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The Biden Campaign Train is back in the news

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MARC Rider

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I'll try to avoid the partisan political comments, but the article had a number of interesting quotes regarding Amtrak charters for political campaigning.

“We are concerned that the apparent use of a struggling, resource-deprived, publicly-run service for political gain does not serve the best interests of Amtrak or the American taxpayers at this time,” wrote Reps. Eric A. “Rick” Crawford (Ark.), Bob Gibbs (Ohio), Scott Perry (Pa.) and Lloyd Smucker (Pa.).
It might be interesting to see what sort of record these congressmen have concerning funding for Amtrak.

in its disclosures to the Federal Election Commission, the Biden campaign reported spending $265,000 on the train charter. Amtrak says that the starting rate for a charter is $30,000, and that no discount was given. “We can’t provide the cost, but can share that we did make money, as we aim to do for any charter,” Amtrak said in a statement.
Well, now we know what a train charter costs. I guess it would be a little beyond our means to charter a train for the next AU Gathering. :)

“Operation of charter trains is an important revenue source for Amtrak and one that supports other parts of our business," the railroad said in a statement. “Customers range from sports teams to businesses, historical groups and even individuals whose private railcars are coupled to our trains,” Amtrak said.
Seaboard, please don't hurt yourself while you're ROTFL. :)

An Amtrak historical article recounts the long history of presidential campaigns taking to the rails. William Henry Harrison was the first presidential candidate to do so, in 1836, according to historians. In modern history, Jimmy Carter (D), Gerald Ford (R) and George H.W. Bush (R) took trains on campaign tours. Harry S. Truman (D), during his 1948 “whistle-stop” tour, traveled more than 28,000 miles and delivered more than 350 speeches.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton (D) used Amtrak for a campaign trip that made stops in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, and four years later, George W. Bush (R) took his campaign to California’s Central Coast, on a tour aboard Amtrak’s Coast Starlight and Pacific Surfliner.
I also believe that President Obama rode an Amtrak charter after he was elected, on the way to his inauguration.
 

Just-Thinking-51

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“Operation of charter trains is an important revenue source for Amtrak and one that supports other parts of our business," the railroad said in a statement. “Customers range from sports teams to businesses, historical groups and even individuals whose private railcars are coupled to our trains.”
Seaboard, please don't hurt yourself while you're ROTFL. :)
☝😜Congratulations you won the Internet 🤪☝
 

Seaboard92

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Well, now we know what a train charter costs. I guess it would be a little beyond our means to charter a train for the next AU Gathering. :)

Seaboard, please don't hurt yourself while you're ROTFL. :)

I also believe that President Obama rode an Amtrak charter after he was elected, on the way to his inauguration.
I just want to know what charter costs 30K dollars. I've never heard of a price that low in 11 years in the industry. So that is news to me.

265K actually sounds relatively high. Consider that a weekend of charters used to cost 250K in NC a few years back. Now granted inflation has definitely occurred since I have heard that price but not at that level.

But considering the train was ran as a one way move CHI-CLE-Johnstown (I'm sorry I don't know the code) and I assume onto HAR and PHL that can definitely add to the cost. Especially with two locomotives headed into a terminal that has little use for the P42 Fleet. They would have to be deadheaded back west or south to reenter service. The coaches in the consist are all NEC Based minus the Viewliner II Diner which is from Hialeah. So the coaches had to deadhead out to Chicago to be in position. Then consider that they had to have a CHI-TOL, TOL-PGH (Potentially two crews due to the lateness of the train), and PGH-Johnstown-(HAR maybe)-(PHL Maybe). Then having to deadhead them all back to their origin terminal at the end of it definitely a bit of an operational mess. But not 265K considering Amtrak can deadhead their own cars, and crews on their trains at little to no cost.

You did win the internet with that. And I laughed so hard it hurt.

Actually if you want to know who all has used Amtrak in a campaign I'll provide the quick list and history.

