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Biden touts fix to Baltimore rail tunnel that he's traveled through 'a thousand times'

Longtime Amtrak rider President Biden returned Monday to a spot he’s been in hundreds of times: the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel. This time, he arrived at the East Coast’s worst rail congestion point as a messenger of good news rather than a passenger.

“I’ve been through this tunnel a thousand times. When folks talk about how badly the Baltimore tunnel needs an upgrade, you don’t need me to tell you, I’ve been there,” said Biden, who recounted his frequent Amtrak trips between Washington, D.C., and his Delaware home while serving as a senator.

Biden stood beside the railroad tracks and a parked Amtrak train as he outlined how money from the bipartisan infrastructure law, which he signed in 2021, will be used to modernize the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel.

The tunnel is considered the largest bottleneck for the busy rail corridor between New York City and Washington, D.C., causing delays for thousands of passengers. The tunnel was built nearly 150 years ago.

The project is expected to create roughly 20,000 construction jobs, and the newly completed tunnel will be named after Maryland native and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The project is expected to take roughly a decade to complete, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) told attendees before Biden spoke.

The renovations are expected to cost roughly $6 billion, with money from the bipartisan infrastructure law that Biden signed in 2021 contributing up to $4.7 billion, the White House said. 

The current tunnel is aging, with curved tracks that require trains passing through to slow to 30 mph to safely navigate the 1.4-mile stretch of tracks. The setup causes frequent delays for Amtrak trains as well as MARC trains carrying passengers between Baltimore and Washington.

The renovated tunnel will feature softer curves, new signaling systems and a new West Baltimore MARC station that is more accessible for people with disabilities.

When the project is complete, Biden said, trains will be able to pass through at speeds of up to 110 mph, cutting down on commuter times and curbing frequent delays.

“I know how important this tunnel is to commuter rail and MARC rail back and forth to Washington, and I know how much it matters to the entire Northeast corridor, from here to Boston,” Biden said. “It matters a great deal. For years, people talked about fixing this tunnel.”

Biden’s frequent Amtrak trips to and from the nation’s capital while he was a senator earned him the nickname “Amtrak Joe,” and on Monday he recalled his deep familiarity with the railway as he highlighted the planned improvements.

He spoke about becoming close friends with the engineers and staff on the trains he’d take home to Delaware, attending their weddings and, in more recent years, their funerals.

“Amtrak wasn’t just a way to get home to family. Conductors, engineers, they literally became my family,” Biden said.

The Baltimore trip serves as a kickoff for a string of presidential travel to highlight projects in the Northeast that are being funded by the bipartisan infrastructure law.

Biden will travel Tuesday to New York City to highlight funding to improve the Hudson Tunnel, through which hundreds of thousands of rail passengers pass each week. The president and vice president will then head Friday to Philadelphia to detail how the bipartisan infrastructure law will help remove lead pipes and ensure clean water in parts of the city.

The trips reflect the White House’s focus on educating the public about how the infrastructure law, a signature accomplishment of Biden’s first year in office, is helping improve roads, bridges and railways in local communities. 

The legislation and the resulting projects are likely to form a key piece of Biden’s eventual reelection campaign, with the president’s team focusing on what he accomplished during his first two years with a Democratic-controlled Congress.

The law, which is one of several bipartisan bills Biden signed during his first two years in office, also is expected to contribute to his argument that he is able to bridge the divide between the two parties to get things done.

“When America sees these projects popping up across the country, it sends a really important message. When we work together, there’s not a damn thing we can’t do,” Biden said.

Source: The Hill

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