic train station in Wilmington. Delaware depends on the train system since it is the only state that does not have commercial air service.
Other rail items to receive funding include $82 million in repair work to about 70 passenger cars that will be put back into circulation, $10 million for construction of a new auto train station in Sanford, Fla., and, by far the largest Amtrak project, $105 million to replace a drawbridge over a river on the Northeast Corridor in Connecticut.
For 36 years Biden commuted almost daily from his home in Wilmington, Del., to his Senate office on Capitol Hill. Upon being elected vice president, his Amtrak bonus points have dropped.
Biden prides himself on knowing the names of conductors and fellow passengers and says this needed cash will not only provide relief for Amtrak but for workers around the country who will be hired to assist on rehabilitation projects.
Biden says the rail system needs more than $5 billion in investments, but for now Amtrak is finding ways to spend its $1.3 billion. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W. Va., summed it up for the rail friendly crowd: "For Amtrak and President Obama, Joe Biden has proven to be just the right ticket."