Amtrak Involved Trips
1972: George McGovern: Omaha to North Plate, NE
1976: President Gerald Ford: Flint, MI-Niles, MI
1976: President Gerald Ford: Chicago-St. Louis
1976: President Jimmy Carter: New York-Chicago via Pittsburgh
1984: President Ronald Reagan: Dayton, OH-Perrysburg, OH
1988: Michael Dukakis: Pittsburgh-Altoona
1988: Michael Dukakis: Belleville, IL to Walnut Ridge Ark however was supposed to go onto SAS
1988: Michael Dukakis: Bakersfield to Stockton on SP
1996: President Clinton: WAS-CHI
2004: John Kerry: KCY-ABQ
2008: President Obama: HAR-PHL
2008: President Obama: PHL-WAS

Non Amtrak Involved Trips
1992: Dan Quayle: CLT-HPT: NS
1992: President H. W. Bush: Columbus, OH-Grand Blanc, MI: CSX/UP/AEE/CR
1992: President H. W. Bush: Atlanta, GA-Raleigh, NC CSX/NS/UP/AEE
1992: President H.W. Bush: Burlington, WI to Chippewa Falls ,WI Wisconsin Central/CSX/UP/CNW
1995: Elizabeth Dole: New England Southern in New Hampshire
2000: President George W Bush: UP/CSX Michigan, and Ohio
2018: President George H. W. Bush Funeral Train: UP Houston-College Station, TX

And what do all of those have in common that Vice President Biden does not? They all used an open platform car on the rear.

Also as you can see the only year in recent history a campaign special was not operated was 2016, and 1980.

Now if I start looking at Gubernatorial and Senatorial races a few others come to mind. But I'll have to ask other people for more information on the subject.

Since Amtrak has existed it has been involved in 9 Democrats, and 3 Republican Charters for a total of 12 total charters. Now that I believe is disproportionate only because the campaigns chose to involve Amtrak vs. going to a private for profit freight railroad, or just chose not to do a charter in general.

Since Amtrak has existed freight railroads have operated 7 Trains with 7 of them being for republicans 0 being for democrats.

This is a subject in which I am the closest thing to a scholar on. I have several books I've read on the subject. I was involved in the failed 2020 Train Project which was to operate campaign specials for any candidate who chartered it (The failure was not my fault). I have also attended the Biden Campaign Train, and the Funeral Train for President H. W. Bush.

If there is a subject in the charter world I'm most qualified to to discuss.

I'm looking forward to 2024 because if candidates are going to be less likely after this political circus mess to use Amtrak. They might just as well partner with a young, energetic, political science major, PV operator who knows both the political industry and the rail industry. And not only that he can put his personal politics into the back crevices of his mind because providing a good service to a client is more important than personal politics.

Gee I wonder who that is :)
 

crescent-zephyr

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265K actually sounds relatively high. Consider that a weekend of charters used to cost 250K in NC a few years back. Now granted inflation has definitely occurred since I have heard that price but not at that level.
That weekend of charters didn’t involve the American View and spiking switches did it? Lol
 

Seaboard92

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That weekend of charters didn’t involve the American View and spiking switches did it? Lol
No it didn't. But it did involve 10 or 11 Amtrak Cars. And they were not spiking switches for the Biden Train. I was there and I did not see any switches that appeared to be spiked. Both mains appeared to be fully bidirectional. I was quite surprised they didn't.
 

crescent-zephyr

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No it didn't. But it did involve 10 or 11 Amtrak Cars. And they were not spiking switches for the Biden Train. I was there and I did not see any switches that appeared to be spiked. Both mains appeared to be fully bidirectional. I was quite surprised they didn't.
Traditionally they also operate a second train ahead of the candidate but in this case that also wasn't operated. Instead a loaded Ethanol train ran ahead. In these times I think that was a really rather dumb move.
Wow. Both of those are incredibly suprising.

Is that NS track?
 

SCbogey

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Non-Amtrak Involved Trips
1964:”Lady Bird Special” Lady Bird for Lyndon Johnson.

