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The U.S. High-Speed Rail Summit

Secretary Anthony Foxx
The U.S. High-Speed Rail Summit

Washington, DC • February 25, 2014

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Andy Kunz, for the introduction.
And thanks, everyone, for the chance to speak a little bit about what our Department is doing for high-performance rail.

This is actually something of a historic moment for rail. It was 150 years ago this month when the railroad ties began piling up in Sacramento, California and work began to ramp up on the Central Pacific.

As the historian, Stephen Ambrose wrote, “It was the railroads that served as the symbol of the 19th-century revolution in technology.”

“The locomotive,” he said, “was the greatest thing of the age.”

Well, today, I believe – and I bet most of you would agree – that the railroad is serving once again as a symbol of technology; and that locomotives are one of the great things of our age, too.

Because when you look the data about how Americans are moving around the country, rail is among the fastest-growing modes of travel. Amtrak has broken its ridership record for ten of the past eleven years, reaching nearly 32 million riders in 2013.

Between New York and Washington, Amtrak now carries three times as many passengers as all the airlines put together do on that route, making the Northeast Corridor the busiest rail corridor on the continent.

The key word for transportation in the 21st century is choice.

And these numbers are no surprise. Passengers want options, and when they have options, like passenger rail, they choose them.

All of this is good news – good for travelers, good for rail lines, good for America.

But as with any silver lining, there comes a cloud. And with the increased demand for rail, we’re all facing some challenges:

How can we keep pace with this demand? How can we continue investing in high-performance rail so that it performs even better – and that all Americans are connected with it?

These, I know, are questions that all of you are asking.

But they’re also questions that we’re asking at DOT – and, to an extent, we’re answering them, as well. And I want to give you an update about some of our efforts. 

Because if you look at where we are today with passenger rail compared to where we were in 2009, when the President took office, there’s simply no comparison.

Over the past five years, we’ve invested more than $12 billion in high-performance rail. Our High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program is the largest grant program for passenger rail in our nation’s history.

And it’s helped nearly double the amount of rail service that’s capable of operating at speeds of 90 to 125 miles-per-hour.

Compared to 2009, over 24 million more Americans – a population about as big as Texas’ – now have access to upgraded rail service – or soon will.

In fact, 2014 is shaping up to be our busiest construction year since our high-performance rail program began.  Right now, 47 projects representing $4.4 billion are either under construction or are about to be.

These investments aren’t just helping passengers, as you know; they’re helping our economy – and workers in the manufacturing sector in particular.

More than 150 years ago, when Abraham Lincoln launched the transcontinental railroad he not only created a vital coast-to-coast connection, he also created a generation of workers who knew how to build locomotives.

But, as the years went on, and our investments in rail dwindled, succeeding generations lost some of those skills.

Today, though, I think we can say: We’re learning those skills again. We’re another generation that knows how to build.

Here’s an example:

A few weeks ago, Vice President Biden and I went to 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. We were there because, a couple years before, Amtrak had wanted to replace its entire electric locomotive fleet.

These were trains that, in many cases, required spare parts which were out of production – and had bodies that were so rusted out, rain would seep into the electrical compartment.

So, to help with the upgrade, we awarded Amtrak the largest loan in the history of our RRIFF program – more than 560 million dollars – which enabled them to purchase the largest fleet of electric locomotives built in the United States since World War II.

We were proud of that loan, obviously.  But we were even prouder of how it was spent.
Because, thanks to our Buy America program, these trains have already had an impact far beyond the Northeast Corridor where they’ll travel.

That’s because these locomotives were not only assembled and manufactured in America, but built with American parts and supplies coming from 70 companies, in 23 states, and from 60 U.S. towns and cities.

And on this particular project, when there were jobs that we needed and wanted Americans to fill – and where Siemens, the maker of the trains, could not find skilled workers to fill them –  they spent the time and the effort to train Americans with those skills, and to finish the job. 

In his State of the Union, when the President called for more products stamped “Made in the USA,” this is exactly what he was talking about.

But, as much as we’ve achieved to date, all of us know we still have a long way to go.
We’re anticipating 100 million more people in the country by 2050. And on top of that, we’re going to need to move an additional 14 billion tons of freight every year – roughly the weight of a good-sized mountain.

Let me repeat that: We literally need to move mountains – and rail will have to help us do it.
This is part of the reason why, back when we launched our high-performance rail program, the applications that came in requested more than seven times the available funding.

And it’s why the President and I are committed to working with Congress to make sure we increase that funding – and funding for rail across the country.

In fact, this year, the President’s budget request proposed investing a National High-Performance Rail System.

We want to invest in new passenger rail markets, upgrade existing lines, and fully fund Amtrak so we can bring the Northeast Corridor up to a state of good repair.

But we need your help to do it.

There’s no group on Earth that knows more about this country’s rail network – and why we need to invest in it.

Help me communicate that to Congress – and, really, to all Americans.

Let’s build on the surge of popularity rail is seeing right now – and channel that popularity and that demand into investment and action.

Because if we do that, then we can do one better than the builders of the transcontinental railroad 150 years ago. We can connect Americans coast-to-coast… and at every place in between, too.

Thank you all.

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Updated: Thursday, December 11, 2014
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