Regular readers of the Fast Lane blog have probably heard me say that rail travel has never been safer. Accidents caused by faulty track, signal systems or equipment, and human error have decreased nearly 50 percent over the last decade to new record lows. Employee fatalities are down 59 percent over the same period. But one vexing exception to this continuous improvement exists: highway-rail grade crossing and pedestrian trespassing accidents, which together account for approximately 95% of all rail-related fatalities.
The safest crossing is one that doesn’t exist. And recently, I visited two places where our investments are funding capital improvements to eliminate crossings, make communities safer and improve their quality of life.
Last week in North Carolina I saw two of the 26 projects – all supported by our High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program – that are improving safety and service between Charlotte and Raleigh. Between Lexington and Thomasville, North Carolina, workers are building two new highway bridges that will lift vehicle traffic above the tracks and enable three crossings to close. In Harrisburg, two more crossings, as you can see below, will close thanks to a new 150-foot roadway bridge.
Photo Courtesy of John D. Simmons – Charlotte Observer
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of industry professionals at the Finished Vehicle Logistics Conference, where the theme of the discussion was the import and export of new cars.
I’m sure you’re wondering what vehicle logistics has to do with the Maritime Administration. And that’s a very good question.
My role at this conference highlighted the critical —yet often overlooked— fact that maritime moves America.
Yesterday, a new light rail station opened at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, making it easier for residents, commuters, and visitors to move between the airport and downtown. That’ll make North Texas more attractive and more competitive as an international destination for businesses and tourists and help the area build on the success of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s (DART) light rail.
Earlier this year, the University of North Texas released a study that only confirms what many local have seen for themselves: in the last decade alone, the $4.7 billion that local, state, and federal partners have invested in expanding DART Rail has returned $7.4 billion in economic activity, created tens of thousands of local jobs, and supported over $3 billion in salaries, wages, and benefits.
Last week, I flew North – way North – to Alaska and visited everywhere from Anchorage to the small fishing village of Unalakleet to Nome, where the Iditarod dogsled race finishes each year.
Everywhere I went, I witnessed the natural beauty of Alaska’s terrain, but I also saw how difficult traversing that terrain can be.
All states have unique transportation needs, of course. But because of its size, its geography, and its climate, Alaska’s needs are more unique than most. And that’s what I went to discuss: How the federal government can help Alaskans meet their local needs.
Over the past week I've had the pleasure to be joined by Congressional leaders from two different states for tours of two very different --but equally impressive-- rail sites. The Amtrak maintenance site in New Jersey and the B&P Tunnel in Maryland are good demonstrations that America's railways need predictable, dedicated funding.
Innovation was the hallmark of former Federal Highway Administrator --now Deputy U.S. Transportation Secretary-- Victor Mendez's tenure here at FHWA. And it's no secret that Transportation Secretary Foxx has made it a top priority across DOT as well. Getting safer, more durable projects from idea to reality faster and at less cost just makes sense all around, and it's a key part of GROW AMERICA, the legislative proposal Secretary Foxx sent to Congress last spring.
In July, I saw firsthand the benefits of Pennsylvania's focus on highway innovation when I traveled to the Keystone State to see how state transportation officials are building a culture of innovation into their work. I left from my visit impressed at what the State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) has achieved...
Monday, I met Brian Orellana, a young man who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, and dreams of becoming an electrician. He may just get the break he needs thanks to an innovative workforce development program that’s tied to the construction of Boston’s Green Line Extension – a new transit line that will serve his neighborhood.
In fact, the cities of Somerville, Medford, and Cambridge have all joined the MassWIN partnership, along with Boston’s transit agency, the Massachusetts DOT, and local businesses and community colleges. They’ve recognized that opportunity begins, not on the day the new rail service will open, but with the construction itself...
Fast Lane readers know that yesterday I took the Department's message to the people. And not just a handful of people either --our virtual town hall discussion reached thousands of participants from coast to coast, even as far away as Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam.
Heat map depicting relative volume of town hall participants by zip code
While I certainly appreciated the opportunity to make the case for a long-term transportation bill that truly funds our nation's needs and provides states, counties, and cities the certainty they need to plan for their future, I was even more grateful to see the steady stream of more than 300 questions pouring in from the town hall website, email, and Twitter. That tells me that Americans are engaged in this issue, an issue that touches their everyday lives, their families, their jobs, and their businesses.
So, now what? Well, now we do the heavy lifting. Now we get a little noisier...
Last week – just hours before we were scheduled to begin cutting transportation funding to states – Congress found a way to postpone the immediate crisis, and extend transportation funding ten more months, until next May.
While we at DOT are glad to avoid those painful cuts, we –along with thousands of commuters, construction workers, freight shippers and manufacturers– know that it’s still not the long-term solution that America’s transportation system really needs.
If you agree, then I want you to join me this Wednesday, August 6, at 1:00pm Eastern time for my GROW AMERICA National Town Hall...
Earlier today, I had the pleasure of joining Illinois Governor Patrick Quinn and several other dignitaries at a ribbon cutting ceremony for Shop #3 at the Nippon Sharyo plant in Rochelle, IL. As the name indicates, this is the third expansion at this plant since 2012. Very soon, workers will start building 130 new, next-generation rail cars for California and the Midwest that are funded through our High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program.
Not that long ago, Shop #3, as well as Shops #1 and #2, were empty fields. Now, because of the Obama Administration’s investments in passenger rail, our Buy America program, and the hard work of so many, I was able to spend the day touring a state-of-the-art U.S. railcar manufacturing plant. What’s more, we’re rejuvenating a manufacturing industry that had gone fallow. New skilled workers are arriving, equipment and material being delivered, high-tech machines whirring and in the near future…shiny new rail cars will be rolling out the door.
It’s exciting for Rochelle, important for Illinois and historic for the Nation...