Sen. Thomas R. Carper has seen many mangled trains in his life, but the derailment Tuesday of Amtrak 188 in Northeast Philadelphia was particularly personal.
As he had acknowledged Tuesday evening in a statement issued after the crash, the Delaware Democrat had been a passenger aboard the same northbound regional train earlier in the night, taking it north from Union Station in Washington, D.C., to the Joseph R. Biden Jr., station in Wilmington in his home state.
"I'm a former Amtrak board member. When I was governor of Delaware, I was an Amtrak board member for four years, and I dealt with as a board member with train crashes and ... derailments and lots of damage. This is a little different when it happens in your own backyard and you were on the train," Carper said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, seven people were reported dead and many, many more sustained injuries, some critical, when the passenger train derailed shortly after leaving Philadelphia's 30th Street Station Tuesday night. Amtrak's Northeast Corridor counts many lawmakers among its ranks of regular ridership.
That list of course includes both Carper and Biden, the current vice president who is well-known for his nightly trips back to Wilmington during his long Senate career.
"The victims could have been any one of our parents, children, or someone from one of our communities. Amtrak is like a second family to me, as it is for so many other passengers," Biden said in a statement. "For my entire career, I've made the trip from Wilmington to Washington and back. I've come to know the conductors, engineers, and other regulars — men and women riding home to kiss their kids goodnight — as we passed the flickering lights of each neighborhood along the way."
Speaking with reporters at the Capitol, Carper echoed much of Biden's statement.
"When you ride the same train a lot, you get to know people. You get to know the crew, and so on a very personal level I feel distraught not knowing who's died, who's been injured — badly in some cases," Carper said. "Prayed a lot last night — still am — and hope to be able to go up and visit the hospital, if not tonight then maybe tomorrow night, and have a chance to call on some people and see how they're doing."
During the conversation, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., came up behind Carper, put his arm around him and asked how he was doing. Leahy said he called Carper Tuesday night after the derailment, and that his wife had been asking him about the Delaware Democrat.
After that interlude, Carper turned his focus to the House Appropriations Committee, which was considering the fiscal 2016 Tranporation-HUD spending bill on Wednesday. That bill provides funding for Amtrak.
"This is a reminder ... of the great need we have to invest in our transportation infrastructure. Not just roads, highways, bridges and transit systems, but also inter-city passenger rail," Carper said. "Not just in order to help people and to move goods and services and people throughout our country, but also to make sure that we do that safely."
"I just hope the people that have been injured that are still alive, I hope they pull through and make it and make a full recovery," said Carper.
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