VICE PRESIDENT Joe Biden, a self-confessed railroad geek, strode to the podium at 30th Street Station yesterday to sing the praises of Amtrak's smart new electric locomotive - and quickly noticed that U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, Philly's Democratic Party chairman, was missing.
"I don't know where the hell Brady is," Biden told the crowd in mock shock-and-awe. "Tell him I marked him 'absent.' "
Then Biden, who U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx introduced as "president of the Amtrak fan club," launched into a riding-the-rails rap with the fervor of a man who made 7,000 round-trips between Washington and his Wilmington home during his 36 years in the Senate.
Biden confided that sometimes, while riding the night-owl train home after a long day in D.C., he fell asleep - "I'm serious!" - and woke up in 30th Street Station.
"Usually," Biden joked, "when [fellow Sen.] Arlen Specter told them not to wake me up."
But Biden's excitement over Amtrak's new Cities Sprinter electric locomotive - the first of a fleet of 70 that debuts today when it arrives at 30th Street Station from Boston at 2 p.m. - is serious and genuine.
One out of six Americans lives along the Northeast Corridor, where one out of five American jobs exists, Biden said.
Amtrak, he said, carried 11 million Northeast Corridor passengers last year.
"I-95 would be a parking lot without Amtrak," Biden said, adding, "How many more lanes can you build?"
He said he was "so tired of getting beat up [about Amtrak's federal subsidies] for the last 40 years" by people who don't realize how vital trains are to the Northeast Corridor, where automobile commuters "spend 47 hours a year in traffic jams."
The 70 new Cities Sprinters will replace locomotives that have been in service for 25 to 35 years and have averaged more than 3.5 million miles, he said.
The Siemens-built locomotives feature "regenerative braking," which puts electricity back into the catenary (overhead wires), and computerized self-diagnosis and self-correction of technical problems.
The Cities Sprinter's all-American construction, Biden said, including handrails made in Philadelphia and seats made in Exton, will create high-paying middle-class jobs in 60 cities in 23 states.