Amtrak conductor will ride to inauguration

By Joelle Farrell
Inquirer Staff Writer

January 7, 2009 Gregg Weaver says it has been an honor to take U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. to work every day in Washington. Now, it is the vice president-elect's turn to honor Weaver, an Amtrak conductor.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee is expected to announce today that Weaver, 55, of Fairless Hills, is one of about 40 "everyday Americans" picked by President-elect Barack Obama and Biden (D., Del.) to ride the train they are taking to the inauguration this month.

"I'm excited, sure," Weaver said by phone yesterday, stepping away from a reception in Washington to mark the swearing-in of Biden for his seventh (and soon to be ended) Senate term. "It's a great honor just to be his guest and be recognized."

Those chosen to accompany Obama and Biden to Washington represent the struggles and triumphs of Americans who make "extraordinary contributions to the life of this country," according to a statement by the Inaugural Committee.

The group includes a workers' rights advocate, a soldier who helps those with post-traumatic stress disorder, and people who have recently lost their jobs.

"Each one of these families has their own remarkable story to add to our American story, and we're thrilled they've agreed to join us as we travel to Washington," said Josh Earnest, communications director for the committee.

Weaver first met Biden decades ago, when he often worked on the evening train that took Biden home each weeknight. For the last six years, Weaver has worked on No. 2103, which leaves New York City about 6 a.m. and stops in Wilmington at 7:35, where Biden would board. The train rolls into Washington about five minutes to 9, Weaver said.

Weaver would sometimes sit down to a cup of coffee with Biden, and they would talk about their families.

In Delaware, Biden is just "Joe," the guy who has had his hair cut for years by the same barber, the unpretentious man who stands in line at the grocery store like everybody else. People marvel at Biden's ability to remember details about their families and circumstances.

Weaver considers Biden a friend, but he knows that Biden is much more than the regular guy he seems.

"The man's so brilliant, I'm not in his league to discuss politics," Weaver said. "He gives me a really quick lesson on what's going on in another country. I try to follow along."

Weaver says he will miss Biden's smiling face on the train every morning now that Biden will be residing in Washington, but hopes that the vice president-elect will find a way to ride the train on occasion.

Weaver, who has worked for Amtrak since he was 18, got the call on New Year's Day, said his wife, Carol.

"He was giving a thumbs-up when he was on the telephone," she said.

The couple is invited to ride the train and attend the inauguration events, including the ball. Carol Weaver has been combing stores for a dress, bringing her two daughters along for fashion advice.

"It's really hard shopping right after New Year's and Christmas - there's not much left," she said. "I will be going back out tomorrow."

The Whistle Stop Tour will commence Jan. 17 in Philadelphia, stopping in Wilmington to pick up Biden. The train then heads to Baltimore before arriving in Washington. The inauguration is Jan. 20.

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