President-elect Joe Biden could return to the nation’s capital for his inauguration ceremony the way he long bridged his life at home and his job in politics: On an Amtrak train from Wilmington, Delaware, to Washington, DC.
It would be a fitting moment for the man who took roughly 8,000 round trips on that same route during his time as senator and vice president – earning him the moniker “Amtrak Joe” – and who four years ago left Washington by train on his final day as vice president.
Biden’s inauguration team is eyeing a rail arrival as one of a number of plans being discussed for the January celebration, Democrats familiar with the planning told CNN. The plan, first reported by Axios, is far from finalized and there is a great deal of uncertainty around all inauguration planning given the coronavirus pandemic, the Democrats cautioned. A spokesperson for Biden’s presidential inaugural committee declined to comment.
Biden’s deep ties to Amtrak and rail travel hark back to his earliest days in the US Senate. 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. Biden became one of the rail system’s biggest proponents on Capitol Hill and continued to take the train to Wilmington – albeit less frequently – while vice president.
The roughly 90-minute ride between Wilmington and DC was so central to Biden’s story that the then-senator launched his first presidential bid in 1987 at his hometown train station.
“Amtrak doesn’t just carry us from one place to another – it makes things possible that otherwise wouldn’t be,” Biden wrote in a 2010 article he authored for Amtrak’s Arrive magazine. “For 36 years, I was able to make most of those birthday parties, to get home to read bedtime stories, to cheer for my children at their soccer games. Simply put, Amtrak gave me – and countless other Americans – more time with my family.”
He continued, “That’s worth immeasurably more to me than the fare printed on the ticket.”
When he began his trips in the 1970s, Biden was a somewhat anonymous senator commuting to work. But during his eight years as vice president, whenever he would return to the train, he would be flanked by Secret Service and his reservation would be anonymous for security reasons.
In 2009, as then-President elect Barack Obama made his way from Philadelphia to DC by train in an attempt to mirror a similar trip Abraham Lincoln took, Biden hopped aboard in Wilmington for the final legs of the trip.
“It’s not every day you get to do your daily commute with the next president of the United States,” Biden said during a stop in Baltimore. “Folks, this is more than an ordinary train ride. This is a new beginning.”
Amtrak renamed the Wilmington, Delaware, station the “Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station” in 2011 to honor the then-vice president.
Flanked by his family at the dedication ceremony, Biden said, “Literally, everything good or bad that’s happened in my career, the first people I would encounter were the people on the train, and the people that work for Amtrak would embrace me. When I was down, when things were not going well at all, there were losses in my family, they were the first ones there for me.”
A return trip to Washington in January would be a full-circle moment for Biden, who left Washington in 2017 by train on the day President Donald Trump was inaugurated.
“I have made over – they actually calculated it, the conductors – 8,200 round trips, over 2 million miles on Amtrak,” Biden told CNN in an interview then. “Two hundred and fifty nine miles round trip a day, not every day, but on average 217 days a year. This is my family, and this is why I wanted to go home the way I came.”
“Full circle,” Jill Biden interjected.
“Full circle,” Joe Biden said.
At the time, it seemed unlikely Biden would be returning to Washington in any elected role. As vice president, he declined to run for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, a decision that was made partly because of the pain from the death of his son Beau Biden in 2015. And while talk of another presidential run continued among longtime Biden loyalists, there was a sense among Democrats that the party had moved away him.
Those Democrats, however, were proven wrong, and Biden launched his third and ultimately successful bid for president in 2019. On the day he announced his candidacy, Biden took the train from Washington to Wilmington. And after the first presidential debate in September, he campaigned by train through eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
During his final train trip as vice president in 2017, Biden said riding the rails reminded him that politics was about more than just his success and career.
“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 told CNN, gesturing to the homes whizzing by. “What are people thinking about, what are their real worries?”
When Biden arrived in Delaware that day, he was greeted with a hero’s welcome: a marching band, friends and family, and a rally where he held back tears.
“You have been with me in victory,” Biden said near the end of his speech. “You’ve been with me in defeat. You have all stayed with me.”