(CNN) — Created in 1971 from the creaking remains of the classic US railroads that helped build modern America, Amtrak has often lived a precarious existence.
Subject to the whims of politicians in Washington D.C. and constantly under pressure from the well-funded and hugely influential oil, automotive and airline industry lobbies, the national passenger rail operator has been threatened with oblivion on several occasions.
But as it celebrates a 50th anniversary that few would have been brave enough to predict, there are signs that Amtrak’s moment may finally have arrived.
The United States remains firmly wedded to the automobile and the sheer size of the nation means that air travel is often the only option for long-distance journeys.
Yet dotted across the country are numerous routes where population density and distances make rail a viable option — and a social necessity.
That’s not news — those routes have existed since the earliest days of the railroads. What is novel is the renewed enthusiasm of Americans for commuting or taking long-distance leisure trips by train.
What is most significant right now is the presence of a passionate Amtrak advocate in the White House.
President Joe Biden, a long-time rail commuter rejoicing in the nickname “Amtrak Joe,” is calling on Congress to invest $80 billion in the rail network.
This massive chunk of change is needed to address Amtrak’s repair backlog; modernize the flagship Northeast Corridor; improve existing corridors, create…