Delaware’s love affair with Amtrak

 Vice President Joe Biden tours Amtrak’s new Cities Sprinter electric locomotive at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Vice President Joe Biden tours Amtrak’s new Cities Sprinter electric locomotive at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

For years, then-Senator Joe Biden hailed the benefits of a healthy passenger rail system.

Now, Chris Coons, his replacement in the Senate, has taken up the mantle of touting Amtrak’s importance.

The latest evidence of the Delaware Congressional Delegation’s ongoing love affair with Amtrak is a floor speech delivered on Thursday afternoon by Sen. Coons, a Democrat.

“I come to talk on the floor today about the importance of our national passenger rail system,” Coons said, urging his fellow Senators to support improvements for the rail service, particularly in the Northeast Corridor.

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“We can’t be competitive if we continue to rely on tunnels that have been around since roughly the time of our own Civil War,” he continued. “We need to invest in modernizing this infrastructure.”

Some of the improvements Coons alluded to are already planned for the area around the Wilmington train station, which was named the Joseph R. Biden Station as testament to the Vice Pesident’s support.

Construction will soon start on a third track in the area around the station to reduce a notorious bottleneck on the rails.

Ride it, love it

Perhaps this devotion to Amtrak is due in part to the fact that Coons and others in the delegation often travel daily from Delaware to D.C. by rail.

“As a rider and as our state’s senator I see how critical Amtrak is to our economy, to our communities, and to our country as a whole,” Coons said.

In addition to the personal experience, Coons also points to the tremendous economic benefit Amtrak provides to Delaware and other states. Amtrak employs more than 1,000 workers in Delaware, many of whom are busy upgrading high speed Acela trains at facilities in Wilmington and Bear.

“This is union labor,” he said. “This helps support good middle-wage jobs, this helps support good middle-class families and middle class communities in Delaware and our region.”

The need for improvements, Coons said, comes at a time when passenger rail service is becoming more self-sufficient. He said that an increase in ridership in recent years means that Amtrak covers nearly 89 percent of its operating costs through ticket sales.

“Ridership over the last decade has steadily increased,” Coons said. “In fact, 10 of the last 11 years have seen record numbers, and last year we broke through 31.6 million riders on Amtrak.”

In his closing plea, Coons urged colleagues from states where Amtrak may not be as crucial to the local economy to consider the need for rail connections from east to west and north to south.

“Only by strengthening Amtrak and ensuring the vibrancy of the entire nation’s system of passenger rail,” he concluded, “can we really ensure that American rail will be there for years and generations to come.”

It’s clear that Coons is quite comfortable in Biden’s old train seat.

You can see Sen. Coons floor speech in its entirety below.

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