How ‘Amtrak Joe’ Biden rode into Kyiv by luxury train

Joe Biden has long been known to Congress by the affectionate nickname “Amtrak Joe” for his habit of commuting to his office in Washington DC from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, by train.

Before he entered the White House, Mr Biden is estimated to have undertaken more than 8,000 journeys back and forth along the same route over the course of a lengthy career in the Senate, according to CNN, a practice he began to ensure he made it home every evening to say good night to his young sons Beau and Hunter in the aftermath of the tragic death of their mother Neilia, Mr Biden’s first wife, in a car accident just before Christmas 1972.

He happily returned to the rails in central Europe on Sunday evening when he took a 10-hour overnight train from Poland in order to arrive in Ukraine on Monday morning for his surprise visit with Volodymyr Zelensky, an important gesture of solidarity as the one-year anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s invasion approaches.

With the threat of Russian missiles and drone strikes posing too great a threat to Air Force One, Mr Biden and his entourage including national security adviser Jake Sullivan took a top secret journey aboard Ukraine’s state-owned rail service Ukrzaliznytsia.

Having set out from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland early on Sunday and flown first to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and then on to the Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport in southeastern Poland, the president’s motorcade finally arrived at Przemysl Glowny train station in the country’s east at 9.15pm local time.

Ahead of its 9.37pm departure, Mr Biden, his security team and White House staffers were led to their sleeper carriages at the front of the eight-car train while pool journalists accompanying him and sworn to secrecy were delivered to theirs further back.

Associated Press photographs from the trip reveal the luxury carriages to be decorated in tasteful executive style, featuring long hardwood tables, polished leather sofas and charcoal curtains.

The train was originally intended to deliver tourists to Crimea in the south of the country before being repurposed in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of the region in spring 2014 in retaliation for the ousting of Moscow-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych in the Maidan protests.

US president Joe Biden rides the train to Kyiv with national security advisor Jake Sullivan (Evan Vucci/AP)
US president Joe Biden rides the train to Kyiv with national security advisor Jake Sullivan (Evan Vucci/AP)

Since the war began on 24 February last year, the train has proven to be the safest means for world leaders to visit Mr Zelensky in person, with Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, Mario Draghi, Ursula von der Leyen and Justin Trudeau among the politicians to have ridden the route.

Mr Biden’s journey largely took place under cover of darkness but the sun had risen by the time the train reached Kyiv, with one journalist aboard reporting that the “views from the window largely consisted of graffiti walls, barren winter trees and a colourful assortment of brick homes – many of them in pastel colours”.

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The train arrived at at approximately 8am local time at Kyiv-Pasazhyrsky station, where Mr Biden was met by Bridget Brink, US ambassador to Ukraine, among others, before returning to his motorcade to make the short journey to the Mariinsky Palace for his historic meeting with Mr Zelensky, Mr Biden pledged an additional $500m in military aid and taunted Mr Putin by saying he had been “dead wrong” to assume he could conquer Ukraine without a fight.

Also taking in a walking tour of St Michael’s Cathedral and a visit to the US embassy, Mr Biden’s trip ended as it had begun, with a return trip to Poland on the same train he had arrived in.

After disembarking back at Przemysl Glowny, Mr Biden left a signed note for rail staff in his carriage, thanking them for their service, a photograph of which was proudly displayed on Ukrzaliznytsia’s Facebook page shortly afterwards.