Secretary Buttigieg Remarks at Amtrak 50th Anniversary in Raleigh
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg
Amtrak 50th Anniversary
Raleigh Union Station
April 30, 2021
It’s a pleasure to be here with everyone.
To my friends hosting us today: I feel a real kinship between North Carolina and my own home state of Indiana. We share a legacy and a promise of future greatness in two of America’s most important institutions: basketball and transportation, in no particular order.
Which brings us to our guest of honor: Amtrak!
50 years old tomorrow, Amtrak. You don’t look a day over 40.
Since launching, Amtrak has connected us to the people and things we love, linking small towns and big cities across the nation. 190 million Americans live within 25 miles of an Amtrak station. In many places, Amtrak is your go-to for long distance travel.
The last year has been a tough one for Amtrak, as it has been for families and organizations across America.
Yet today, with millions of vaccines being administered, we see the light at the end of the tunnel, and are ready to emerge into a better future.
While we were in the tunnel, we did some thinking about what that better future might look like. The truth is that we don’t want to simply return to where we started – somehow rewind to January 2020. Even before COVID, our country was hurting. In infrastructure, we had slipped to 13th globally, with a $1 trillion backlog in repairs. Americans were spending too much time and money commuting. Our roads were not safe enough, particularly for communities of color who face disproportionately dangerous pedestrian crossings, an added burden for a community bearing the weight of racial discrimination and disparity in so many ways – a source of pain that is again fresh on our minds and in our hearts in the wake of the killing of Andrew Brown Jr. last week.
We want to go forwards and build a country that is stronger, and more equitable: a country where your commute isn’t so expensive you can’t afford childcare, and where childcare isn’t so expensive you can’t afford to go to work at all.
In his first 100 Days of the Biden-Harris administration, President Biden has put America back on track, and he’s also made it clear that we need to seize this opportunity, to build on this progress – not just to survive this season of peril but to win the future.
Here in North Carolina, we see examples of the kinds of investments and resources that we hope will become available in so many communities across the country. The beautiful station we stand in today, and the ability to travel in the surrounding area by train, car, bus, bike, or foot, came about through a partnership between local, state, and federal departments of transportation. The passenger train line between here and Charlotte was improved through a similar state-federal program. And, in turn, ridership here increased by more than 20,000 people in the year before the pandemic.
These are important steps that make people’s lives better, but the truth is we need much, much more where this came from. We need a plan with the boldness and scale to match the size of America’s challenges and opportunities.
President Biden’s American Jobs Plan is an opportunity for a once-in-a-generation investment in American infrastructure.
If we pass it, we will be able to repair and modernize our roads, bridges, airports, waterways, railways and public transit.
We will create millions of good jobs – the largest investment in American jobs since World War 2. We’re talking about innovation jobs in places like the Research Triangle to develop the transportation technologies of the future. And we’re talking about good union jobs for people here and around the country. They will lay new train tracks, make our roads and bridges more resilient, install new electric vehicle chargers and build the electric cars that use those chargers. And there will be pathways for more people to get into those careers.
If you are a person who bikes, walks, or uses a wheelchair, travel will be safer as transportation becomes centered around people, not only cars.
If you are driving a car, roads will be smoother and more efficiently routed, and in many cases congestion will be reduced as more commuters can take public transit or rail.
If you take public transit, rides will be more reliable and expanded to more locations.
If you take passenger or commuter rail, trains will get you to more destinations safely, comfortably, and quickly, as we modernize a system that was in many places built long before the creation of Amtrak 50 years ago. When we envision travel for the next 50 years, the train should be a common-sense choice. The rumble of rails and the freedom of looking out your train window should once again feel as all-American as the open road.
If you have lived with longer commutes and higher levels of pollution because of highways that cut through communities of color, we will have dedicated funding to fix those wrongdoings.
The American Jobs Plan is a $2.25 trillion investment that does not tinker around the edges, because we’ve done that for years, and it hasn’t worked.
I know we can deliver bold infrastructure visions – because we’ve done it before. Indeed, nothing could be more American. We are the country that built the Erie Canal, the transcontinental railroad, the interstate highway system. Those projects unified America. They supercharged our economy. And they expanded our concept of infrastructure to keep America ahead of the world.
Now it’s our turn.
It’s our turn to build the America that we want and deserve.
It’s our turn to be bold in the pursuit of a better infrastructure for our communities and our country.
It’s our turn to keep the jobs coming, and keep the American dream alive for the generation now coming of age, and those to follow.
I’ll close with this. When trains were first introduced here in North Carolina in the 1800s, and across much of the south, the rail lines ended before each state border. You couldn’t take a train from North Carolina to another state – the tracks weren’t even the same size. Today we stand on the cusp of an investment that would enable world-class rail service across the Southeast, reinforcing this region as an economic powerhouse that rivals any country on earth. That is the power of American infrastructure – when we believe in ourselves enough to make the bold choices.
I’m proud to serve for a President who rode Amtrak to work for decades, a President who knows how important infrastructure is to people’s lives, and is willing to make the bold choice.
I look forward to working with everyone here and across the country to choose the path that our children will be proud of.
It’s now my pleasure to hand it over to Governor Cooper.