The Curious Case of the Wilmington Acela

uTN Social - Free Speech Social Media

A northbound Amtrak Acela train rolls past commuters at the Wilmington, Del., station in 2002. (Tim Shaffer/Reuters)

There’s no practical reason for the president’s tiny hometown to be a stop on Amtrak’s flagship high-speed-rail line.

It ought to surprise no one that President Biden would propose a major increase in funding for the Amtrak passenger-rail system, despite the system’s well-documented inefficiencies. Long known as “Amtrak Joe” for his regular train commute from Washington to his home in Wilmington, Del., Biden has now signed on to a bipartisan infrastructure deal that promises “the biggest investment in rail since the creation of Amtrak.” Yet even amid a restructuring process that began in 2017, the system still lost $75 million in 2018 and $30 million in 2019. (The numbers for pandemic-ravaged 2020 will, one imagines, be even worse.)


There’s no doubt that train service between geographically close population centers can make good sense, but it’s also true that our government-train-service monopoly is often governed by politics instead of common sense.

The regular, high-speed service to Wilmington has taken the former senator and vice president between Washington, D.C., and the eponymous Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station an estimated 8,000 times. But it’s fair to ask, given Wilmington’s size, whether it should be served by Amtrak’s prestige Acela Express at all.

Wilmington, with a population of just 70,000 people, is among twelve stops on the Acela, Amtrak’s high-speed service between Boston and Washington. There’s no obvious reason that a train predicated on fast service between major cities would stop there. Wilmington, the smallest city on the line, is a mere 30-mile drive from Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, the third-busiest Amtrak station in the country. (The Wilmington station is the 13th-busiest.) What’s more, the line bypasses a number of East Coast cities with much larger populations, including Bridgeport, Conn., and New Jersey’s capital, Trenton.


It’s not as if Wilmington is not well-served by Amtrak trains other than the Acela Express, which tries to maintain a speed close to 200 miles per hour but is inevitably slowed by additional stops. The Northeast Corridor regional service, a slightly slower, older, less-comfortable train line, stops there at least a few times each day. It might be less convenient for Amtrak Joe, but it’s still far better than the rail-travel options available to most cities, especially cities the size of Wilmington.

The Joseph R. Biden Jr. Station directly serves 144 cities, with no train transfers and multiple daily Acela and Northeast Regional rides. Pittsburgh, which is also linked to lines based in New York and Washington, serves just 31 cities. Cleveland, which would benefit from regular trains to Chicago, sees only two each day: one at 2:59 a.m. and one at 3:45 a.m. St. Louis has only four daily trains to Chicago, one at 4:35 a.m. and another at 11 p.m. Meanwhile, Wilmington regularly has 23 daily trains to D.C.

NR Daily is delivered right to you every afternoon. No charge.

Get Jim Geraghty’s tour of the political news of the day.

Get Kevin D. Williamson’s newsletter delivered to your inbox each Tuesday.

A weekly digest on business and economics from an NR sensibility.

We’ll deliver The Capital Note to your inbox each weekday. No charge.

There might be a case for Wilmington to serve as a satellite station for Philadelphia, just as Stamford, Conn., serves metro New York and Massachusetts’s Route 128 station serves the Boston suburbs. But there’s a far stronger case for a satellite station linked to Philadelphia’s airport, just a 24-minute car trip from Wilmington and itself linked to the Acela rail line, which would emulate the sensible setup in Baltimore, where a city-center stop is complemented by an airport station.



Amtrak has long had unrealized potential for reliable trips between major population centers, or perhaps for “land cruises” for tourists on its Western lines, which offer stunning vistas and comfortable dining cars with pretty good food. But America’s premier train service is held back by having to stop at and maintain stations such as Wilmington’s.

I once had occasion to speak off the record with an incoming Amtrak CEO. He told me that, on his first day on the job, he received an early-morning phone call from the then-Senate majority leader, George Mitchell (D., Maine). He said that he was summoned to Mitchell’s office, where Mitchell, in his thick New England accent, demanded “Fo-ah trains a day to Portland, Maine.” One can only wonder whether then-senator Biden leaned on Amtrak to service Wilmington in a similar manner.


The Coming Backlash against Woke Public Schools

Parents have had enough of the politicization of their local schools. And even if the schools themselves can’t see it yet, they will soon.

The Problems with Laurel Hubbard’s Qualifying for the Olympics as a Woman

The New Zealand weightlifter, who was born and competed as a male, has clear advantages over female competitors.

The Lab-Leak Theory: Evidence Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Every good prosecutor will tell you that the best case is a strong circumstantial case — and that’s exactly what we have.

A Grad Student Tried to Correct a Misleading COVID Narrative. Rebekah Jones Tried to Ruin His Career for It

Jon Taylor had a disagreement with Jones over COVID data, so she falsely accused him of sexual harassment.

The Breaking of Stephen Colbert

The demands of nightly doses of craven partisanship for year upon year have ruined him.

Maggie Haberman Is Right

Donald Trump really does believe that he, along with two former GOP senators, will be ‘reinstated’ to office this summer.

The Latest

Arizona’s Maricopa County to Replace Machines Seized by GOP-Led Audit, Citing Security Concerns

The GOP-controlled state Senate seized voting equipment with a legislative subpoena in late April. 

Tucker Carlson Claims Biden’s NSA Is Spying On Him

Carlson claims an NSA whistleblower read his texts and emails back to him over the phone to prove he is being surveilled.

The Justice Department’s Stunt Voting-Rights Lawsuit against the Georgia Election Law

The complaint reads more like an op-ed in Mother Jones than a legal case.

The Presupposition of Freedom

Reason and facts have a decisive vote in the long run, so long as they are brought effectively to bear.

The Right Is Still Divided on Big Tech

These digital giants can cast a long shadow, erect high barriers to entry, and achieve essentially private ecosystems.

The Greatest Revolution the World Has Ever Known

The struggle won the independence of a country whose power and ideals have influenced the course of history for the better.

Top Stories

Get our conservative analysis delivered right to you. No charge.

Most Popular

Where’s the Equity for Black Murder Victims?

Where’s the Equity for Black Murder Victims?

That the disproportionate number of black murder victims doesn’t exercise progressives more remains one of the paradoxes of our time.

Just What Is Kamala Harris’s Role in the Biden White House?

Just What Is Kamala Harris’s Role in the Biden White House?

Joe Biden is giving Kamala Harris the unpopular, controversial, grunt work. Maybe that’s all he wants her to do.

The Surfside-Condo Tragedy Does Not Need Your Political Hot Take

The Surfside-Condo Tragedy Does Not Need Your Political Hot Take

This is a tragedy, not an election. Those pressing it into a partisan narrative are broken.

View More

Read More Feedzy

The Foxhole App - Trusted News Podcasts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *