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President Obama Delivers on American High-Speed Rail

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood talks about the high speed rail grants.

Cross-posted from the DOT's Fast Lane blog.

I have looked forward to this day for a long time.

It is a great honor--a great honor--to have President Obama and Vice President Biden in Tampa, Florida, to announce our American Recovery and Reinvestment Act High-Speed and Inter-city Passenger Rail grants.

The investments we announce today make rail a viable transportation alternative in many regions. With this historic $8 billion investment by President Obama, we are jump-starting American High-Speed rail.

The bulk of today's awards go to new, large-scale high-speed rail programs--projects such as Florida, with $1.25 billion to develop a high-speed rail corridor between Tampa and Orlando with trains running up to 168 miles per hour--and California, with $2.25 billion to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco and points in between with trains running up to 220 miles per hour.

In total, 31 states and the District of Columbia will receive awards. In addition to 13 corridor investments, we are also awarding several grants for improvement projects and planning. These efforts on existing routes and emerging corridors will lay the groundwork for future high-speed and intercity rail development. 

I've said it before, and I believe it even more today: this is an absolute game-changer for American transportation.

We will make passenger rail more efficient, providing better service in travel markets across the country.

  • High-speed rail travel offers competitive door-to-door trip times
  • It reduces congestion on key routes between cities
  • It reduces transportation emissions
  • And, most of all, it creates the jobs of the future, the jobs America needs right now

Look, I am very proud of what our transportation infrastructure helps us achieve every day. Moving hundreds of millions of people and millions of tons of goods from place to place. It's amazing.

But it's not good enough. It's the infrastructure of a previous century, one with plentiful energy and no sense of the role carbon emissions play in our health and the health of our planet. And it's not adequate for the growth of our nation's population, its commerce, its mobility.

We need an expansive, safe and energy efficient rail transportation network. We need to generate economic development. We need to reposition our infrastructure for the 21st century.

As we mentioned last April when we announced the program, our overall strategy has two parts: improving our existing rail lines to make current train service faster and identifying potential corridors for the creation of world-class high-speed rail.

Today's awards begin us down the path toward these goals.

Now, the particular investments we're making today--they make sense. We're connecting cities that are too close for efficient air travel but--with the highways connecting these cities nearly choked beyond capacity--too far for productive road travel. Cities like St. Louis and Chicago.

We know that people already want to travel between these cities; we're here to begin making that downtown-to-downtown travel significantly easier, faster, and more productive.

As I've mentioned on this blog before we received many more applications than we had funds to distribute. States and regions and communities across the United States are clamoring for high-speed service.

But some areas are just not ready. In some areas, investments to lay the groundwork for increasing the speed and reliability of current service have been deferred and deferred.

Today we're fixing that. We've made awards to states to improve existing track, repair tunnels and bridges, and increase the speeds of lines already serving passengers.

We can't just put faster trains on old tracks and send them across bridges that need repairs. So, with these targeted investments, passengers will see many benefits in the near term.

High-speed rail corridors will offer competitive door-to-door trip times. From Los Angeles to San Francisco, a 2-hour 40-minute comfortable ride from city center to city center will replace a 6-hour trek of fighting traffic to get out of one downtown and fighting traffic to get into another.

High-speed rail will create jobs now and for the foreseeable future. We have commitments from over 30 companies in the rail business to create or expand U.S. rail manufacturing should they be awarded contracts for portions of this money. These companies know high-speed rail, and they could become partners to those awarded rail grants.

What kind of jobs? Planning rail networks; designing, producing, and laying miles and miles of track; building, installing, maintaining, and operating equipment; constructing or upgrading stations, tunnels, and bridges; operating the routes.

It's pretty clear we're talking about a lot of jobs--tens of thousands. And let's be clear about this: that $8 billion will do its job-creation work right here in America.

High-speed rail reduces oil use and the environmental costs of the mobility we prize so dearly. Hey, I'm an old-fashioned guy who grew up in the Midwest--I love cars. But let's be realistic; cars are the least efficient method of travel we have, even with our fuel-economy standards. Rail ridership takes cars off the road.

Now, before we get too carried away with the very near future, I have to remind everyone about the past. The interstate highway system that we take for granted today did not materialize overnight. It has taken over a half-century, and we're still building onto the network.

But, the point is that today we can take it for granted. Our highways take us where we need to go, and the nationwide coast-to-coast system has been a model for the rest of the world.

And President Obama’s vision for high-speed rail mirrors that of President Eisenhower, the father of that Interstate highway system.

It's also worth pointing out that designing, building, expanding, and maintaining those highways has created job after job after job for decades. When completed, the highways brought people. People brought small businesses and more jobs.

We have no reason to expect that developing high-speed rail will not also be an engine of jobs and economic development.

And someday--tens of thousands of good-paying jobs from now, one reborn American manufacturing sector from now, and many federal-regional-state and public-private partnerships from now--we will be able to take for granted an efficient high-speed rail network that is equally the pride of our nation and an engine of growth.

Until that day, we do have some learning to do. I have seen high-speed rail working in Spain and just being introduced in Russia. Only last week, I heard lessons from the experience of developing a network in Japan.

These countries have all seen the future; these countries have all made the commitment that we make today with President Obama's initial investments in Florida and 30 other states.

And I assure you that one day, not too many years from now, ours will be the go-to network, the world's model for high-speed rail.

Today we embark on the first step of that exciting journey. Today, as promised, we change the game.

Ray LaHood is Secretary of Transportation