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Benefits of High-Speed Rail Draw A Crowd

High-speed rail can be the transportation innovation that drives the economy of the future. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood lays out the benefits of investing in high-speed rail today.

Ed. note: This was originally posted on the Department of Transportation blog.

Since the Department of Transportation announced the availability of an additional $2.4 billion for high-speed rail projects last month, governors and members of Congress from both major parties have been clamoring for the opportunity to participate.

As of our Monday deadline, we received more than 90 applications from 24 states, the District of Columbia, and Amtrak.  The preliminary total of those requests is nearly $10 billion, more than four times what we have available. 

Why is demand for high-speed rail support so high?

Because elected officials have seen the immediate benefits of jobs where rail work has already begun.  They've seen these jobs in Maine--where the Downeaster extension to Brunswick is under construction--and they've seen them in Illinois--where 96 miles of track are now being laid for the Chicago-St. Louis high-speed corridor. 

Demand is high because these leaders--Democrats and Republicans--have also seen the expanded manufacturing activity in Indiana, where the workers of Steel Dynamics are forging track.  They know that 30 other manufacturers and suppliers have agreed to build or expand operations in the U.S. should they participate in high-speed rail projects.  They know that our Buy America requirements ensure they'll be using American-made supplies and materials, so U.S. companies, workers, and communities will receive the maximum economic benefit of our high-speed rail investment.

And demand is high because they can't ignore the economic development that rail corridors deliver.  They've heard about the success of Brunswick Station, where private investment has already helped generate a number of businesses, condominiums, a new hotel, and a modern medical center.  They've heard about the 240 acres under redevelopment near the Sacramento Intermodal Transportation Facility, and the transit-oriented land-use planning that centers on San Jose's Diridon Station.  They've heard about towns seeking high-speed rail stops so businesses will plant roots, confident that they have access to a 21st century transportation option that helps them compete in the global economy.

From Maine to the Midwest to California, construction has begun on America's high-speed rail facilities, and we can't afford to see this train turn back. 

By 2050, our population is expected to grow by another 100 million people.  That's nearly a third more than we have now--roughly the equivalent of adding another California, New York, Texas, and Florida.  And those people will need to get to jobs, schools, grocery stores, and from city to city, adding tens of millions of cars to our already congested roadways.  They will need goods and services, adding trucks.

If we refuse to plan ahead, our commercial arteries will be constricted, preventing businesses from moving goods to markets and choking our economy.

Today, our Federal Railroad Administration will begin determining which of the more than 90 projects can quickly deliver benefits like sustained economic development, reduced energy consumption, and improved regional transportation efficiency.

But while the FRA is reviewing the latest applications, our existing rail investments are already creating jobs, boosting American rail manufacturing, and spurring economic development.  And rail can do these things while also reducing oil consumpttion, greenhouse gas emissions, and road congestion. 

That's the kind of investment we owe the next generation of Americans.  That's the kind of investment that will help this nation win the future.

Ray LaHood is the Secretary of Transportation.