'Full circle': Joe Biden reflects on his life during a train ride back to Delaware

Joe Biden takes the Amtrak home
Joe Biden takes the Amtrak home

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    Joe Biden takes the Amtrak home

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Joe Biden takes the Amtrak home 01:19

Story highlights

  • The avuncular Biden, with a wide grin on his face, boarded Amtrak train #2166 at Union Station
  • Biden was the rail system's biggest proponent on Capitol Hill

Wilmington, Delaware (CNN)Over Joe Biden's 44 years in public office, the former vice president says he made roughly 8,000 round trips between his home state of Delaware and Washington DC -- or 2.1 million miles.

Today, he left Washington on a one-way ticket.
The avuncular Biden, with a wide grin on his face, boarded Amtrak train #2166 at Union Station, bound for the station named in his honor: Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Railroad Station.
    "Back on Amtrak," Biden exclaimed as he boarded.
    Amtrak is part of who Biden is.
    After losing his wife and daughter in a car accident in 1972, Biden rode the rails to and from Washington nearly every day to help raise his sons, Hunter and Beau. He continued the practice even over the last eight years as vice president, becoming the rail system's biggest proponent on Capitol Hill.
    "This is my family and this is why I wanted to go home the way I came," Biden told CNN as the train moved between Washington and Baltimore.
    Listening in on the interview, Dr. Jill Biden, whom Biden married in 1977, chimed in, "It's full circle."
    "Full circle," the former vice president said in agreement. "I'm going home to Delaware, the people I owe. And I really do owe them."
    For as much as Friday's ride home was business as usual for the former vice president, the 135-mile ride was life changing for Biden.
    Theoretically, Biden's departure was giving way for a convective takeover of Washington. President Donald Trump, a man Biden had suggested he wanted to beat up as a candidate, was moving into the White House. Mike Pence, a social conservative with views diametrically opposed to what Biden has advocated throughout his career, was moving into the vice president's residence.
    But more practically, Biden's departure kicked off the slow transition to a semi-normal life. Secret Service protection will soon dissipate for Biden, and the former vice president will transition to splitting time between the University of Pennsylvania for work on foreign policy and the University of Delaware for domestic policy work.
    Biden will no longer be vice president and the differences will be obvious.
    After the vice president boarded the train on Friday, a ticket taker made her way through the cabin. Biden's ticket had his name scrawled across the front, a departure from the last eight years.
    According to Amtrak's vice president of operations, Biden has ridden the rails for the last eight years on an anonymous reservation for security reasons. With security less of a priority, Friday was the first time in eight years his ticket actually bore his name.
    Biden will still spend time in Washington. Jill Biden will continue to teach at Northern Virginia Community College and the couple is looking to rent a house in the area, aides said.
    That means more time on the train and more time for Biden to reflect on the people he passes by.
    "What I used to do, literally, is you ride along here at night going home and you look out, you look in the windows and you see the lights on and think about, I mean this sincerely, what is going on at that kitchen table," Biden said about his travel on Amtrak. "What are people thinking about, what are there real worries?"
    Biden said he plans on staying engaged and will keep in touch with former President Barack Obama.
    His last words to the former president, Biden said, were, "I'll see you in a couple of weeks."
    "I know it sounds corny, but we are close friends," Biden said.
    As the train pulled into Wilmington, the conductor broke with protocol and read out the entire name of the station: Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station. Biden's cabin cheered when his name was read and the former vice president smiled.
    The real surprise, though, came when Biden made his way down into the Wilmington train station. There, Biden was joined by many of his friends, former aides and the University of Delaware marching band.
    "Whoa," Biden said. Some of his top aides were even surprised at the welcoming party.
    Biden has become synonymous with Delaware and he has wore the state on his sleeve throughout his career.
    After the heroes welcome and a short trip across town to the Chase Center, Biden was greeted by hundreds of people who had come to welcome him home. Dozens of Amtrak and Wilmington police stood at attention as Biden drove by.
    "This is overwhelming for Jill and me," he said with the pained look on his face of a man trying and failing to hold back tears. "We never, and I mean this sincerely, we never thought we left home."
    Biden barely pulled himself back together before losing it again, "When I die, Delaware will be written on my heart."
    Biden's voice broke as he thanked the audience.
    Near the end of his speech, Biden welcomed his entire extended family up on stage, including his grandchildren Natalie and Hunter, the daughter and son of Beau Biden, whose death in 2015 rocked the vice president.
    Biden recovered, aides said, in part because of the love he found from people around him in Delaware.
    "You have been with me in victory," Biden said near the close of his speech and, in effect, vice presidency. "You've been with me in defeat. You have all stayed with me."