‘Amtrak Joe’ will propel America’s trains into the 21st century

In 1959, the US had the fastest passenger trains in the world but now it's a slow coach
Magical views from Amtrak trains. All photos: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Back in 2021, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg lamented America’s laggardly pace on high-speed rail. “I just don’t know why people in other countries ought to have better train service and more investment in high-speed train service than Americans do,” he said, indicating that the Biden administration had an appetite for lots of fast trains…and fast.


In 1959, America had the fastest passenger trains in the world, according to Amtrak. Fast forward to 2023 and at least 18 countries have a train network that runs faster than America’s highest-speed option, which is the Acela that runs between Boston and Washington D.C.

But President Biden is often called “Amtrak Joe”. It’s a nickname he got because he reportedly took the train every day between Washington D.C. and his home in Delaware for 36 years to be home from the Senate with his motherless sons.

And as he prepared to assume the presidency, Mr Biden explained that his support for rail travel went much “beyond the emotional connection”. He said that trains are needed more than ever before and “support for Amtrak must be strong – not because it is a cherished American institution, which it is – but because it is a powerful and indispensable way to carry us all into a leaner, cleaner, greener 21st century”.

Well, the Biden administration is delivering on its ambition to propel America’s rail network into the 21st century.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which passed on November 15, 2021, promises what Mr Buttigieg’s Transportation Department calls “a generational investment in America’s intermodal transportation system”. The law will provide “unprecedented Federal funding for rail improvement projects in America…$102 billion in total rail funding”.

Not before time.

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac

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America’s train network is preparing for a high-speed future

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