WASHINGTON, D.C. - Holmes County’s Rep. Bob Gibbs and three other Republicans on the House Transportation committee are asking whether Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden made improper use of Amtrak, and questioning the propriety of his chartering a train on the taxpayer funded railroad after last month’s presidential debate in Cleveland to make campaign stops in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
“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,” said a letter that Gibbs sent Amtrak President and CEO William J. Flynn on Tuesday with Republicans on the House Transportation Subcommittee on Rail, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. “Given that the Biden campaign declined to disclose what it paid to use Amtrak’s resources, we want to ensure that the campaign paid a full, non-discounted rate.”
On Sept. 30, Biden traveled across eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania by train for a tour intended to highlight how his presidency would help working families. The tour began in Cleveland, and included stops in Alliance, as well as Pittsburgh and Greensburg, Pennsylvania.
A statement from Amtrak said Biden’s campaign paid the same rate it would charge any other customer seeking a charter, though it did not disclose the amount, and that Biden’s campaign did not receive any discounts or scheduling preferences.
It noted that the railroad industry has a long history of operating special trains for public officials. It said the first president to campaign aboard a train was Ohioan William Henry Harrison in 1836, and presidents including Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and both Bushes have done so. Barack Obama and Biden rode a train from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., on the way to his 2009 inauguration.
“Operation of charter trains is an important revenue source for Amtrak and one that supports other parts of our business,” the Amtrak statement said. “Customers range from sports teams to businesses, historical groups and even individuals whose private railcars are coupled to our trains.”
A statement from Biden campaign spokesman Matt Hill dismissed the GOP letter as a “political stunt” and said congressional Republicans “should stop ignoring Donald Trump’s blatant abuses of taxpayer money and government resources to enrich himself and his businesses.”
“Anyone can charter a train with Amtrak,” said Hill. “Last time we checked, no one can charter the White House South Lawn for a political convention.”