A lead unit cleared the tracks about 5-10 minutes prior to campaign train, and followed by another unit 5-10 minutes later. Three crews were used. The extra units appeared to be security units and may have been backup power for the campaign train.

Lady Bird Johnson gave a short speech from the open platform rear car.
 

Devil's Advocate

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Since Amtrak has existed it has been involved in 9 Democrats, and 3 Republican Charters for a total of 12 total charters. Now that I believe is disproportionate only because the campaigns chose to involve Amtrak vs. going to a private for profit freight railroad, or just chose not to do a charter in general.
The ratio is different because the message is different. Although political charters may look similar on the surface a private charter is generally provided as an in-kind contribution to a nominee's campaign and primarily demonstrates a campaign's loyalty and deference to a donor. Whereas an Amtrak charter is handled as a revenue event that demonstrates a candidate's willingness to spend time and money supporting passenger rail and public transit.
 

Barb Stout

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No it didn't. But it did involve 10 or 11 Amtrak Cars. And they were not spiking switches for the Biden Train. I was there and I did not see any switches that appeared to be spiked. Both mains appeared to be fully bidirectional. I was quite surprised they didn't.
What does spiking a switch mean and what are the implications especially with respect to the Biden charter campaign train?
 

AmtrakBlue

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What does spiking a switch mean and what are the implications especially with respect to the Biden charter campaign train?
Seems to locking a switch (so it can't be changed remotely) and probably to protect the excursion train from other trains entering the line it's on (aka, parked)
 

Seaboard92

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Wow. Both of those are incredibly suprising.

Is that NS track?
Correct the entire route was NS track from start to finish. I was quite surprised by both accounts having been involved in the planning of something similar.

The whole event very much felt like amateur hour from start in my opinion.

Some other places it differs from a traditional whistle stop campaign charter is in the advance notice to the communities it runs thru. Generally they get a week to two weeks advance notice so the towns citizens know to come out to the track. And most of the time they also decorate their town around where the train stops in a patriotic red white and blue. Whereas this campaign only posted the route 18 hours in advance of the actual event. What was really rather funny was this fact. They announced there was a train on Sunday that was running on Thursday. In the course of this time I heard of six different routes that were "the route".

The next point I will add that is rather strange I'm good friends with the corporate photographer for NS. I asked him about it on Sunday to see if he had any information about the train. Mostly because I wanted to hear from an outside source that I trust "Yes there is a train, but I can't release details yet" and he hadn't even heard of it. I still ultimately went without the outside confirmation that it was happening hoping that it was going to occur because my train to Cleveland left earlier than when they released the official information.

My next point is the fact they didn't have an office car available for the Bidens to use. Amtrak has recently reactivated theirs now renamed the Delaware. And in Chicago there is usually one or two in the area year round. It was very difficult to see the candidate especially depending on the angle of the sun because of a glare. Whereas on an open platform you wouldn't have any issue with that. And the fact that a candidate could interact with the people around the track via microphone as they are rolling by. There are plenty of videos of President Clinton, and President Bush doing that. I will say when Dr. Jill Biden waved at my friend Nigel it made his entire day. But imagine if they were on a platform and could have talked to him on the microphone. That is how you win voters.

Now the other thing that also made no sense to me is the route in which they chose. It would make much more political sense to go to Youngstown, and Ashtabula. Then some of the other routes that were mentioned were via Columbus, via Akron, and a few others. I understand that they wanted to use Amtrak for the optics of it and Amtrak has this dumb rule against off network charters. But I would have figured for the optics of it, and the fact of who was asking they would have done it. Now that would have created a bigger stir because you would have had Amtrak violating their rules. And I would be the first and loudest advocate pointing out that exception.
 

Seaboard92

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What does spiking a switch mean and what are the implications especially with respect to the Biden charter campaign train?
Seems to locking a switch (so it can't be changed remotely) and probably to protect the excursion train from other trains entering the line it's on (aka, parked)
Betty is on the right track with it. So all switches have a switch lock on it. And for the most part all of the locks along NS have the same key regardless of region so there are thousands copies of keys in circulation currently. And those keys are for the most part relatively easy to get a hold of if so if you are someone wanting to cause harm to the Vice President or any candidate for that matter and you can get a copy of the key. You could easily realign the train into a parked freight train at track speed.

