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Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden

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Location: Washington, DC


REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN

SUBJECT: AMTRAK FUNDING AS PART OF THE AMERICAN RECOVERY AND REINVESTMENT ACT OTHER

PARTICIPANTS: SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA); SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA); SENATOR JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER, IV (D-WV); SENATOR BILL NELSON (D-FL); SENATOR FRANK LAUTENBERG (D-NJ); SENATOR TED KAUFMAN (D-DE); REP. NICK RAHALL (D-WV); REP. CORRINE BROWN (D-FL); REP. RICK LARSEN (D-WA); REP. CHRISTOPHER CARNEY (D-PA); REP. ANDRE CARSON (D-IN)

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VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you very much, Jo.

I also want to recognize Joe Boardman, across the way on the other side of the track there, who is, I think, one of the best number-one guys we've had. Welcome, Joe, and thank you.

I also want to acknowledge my fellow members of Congress. Never before have they had to stand to hear me listen. On the floor, they can always walk off the floor. (Laughter.) But I have a captive audience now. My speech will take no longer than 60 minutes. (Laughter.)

But I'm happy to be here with Arlen -- look, the gang I'm about to introduce here is the reason why Amtrak's been running. These are the people who have -- who have broken their picks sometimes fighting for Amtrak. Arlen Specter, Congressman Nick Rahall, we go back a long way together.

John Kerry, Corny (sp) Brown, congresswoman, who has been a gigantic supporter, Jay Rockefeller, Rick Larsen, Bill Nelson.

Senator Bill Nelson I don't think is here right now. But Bill is going to come. Chris Carney from Pennsylvania, Frank Lautenberg, who is -- has been sort of Mr. Rail, a guy who I've looked to all the time for help. And Andre Carson and my colleague and good friend Ted Kaufman.

I do want you to know, Joe, that according to the conductors, and I have, over the years, I have all the conductors to my home for a summer party; the ones that I ride with. It's gotten so big. With retirees, it gets up to well over 100.

I am probably -- (inaudible) -- number four or five on the road, John. In terms of, I have now made over 7,000 round trips on Amtrak, back and forth to my home state. And as Bob Dole used to say, vote for Amtrak, to keep Biden in Wilmington; otherwise he may move to Washington. But I am in Washington now. And I still support Amtrak.

Look, I -- as you can imagine, today's announcement is near and dear to the heart of every one of us here. We've been fighting for Amtrak for a long time. And as you know, I've -- I believe that it is not only a necessity for a great nation, to have a great national passenger system.

I want to point out to you as -- when the introduction was taking place, pointed out that there is -- Amtrak relies on some subsidies. Every, every, every, every passenger rail service system in the world relies on subsidies.

We subsidize our highways and airports more than we subsidize Amtrak. So let's get something straight here. Amtrak has not been at the trough. Amtrak has been left out. Amtrak has been left out much too long, in my humble opinion.

Amtrak -- there's over 28 million passengers who ride Amtrak, every single day, I mean, a year; 500,000 a week; 80,000 a day. More people get on an Amtrak train than land in every single airport from Maine to Washington, D.C.

So this is a vital link. The other reason why it's so important, it's a critical component to our economy. May I remind you, after 9/11, the only thing functioning was this rail system, the only thing functioning for the longest time.

Number two, I point out to you, is that it has incredible environmental, as Frank Lautenberg can tell you, environmental consequences. You see the ads, not only in terms of freight but in terms of passengers. You take people off the road.

If we shut down the Northeast Corridor, you would have to build seven new lanes of I-95, just to carry the people that ride this train every day. So I want to be very blunt with you. I'm tired of apologizing for help for Amtrak. It is an absolute national treasure and necessity.

Now, for too long we have failed to make the investments we should have been making, in Amtrak, in order to provide the kind of reliable and secure intercity rail service we need. We've been eating our seed corn.

What happens is, in order to handle the operating costs, limited budgets that we've had, we've had to forgo these costs relating to infrastructure costs and heavy investments we need.

In fact, the Department of Transportation's inspector general has identified a backlog of over $5 billion in needed capital investments in Amtrak. That's why today's announcement is such an important step forward.

The Recovery Act provides $1.3 billion for capital projects, throughout the nation, the entire nationwide Amtrak system; 1.3 billion will nearly double Amtrak's investment program, over the next two years, making it possible to make real progress, genuine progress on the urgent capital needs for Amtrak.

