(CNN) — “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… What is going on at that kitchen table? What are people thinking about? What are their real worries?”
Such ideas would occupy Senator Joe Biden’s thoughts on his homeward commute from Washington D.C. to Wilmington, Delaware.
The forty sixth President of the United State’s relationship with trains reads like a romance. Biden has traveled over two million miles on Amtrak alone, usually chewing the fats with passengers — typically even shopping for the coffees.
All of this, although, was prompted by tragedy. Biden was sworn into the Senate in January 1973 on the hospital bedside of his injured son, Beau. The month earlier than, Biden had misplaced his spouse, Neilia, and their 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, in a automobile crash involving all of the Biden youngsters.
Commuting by prepare meant the industrious household man could be house to kiss his two surviving youngsters goodnight.
In one case, a prepare might even have received a sure president re-election.
Trains and tragedy
While Andrew Jackson turned the primary president to experience on a prepare, William Henry Harrison noticed a chance to harness steam energy for his personal ambitions.
Fittingly, his 1836 marketing campaign set off from Biden’s hometown of Wilmington — touring to Trenton in New Jersey. Harrison was defeated, however returned to win the subsequent election. Unhappily remembered as the primary president to die in workplace, he was additionally the primary to reach at his inauguration by prepare.
Train terminus: Lincoln’s posthumous remaining journey was made by rail.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
As he departed the crowded platform at Springfield, Lincoln mentioned: “I now leave… with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington.”
As the Civil War reached endgame, a non-public prepare automobile was ready for Lincoln, named — what else — “The United States.” The president, cautious of luxurious trappings, wasn’t candy on the concept.
In a darkish accident, he by no means acquired to experience it anyway — no less than, not alive.
Lincoln’s solely journey aboard The United States got here after his assassination. In the spring of 1865, the rail automobile — crudely stripped of its freshly mounted furnishings, and now fitted with a portrait of the president on the entrance of the engine — wound its method by some 180 cities between Washington D.C. and Springfield, Illinois in a somber type of reverse inauguration journey.
James A. Garfield may need been one other presidential proponent of trains, had he not been gunned down whereas about to board one, lower than 4 months into his first time period. The twentieth President of the United States was shot twice within the again at Washington D.C.’s Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station on July 2, 1881, dying 79 days later.
The railroad automobile that received an election
Two cowboys be part of Franklin D. Roosevelt throughout an electioneering tour in 1932.
The heyday of the presidential prepare steamed into city with Franklin D. Roosevelt and his US Car No. 1, or “Ferdinand Magellan.”
The automobile was an outdated Pullman, revamped with bulletproof metal, 12-ply laminated glass home windows and two escape hatches: one within the roof, normal from an outdated submarine; the opposite within the lavatory. It was the Air Force One of its day.
It turned important to the president — not for campaigning, however the enterprise of warfare.
“Roosevelt’s first trip in the Ferdinand Magellan was to Miami, where he boarded the Pan American Airways Boeing 314 Dixie Clipper to travel to the Casablanca Conference,” says Waggoner.
“I have no doubt that he discussed with his generals and advisers the next phase of World War II.”
You can think about Lincoln flinching on the “creature comforts” Roosevelt afforded himself. On excursions of the Ferdinand Magellan, Waggoner reveals to guests the rudimentary air-con, which includes followers circulating cool air, created by blocks of ice.
In the lavatory, in the meantime, is what seems to be a silver cleaning soap dish; in reality it is what Roosevelt used to carry his cigars whereas he perched on the bathroom.
President Roosevelt clocked up critical mileage within the Ferdinand Magellan prepare automobile.
Cully Waggoner/Gold Coast Railroad Museum
Still, it was Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman, who made essentially the most of US Car No. 1.
During his 1948 re-election marketing campaign in opposition to Thomas E. Dewey, Truman journeyed some 28,000 miles throughout the States, making over 350 whistle cease speeches from the rear platform.
The automobile turned not simply Truman’s stage, however his house — a White House on wheels. The president is even mentioned to have washed his socks in one of many on-board sinks.
Truman did not favor prepare journey as a lot as Roosevelt, however the slog was price it. “Truman was never a very popular president and he was way behind in the polls,” says Waggoner, “However, he made a connection with the American people during those speeches and that is what pushed him onto victory.”
Dwight Eisenhower was the final president to make use of the presidential automobile earlier than it was mothballed, however he did so not often. He was extra all for roads, signing the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, and — within the stroke of a pen — accelerating the frenzy of massive auto and oil, and concurrently hobbling the rail trade.
The presidential prepare had juddered to a halt. Or had it?
A ‘second nice railway revolution’?
Bill Clinton jumped on the prepare bandwagon throughout reelection campaigning in 1996.
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP by way of Getty Images
Though a president’s function usually includes gazing right into a rose-tinted future, nostalgia all the time performs nicely with a crowd. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton each jumped aboard the sentimentality prepare, with journeys on the classic Georgia 300 railroad automobile.
They have been adopted by Barack Obama and Joe Biden, who evoked Lincoln on their approach to their 2009 inauguration.
Really although, these have been little greater than flash-in-the-pan photograph ops; may Biden’s presidency reignite POTUS’ private bond with the rails for actual?
“It is far safer and faster to transport a president by air than ground transport, so the likelihood of a president traveling by rail is highly unlikely,” Waggoner says.
At least Biden’s appointment would possibly give the rail trade the increase it has been crying out for.
In his 2020 election marketing campaign, Biden known as out for a “Second Great Railway Revolution,” and now that he is behind the Resolute Desk, the trade appears cautiously optimistic he’ll be good to his phrase.
Down the road
The California High-Speed Rail goals to attach LA and San Francisco in below three hours.
California High-Speed Rail Authority
Melissa Figueroa, chief of strategic communications at California High-Speed Rail Authority, tells CNN Travel: “California and the Biden administration share a common vision in putting people to work with good-paying labor jobs and creating a green transportation system.
“We are hopeful that we will transfer nearer to that actuality with this new practical federal partnership.”
Biden’s beloved Amtrak, too, has reason to be hopeful. In the article he wrote for its magazine, Biden described Amtrak as “a strong and indispensable approach to carry us all right into a leaner, cleaner, greener twenty first century,” going on to muse: “When you take into account that it prices a median of $30 million for one linear mile of 1 lane of freeway, you see what a sound funding rail journey is.”
Whether Biden’s presidency can spark a slew of progressive, high-speed rail routes to rival those in Europe and Asia — or even to improve local rail travel, now that a pandemic has egregiously stunted passenger numbers — is another question.
Says Cully Waggoner, “I’d like to see Joe Biden do one thing much like what Eisenhower did with the Federal Aid Highway Act, and assist enhance and develop nationwide railroads like they did with the interstate highways.
“However, I don’t see that happening with a national debt of over $21 trillion dollars. It will take private companies to build these new railroads, rather than the government.”
A prepare might as soon as have single-handedly saved a president’s cover. But it might be naive to suppose a president alone can now rescue the American prepare trade.