Biden run could be a boon for Amtrak

Marc Scribner talks to The Hill about what Joe Biden's possible presidential run means for Amtrak: 

Competitive Enterprise Institute Transportation Research Fellow Marc Scribner said there could be plusses and minuses to a Biden campaign for Amtrak because the vice president's presence in the race could remind voters of previous rail accidents and the Obama administration's failure to drastically expand the use of high-speed rail in the U.S., however.

"This would raise the profile of Amtrak, which is not a hot topic in any of the campaigns right now," Scribner said. "From an Amtrak perspective, Republicans in the House are unified around opposition to further rail subsidies and the high-speed rail initiatives that Obama rolled out are nonexistent, other than in California."

Scribner told The Hill that a Biden presidential run could further solidify a partisan divide over Amtrak funding that has emerged in recent years in Washington because the vice president is "sort of Mr. Amtrak."

"Obviously it would raise the profile [of Amtrak] because Joe Biden loves trains," Scribner said.

"I can see both sides of it though," he continued. "Amtrak might like it because it would raise the profile, even though [Amtrak CEO] Joe Boardman is a Republican, but it would solidify Amtrak as a Democratic thing, which no one in the rail communities wants."

Scribner said the Amtrak's popularity is a "regional thing" that is largely limited to the northeast corridor, which explains Biden's fondness for it, but also makes it hard to translate to voters in the heartland.

He added that a Biden presidential bid could remind voters of tragedies like the Philadelphia derailment as much as it boosts Amtrak's esteem in their eyes.

"That's the last sort of national memory of Amtrak," he said of the May crash.

Scribner noted there is a lot of consternation in Congress about delays in the implementation of automated train technology known as Positive Train Control that could have possibly prevented the May crash.

"After the Philadelphia derailment, you briefly saw Democrats trying to turn this into a funding issue, but they quickly dropping it because funding isn't really the problem with PTC," he said.