For example, the single biggest Amtrak project to be funded, in the Recovery Act, $105 million, will be to replace a 102-year-old drawbridge on the Northeast Corridor, going over the Niantic River in Connecticut.

It's a simple problem.

If you don't replace this bridge, which is over 102 years old -- the plans have been there for 20 years but have been repeatedly put off because we've had to deal with operating costs -- any further delay would significantly, significantly impose speed restrictions on the bridge and potentially wholesale disruption of the northeast corridor from Boston down to -- to -- to New York. And that's a position we cannot be left hanging on. This is not something that should have been done 20 years ago, or -- this should have been done a LONG time ago. And it takes these dollars to get it done.

Another $82 million will gord -- go toward rebuilding 68 passenger rail cars that have been in storage due to damage or lack of the money to repair them. Many of these are minor repairs. But 68 of these cars are not able to be on the road. Ask the operating guys here; they can tell you. We have so much traffic, we can attach, as Arlen Specter notes, more of these cars on the back of existing trains to carry more people now. But they've been sitting there.

Sixty-three million dollars in recovery act funding will be used to improve the reliability of Amtrak's electrical power -- the power to -- this so-called catenary wire that all -- that powers these trains. Well, guess what? There is a place that's called the Lakomin (sic/Lamokin) Converters. It's in Chester, Pennsylvania. It's a key element to the power system on this northeast corridor.

These -- that power system was first put in place in 1920. It's been in continual use for well over 80 years and in dire need -- dire need -- of major rehabilitation. This is especially important because, as many of you know, in recent years, Amtrak has, on occasion, had -- been crippled by -- by power shortages. That's why -- that's why the senator from Pennsylvania's been fighting so hard to get this capital investment. It's not because it's in his state. It's because it controls the bulk of the corridor.

Senator Specter's been at this for a long time, along with Senator Lautenberg and others.

This repair is an important step in providing for a more reliable electric source of supply to run these trains.

Sixty million dollars in the recovery act money will be invested in importance -- invested in important safety measures, installing what they call positive train control technology on the Michigan line that runs from Porter, Indiana, to Kalamazoo, Michigan, and, at the south end of this corridor, from New York to Washington. Positive train control is an advanced singly -- signalling technology that can prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments and train incursions onto roadway work areas, which is of great worth.

Ride up in -- ride up in the -- with the conductor on these trains, which I have done and I've gotten other reporters to do. If you're riding along at 125 miles an hour, you're looking at a system, as one engineer said to me -- I said, "How do you know that train's not on your track?" He said, "Senator, it doesn't matter. It would only be a white light if it's not."

Well, ladies and gentlemen, this is a serious, serious problem. We're now addressing it.

Twenty-one million dollars will be used to rebuild and restore the historic train station in Wilmington, Delaware. Ten million will be used to build a new station in -- for the auto train in Sanford, Florida. And finally -- and finally, in the most wide-reaching of -- aspect of Amtrak's recovery funding, $105 million will be used to repair the dozens of aging facilities throughout the country, work that's needed on stations for maintenance facilities, crew facilities and warehouses, for roofs, plumbing, heat, air conditioning. All this has been delayed for so long. It's repeatedly deferred, and it's on the edge of just fraying.

The work that's being done here at Amtrak is precisely, precisely the kind of work that the president and I have been talking about in the vision in this recovery act. It's work that will take care of critical long-neglected needs. It will put people to work immediately. And it's an investment of dollars that will not only create jobs now but yield benefits for our economy for years to come.

It'll begin to build the platform for the economy of the 21st century.

Now, it's my great honor to introduce one of my closest friends in -- one of my closest friends, period -- but one of my closest friends in politics as well, who will be the first senator to speak. I want to thank Arlen Specter for his leadership on matters relating to Amtrak and a lot of other things.

We will then hear from each of the people I mentioned. It'll be Specter, Rahall, Kerry, Brown, Rockefeller, Larsen, Nelson -- who's not here -- Carney, Lautenberg -- he is here? All right, well, you're here. And -- and so, we will go through that.

I want to apologize ahead of time. I'm going to leave just before Senator Rockefeller speaks -- because I don't want to hear him -- (laughter) -- I'm only kidding, Jay. Jay's always kidding me. But I am required to be at a luncheon. My boss has asked me to have lunch with him a little bit, and so I'm going to have to head back to the White House. But I do want to thank all the members here.

And I particularly want to thank you, Arlen, and the podium is yours. (Applause.)

SEN. SPECTER: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I'm -- what's happening to my teleprompter here, Joe? (Laughter.) What's happening to my teleprompter? They're disappearing before my eyes.

