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Biden touts a ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity’ for Amtrak during Philly visit

Biden’s visit came at the end of the week in which he marked his 100th day in office, and as he pressed his case for a sweeping infrastructure proposal that includes $80 billion for rail.

President Joe Biden speaks Friday at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.
President Joe Biden speaks Friday at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Standing in an Amtrak railyard in Philadelphia Friday, President Joe Biden called for a major investment in rail service to create jobs and fight climate change as promoted in his sweeping $2 trillion infrastructure proposal.

“Today we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to position Amtrak and rail ... [to] play a central role in our transformation,” Biden said at the blustery facility just outside 30th Street Station.

The president, who for decades made Amtrak a part of his political identity, laid out a vision of new connections like one from Scranton and Allentown to New York, saying such investments would spark the economy and offer cleaner transportation options.

“It opens up enormous possibilities and especially now it makes it possible to build an economy of the future and one that we need,” Biden said, tying rail investments to his pledge to cut emissions in half by 2030. “When I think about fighting climate change, I think about jobs and rail, and hopefully the expansion of rail provides good union jobs, good paying jobs. It also connects people to jobs and economic opportunities that can be reached from wherever you live.”

Wearing a blue hat with the presidential seal, Biden spoke at a podium positioned amid a set of tracks, with new Acela trains behind him and the Comcast Center looming high in the distance.

His visit‚ a day before Amtrak’s 50th anniversary, came at the end of the week in which Biden marked his 100th day in office, delivered his first formal address to a joint session of Congress, and rolled out the third piece of a massive economic agenda — his “American Families Plan” calling for spending $1.8 trillion on education, child care, and family leave. The stop in Philadelphia was part of a tour the White House has launched to promote Biden’s agenda.

» READ MORE: Biden’s first 100 days: Speak softly and deliver a big pitch

The visit brought Biden back to the city where he had based his campaign headquarters and a state that proved critical to his victory in 2020, and which next year will again host nationally influential races for governor and U.S. Senate.

A day earlier he had visited another vital swing state, Georgia, to press his case for a more active role for government.

Republicans have blasted Biden’s plans as an excessive and counterproductive expansion of government that, they argue, will stunt economic growth and spark inflation.

“He is governing as someone who wants to go down as a president who massively expands the size and scope and cost of the federal government,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) said this week. “It’s quite stunning when you consider the scale of his proposals.”

Biden spoke for roughly 15 minutes Friday, spending a large chunk of the speech reminiscing about his many years riding Amtrak as a senator from Delaware and his friendships with employees. Blake Weaver, a conductor who became friendly with Biden while working on the train from Washington to Wilmington, introduced the president.

Biden told one story about leaving Washington on his birthday so he could meet his daughter on the train platform in Wilmington, blow out the candle on a cake she had made, and ride right back to Washington for a Senate vote.

Biden’s infrastructure and jobs plan includes an $80 billion investment in rail, two-thirds of which would support existing routes, he said. The administration says the money, part of $621 billion proposed for transportation infrastructure, would also help the railroad ease its repair backlog, modernize the Northeast Corridor, and create new rail connections.

Biden has used his first three months in office to sign a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief program, and then followed up with his plans to invest in infrastructure and the clean energy economy, and spend $1.8 trillion to expand the social safety net to make education and child care more affordable. He has called for raising taxes on corporations and people earning more than $400,000 a year to pay for the vast agenda.

» READ MORE: At schools, airports, and mushroom farms, Democrats sell voters on Biden’s stimulus

The size and scope of the proposals, which, along with traditional nuts-and-bolts infrastructure, include a long list of liberal priorities, such as $400 billion for home and community care, will test Biden and Democratic leaders, given the party’s narrow control of Congress. A group of Republicans, including Toomey, have offered a counterproposal, but they and the White House are far apart in their visions of how big an infrastructure program should go.

“Amtrak needs a rail network that offers frequent, reliable, sustainable, and equitable train service,” Amtrak CEO William Flynn said at the event.

A day earlier he told reporters by phone that the investment Biden has proposed “would allow us to catch up from frankly decades of underfunding.”

The visit was Biden’s third to Pennsylvania since mid-March. He went to Delaware County to promote his stimulus bill, and then launched his infrastructure pitch in Pittsburgh.