So the solution for this instead of having a guard on every turnout which would require incredibly high staffing is to spike the points shut. The points of the switch are the moving parts of a switch that does the reallignment. So if you spike them shut even if you try to manually throw the switch it won't budge. It is a low tech, low manpower solution that works.

It is a practice that has been going on since the late 1800s that I'm surprised no one thought about.

That leads me to my other complaint that they were going track speed the entire route. In the name of safety when you have an event you know that brings hundreds or thousands of people trackside you don't go 79 MPH. Norfolk Southern limits steam locomotives to 40 mph as part of this. Now a train hitting you at 40 vs a train hitting you at 79 is no less deadly. But the point is the more people around the track you want to go slower. And if you are the candidate you are able to interact more with the population around the track more if you are going the slower speed.
 

Seaboard92

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I guess I'm confused by the complaint noted in the article? They paid $265,000 for this charter, and gave Amtrak millions in free publicity. How is this a problem?
Sounds like they were using my argument I would make to the railroads. "But think of how much news coverage will have your logo and brand in the background" Which actually is worth several million when you factor what advertisements cost.
 

Devil's Advocate

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It was very difficult to see the candidate especially depending on the angle of the sun because of a glare. Whereas on an open platform you wouldn't have any issue with that. And the fact that a candidate could interact with the people around the track via microphone as they are rolling by. There are plenty of videos of President Clinton, and President Bush doing that. I will say when Dr. Jill Biden waved at my friend Nigel it made his entire day. But imagine if they were on a platform and could have talked to him on the microphone. That is how you win voters.
The political climate today is starting to resemble the period before JFK was shot to death in front of thousands of onlookers. Foreign adversaries and domestic threats are becoming increasingly aggressive with little or no push back from sympathetic authorities. American militias have been accused of plotting to attack and even assassinate our candidates and politicians. Some have been found early but it's foolish to assume every threat will be discovered and neutralized in time. Easy and reliable access may win more support but it also comes with a potentially severe downside. If the reports of moveable switches and a loaded ethanol leader are true that is disconcerting to me.
 
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NSC1109

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What does spiking a switch mean and what are the implications especially with respect to the Biden charter campaign train?
Seems to locking a switch (so it can't be changed remotely) and probably to protect the excursion train from other trains entering the line it's on (aka, parked)
I volunteer for a small railroad track gang as well so I can somewhat answer this.

“Spiking a switch” means just that. You drive a spike into the gauge so the points can’t be moved. We use it when we place a spur track out of service. Low tech security measure really
 

crescent-zephyr

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Correct the entire route was NS track from start to finish. I was quite surprised by both accounts having been involved in the planning of something similar.
Same. I’ve been on NS specials with local politicians that spiked switches. Of course that was when Moorman was around...
 

41bridge

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Biden is a private citizen. He isn’t an elected official at this point. All these precautions are done for elected officials holding offices. I think in some cases Biden is already elected in some people’s brains.
 

John Bredin

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I presume when a stretch of railroad is/was spiked for a Presidential or campaign train that someone's got to go along after that train has passed and pull out the spikes to put the switches back into service?

So has there ever been a derailment or other incident from someone forgetting to do that, where a dispatcher, train crew, etc. presumed a certain switch was switched but it wasn't because it was inadvertently still spiked? Maybe on a switch that wouldn't indicate its status on a signal light or a dispatcher's panel?
 

John Bredin

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Biden is a private citizen. He isn’t an elected official at this point. All these precautions are done for elected officials holding offices. I think in some cases Biden is already elected in some people’s brains.
Major candidates for the Presidency (and the Vice-Presidency, and their spouses) receive Secret Service protection. Secret Service webpage on protection. I'm sure the nominee of either major party is a major candidate from the convention onwards if not earlier.
 
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