I'm delighted to join the vice president and my colleagues on this very important announcement. One-point-three billion dollars is tremendous; badly needed. A little later today, I will be in Chester, talking about the $63 million for the electrical equipment -- been in existence, as the vice president said, since 1920. And in Delaware, $82 million will filter into Pennsylvania, and into many other states. The Chester operation will put more than 500 people to work for a full year. And this is something long overdue.

A very brief, short story. When President Reagan was elected in 1980, and David Stockman was the director of the Office of Management and Budget, the budget came over and Amtrak was zeroed-out. Howard Baker was then the majority leader, and he was prevailed upon to bring Stockman in. Well, he talked to "Mac" Mathias from Maryland, and Alfonse D'Amato from New York, and John Heinz and me and some others. And we told him what would happen.

If you zeroed out Amtrak, you wouldn't be able to get through the Baltimore tunnel. You wouldn't be able to land at National Airport. And Amtrak's funding was saved at that time. But it has been a constant battle to get the very small sums necessary to keep Amtrak running. And this is a great day for Amtrak. It's a great day for the people who ride Amtrak. And it's going to put a lot of people to work.

I'm on the next train out, so, like Vice President Biden, I'm going to excuse myself. Hate to miss the speeches, but we see these fellows all the time -- fellows and gals. Thank you.

REP. RAHALL: What a difference a vice president makes. Mr. Vice President, thanks so much for your leadership and your appreciation of the rails that have certainly caused a new breath of life into Amtrak. Thanks to your many years of dedication and appreciation, the rails of Amtrak will wither no more. For Amtrak and for President Obama, Joe Biden has proven to be just the right ticket.

I pledge to you and to the president that those of us on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, led by our chairman, Jim Oberstar, and our subcommittee chairman, Corrine Brown, that we will continue to build upon this beautiful announcement today. We should also recognize the tireless work of our senior senator from West Virginia, Robert C. Byrd, who has long been a champion of Amtrak, and our new Senate Commerce, Science, Transportation Committee chairman, my fellow West Virginian, Jay Rockefeller.

These individuals will continue to provide insightful leadership as we move steadily ahead.

Today should signal to the world that America is changing tracks. America is changing tracks. No longer turning our back on passenger rail, we are embracing it and once again joining the wealth of other nations that benefit so much from this efficiency-generating, fuel- saving infrastructure alternative.

West Virginia and rails share a unique history. And West Virginia knows passenger rail and we know the bright future that it holds.

So Mr. Vice President, my fellow colleagues in the Senate and the House, we are in this together. Long live a beautiful and successful Amtrak. Thank you. (Applause.)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: I'd better get the order here. I apologize. I'm sorry.

Next is Senator Rockefeller. Now, when he steps on stage, if I start to sprint, you'll know why -- no. (Laughter.) Jay?

SEN. ROCKEFELLER: I'm very proud of the vice president for his -- I mean, he's the symbol of Amtrak just because he takes it so much. And he's broken the record and he should be honored for that. I congratulate all -- Senator Lautenberg -- all people here and I just have one point to make.

This is our opportunity, in fact, to remake our entire transportation system. And that's air. That's rails. That's steam ships. That's how do you handle containers, all kinds of things. But if you really think about it, rail is the one that costs the least, that emits the least pollution and which is the most user-friendly.

So I foresee, number one, Amtrak coming back very strong with many more appropriations to strengthen it and to strengthen its security, which is always absolutely important, always important. And then secondly -- go on to that and then take the space which is the side -- the public space, which is the side of each track, build more tracks, spend a lot of money on making an efficient, passenger- friendly transportation system. And I can't think of a better one than rails. It's part of our nation's agenda, just as improving all of our forms of transportation are. We got to do it. We start today.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you, Jay.

Bill Nelson, Senator Nelson.

SEN. NELSON: In '05, our auto train station in Sanford, Florida was wiped out by the hurricanes. Ten and a half million dollars of this stimulus money is going to go to restore that.

It is the most successful of all the routes where they combine passenger with the auto to go from Virginia to Florida.

It's a good day.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: And it saves an awful lot of fuel and an awful lot of pollution.

My -- my colleague Ted Kaufman. Senator Kaufman.

SEN. KAUFMAN: Thank you, Vice President Biden. Doesn't that sound good? (Laughter.) "Vice President Biden."

(Chuckles.) You know, first I want to mention that this is one of the things -- as a junior senator, you have certain responsibilities, and one of my responsibilities is to say that the senior senator, Tom Carper, who is a very big supporter of Amtrak, really wanted to be here, but he could not. But he -- no one works harder for Amtrak than Tom Carper.

Just a few things: One, I rode Amtrak for 22 years with -- (pauses) -- with Vice President Biden. I always got to think before the title. And Amtrak is really incredibly important to this country.

And what's great about this new recovery package is, it has (almost ?) a hundred million dollars to be spent in Delaware restoring equipment, like coach cars and locomotives, improving the Wilmington station, and replacing water and power systems -- the vice president told me $36 million for the Wilmington station alone. That will be a great thing for Delaware and for Wilmington.

We have a great Wilmington workforce in Delaware. In Wilmington in the Bear shops, they do a great job.

Rail (travel ?) is clear, efficient and safe, and this is a great day for us to do it, and I'm really glad to see President Obama and Vice President Biden leading the way for much better rail travel and more for rail travel.

Thank you very much.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you.

MR. : (Off mike.)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Okay. I've got here -- the -- Senator -- oh, I apologize. I was supposed to go to Senator Kerry after Senator Specter. I apologize. I was intimidated by Rockefeller. I apologize, Senator. (Laughter.) Come on up. I apologize. Sorry, John. (Laughter.)

SEN. KERRY: It's no problem.

Mr. Vice President, thank you, and thank you to the president for this enormous lift to this critical mode of transportation for our country.

I know you've ridden this train for 37 years, and you know the porters and engineers and the whole bunch of folks who've made this happen for years by name.

And this is very special to you.

There's a little bit of an irony that after all those 37 years, now it gets this improvement money. So I guess timing is everything. But thanks to you, it is getting it, thanks to the president's vision.

Let me just say very quickly, we lose about 4.2 billion hours a year to congestion on our roads. That's lost productivity, just wasted time. It's the equivalent of about 105 million weeks of vacation, believe it or not. We lose close to 3 billion gallons of gasoline, just people sitting there, going nowhere in congestion. We lose unbelievable amount of hours to congestion in our airlines.

And this train that has the ability to go 150 miles an hour only goes 150 miles an hour for about 18 miles of the track. We're behind Germany, Japan, France, other countries.

And this is a vision for the future. This is the president's, vice president's plan for how you put American back to work. It's also a plan for how you prepare this country for the future. And so we're very grateful for that. The New England corridor, the Northeast corridor, all of us are going to benefit as a consequence of this. It's going to make America more productive. It's going to make us more environmentally friendly. It's going to increase the productivity. It's going to create jobs and it's going to create a sustainable economy.

This is the future and we're very grateful to you, Mr. Vice President, for this announcement today.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you, John.

Representative Brown. Getting cold out here.

REP. BROWN: Oh, it's cold out here.

Let me just be clear, I am Congressman Corrine Brown from Florida. It's 82 degrees in Florida. (Laughter.) So I'm going to be real brief.

Even though it's cold here, this is a hot day for Amtrak. Whoo! This is a great day. (Applause.) And of course, this is a real great day for my little town, Sanford, Florida. Do you know what $10-1/2 million will do for the town? A brand new auto train station -- from everyone that will sell them a cup of coffee to the contractors that's going to build it, this is what the stimulus dollars is all about.

Now, the president in his speech said that if you have any problems with the stimulus, call the "po-po" -- that's Joe Biden -- (laughs) -- police. And we're going to do that. This is a wonderful day for Amtrak.

I've got to tell you, for eight years, the difference between a zero budget and a budget that count will make the difference for the people, all of our stakeholders.

One team, one fight: Amtrak! (Applause.)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Next is Senator Frank Lautenberg, who is, by the way, Mr. Amtrak.

REP. BROWN: He is! (Laughs.)

SEN. LAUTENBERG: Thanks very much, Mr. Vice President. Hard to get used to that, but you've adopted very -- adapted very well, I must -- I must say, and we're pleased to be here to share a momentous occasion for our country.

Too long we've delayed facing up to reality. Just think, in this relatively simple decision, getting the funding here, what the effects are. It's on reliability. It's on reducing pollution. It's on reducing the need for imported oil. All of these things happen at a time when everything is so crowded it's fairly impossible to move.

And I can tell you this, friends. I use the railroad frequently, regularly. And sometimes I make a mistake and I take an airplane from here up to Newark. And I didn't realize airplanes had slowed down so much, because the ride is far longer than that which we have on Amtrak.

I was pleased to be able to author the bill that committed over $13 billion to Amtrak for the next five years. The president in his wisdom chose to put the funding in the recovery bill. That's so important. My colleague, Senator Kerry, has worked so hard on getting funds for fast -- for high-speed rail across the country. It's time that America wakes up to the reality that we have no other choice but to add this important transportation link and bring it up to current times.

So, Mr. Vice President, we thank you. We thank President Obama for his leadership. And we can't wait to get on the track; I'm going to take the train to New Jersey. Thank you all very, very much. (Applause.)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Let me make sure; I got two different lists here and I'm -- I'm -- I -- and I -- I apologize for that. I believe next is -- is Representative Larsen.

REP. LARSEN: Appreciate it. I'm Rick Larsen of Washington state, and I wanted to thank the vice president and my colleagues from the House and the Senate for having me here today.

When Americans think Amtrak, they might usually think the Northeast corridor. But Amtrak's critical for the West Coast as well. It connects small towns to urban centers, links cities and states and provinces, and -- yes -- helps get people to work every day.

And I am proof here today that Amtrak goes through more than just one Washington. In Washington state, we're celebrating the 10th anniversary of Amtrak Cascades passenger rail service. The Cascades service provides fast and reliable service along the I-5 corridor from Portland, Oregon to Vancouver, B.C. And last year, this route carried more passengers than ever before; a -- it was a 14 percent increase over the previous year. This service has grown to four daily round trips between Portland and Seattle, and one daily round trip between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. It's particularly important to my district in northwest Washington, and I'm working with our governor, Christine Gregoire, and the Canadian government to set up a second train, to get it up and running in time for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.

We -- Washington state ranks second behind only California in state support for Amtrak. Since '99, we have invested $137 million in capital rail improvements to modernize trains, tracks and stations. And with ridership expanding, investments in Amtrak are more important than ever before, and the economic recovery act will go to work in my state and across the country to create jobs, improve rail safety, and make Amtrak more efficient.

So I'm pleased to be here as part of this announcement.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you very much.

And by the way, as you all know, there is a significant amount of money in for high-speed rail, which will primarily be affecting -- not primarily, but significantly affecting the West Coast.

Congressman Carney.

REP. CARNEY: Well, I -- I represent the area that this gentleman is from, and I'm very proud -- I'm very jealous, actually, that he had the opportunity to ride Amtrak back and forth to work and home every day for 7,000 round trips. I wish I had that opportunity, but we're going to be working on that.

Now, where I -- the area I represent does not any longer have passenger rail service. We do, however, have the only national park dedicated to rail, at Steamtown in Scranton. We want to make sure that we can bring back passenger rail.

Now, Senator Lautenberg was just here. A lot of the folks from my district actually clog the roads in New Jersey -- 4,000 buses a day, thousands of cars a day from Pennsylvania cross I-80 trying to get into Manhattan. Senator Lautenberg would like to see that congestion eased. We can do that by building the Lackawanna cutoff.

But what we have to do is think in a larger strategic term of what rail service will do for the nation. We've heard a lot of the facts here lately, but the point is that if we put our dedication and our resources toward it, we will restore the legacy that is rail in America. And I look forward to working with the administration and Chairwoman Brown on this.

And thank you so much.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Last but not least, Congressman Carson.

REP. CARSON: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

Let me begin by thanking the vice president and the administration for their outstanding leadership on the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. I would be remiss if I did not also thank my congressional colleagues for their diligence in pushing this legislation through the House and the Senate.

My home state, the great Hoosier state of Indiana, will reap tremendous benefits from this recovery package. My congressional district is home to one of our nation's finest and most robust Amtrak maintenance facilities, in Beech Grove, Indiana. Today, I am proud that we can announce funding to ensure the future viability and longevity of this important repair facility. With this announcement, I believe the Obama administration is demonstrating the true dynamic versatility of this economic recovery package -- because this recovery package is not just about creating and saving American jobs; it is about making vital investments into our nation's infrastructure.

So thank you, thank you, and keep up the great work, Amtrak. (Applause.)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you.

I thank all my colleagues for being here. Our budget includes funding for rail as well. We hope this is the beginning.

And again, I'll conclude by saying not only is the recovery act designed to create jobs -- which this will do, and do it immediately -- but it's also designed to put in place the elements of a platform for a modern, 21st-century economy that cannot be won without significant passenger and freight modernized rail service.

Thank you all very much for being here. (Applause.)

END.


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