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House Transportation Committe on Transportation and Infrastructure Hearing on High Speed Rail on December 6, 2012

Secretary Ray LaHood

Oral Testimony on High Speed Rail as Prepared for Delivery

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

United States House of Representatives

December 6, 2012

Chairman Mica, Ranking Member Rahall, and Members of the Committee, thank you for this opportunity.

President Obama’s High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) program is bringing more transportation options to millions of Americans. As we invest in our rails, we are creating jobs and supporting economic growth across the country.

High-speed and higher performing passenger rail are critical to America’s future. By 2050, our country will be home to 100 million additional people.

Right now, our highways and runways are already congested and nearly stretched to their limits.  

This congestion will only grow with time.

We can act today, or we can face a transportation crisis later.

Investing in rail is a priority for President Obama and this Administration.

But most importantly, it’s a priority for the American people.

Since 2009, we have received 500 applications requesting $75 billion in funding for intercity passenger rail projects and essential upgrades to our nation’s rail networks.

So let’s look at the progress we’ve made.

As a result of the Administration’s investments:

The nation’s first true high-speed rail system is set to break ground this coming year. This 220 MPH train system will carry travelers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in less than three hours, more than twice as fast as by interstate.

We have introduced – and are now expanding – 110 miles-per-hour service in the Midwest. In October, I rode on a train for a short stretch of the Chicago—St. Louis Corridor, and I saw the progress myself.

I also recently visited a plant in Rochelle, Illinois that is building 130 railcars and creating about 250 jobs in the process. This is a direct benefit of our Buy America requirements in the High-Speed and Intercity-Passenger Rail Program.

More than 40 stations are being upgraded across the country, strengthening the connections between regions and revitalizing local economies.

And we’re now leading a comprehensive planning effort to determine the Northeast Corridor’s next generation of service.

In a short amount of time, we have developed a sophisticated grants management process for one of the largest discretionary infrastructure programs in the country.

Rather than take a one-size-fits-all approach, we are targeting service improvements to the specific needs of every market.

We’re also focused on arriving at performance-based agreements with host railroads that strengthen passenger service without impeding on the freight rail industry’s ability to expand.

And to make sure we were meeting Congress’ objectives in the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) and the Recovery Act (ARRA), we worked to get these agreements right from the very beginning.

We have obligated 100 percent of our Recovery Act Funding, and 99 percent of our total program funding.

As a result, 152 projects are now moving forward in 32 states.

We have $1.7 billion in construction projects that are now underway or complete in 17 states.

And we have another $1.5 billion in job-creating projects that will break ground in the next six months.

We are already seeing projects come in on time and on budget.

We recently completed a project in Vermont that upgraded 190 miles of track, speeding up both passenger and freight trains.

In Maine, we have restored passenger rail service to two towns for the first time since 1959 – and in the process sparked millions of dollars in private sector investment.

In the Northeast, we have invested more than $3 billion in projects that are upgrading infrastructure, eliminating bottlenecks, and laying a foundation to expand high-speed rail.

For instance, our investments will ensure that by 2016, the segment between New Haven and Hartford will be completely double-tracked, providing commuters more frequent and reliable train service and shorter trips.

And in Pennsylvania, we’ve made improvements on the Philadelphia-Harrisburg Keystone Corridor that will allow for trains to travel at higher speeds.

But as much as we’ve accomplished, the reality is that we have only started to meet states’ enormous pent-up demand for passenger rail projects.

Over the last eight years, Americans – particularly younger Americans – have been driving less, all while choosing passenger rail and public transit in record numbers.

Amtrak has set ridership records in nine of the last 10 years, with ridership growing almost 50 percent.

This increase in ridership is not limited to one part of the country.

This is happening because people are choosing to travel by trains in hundreds of communities all across America.
 

Now, we know we have a lot of work ahead of us.

We know our work won’t be finished overnight.

But our plan is to keep pushing forward, to keep thinking big and building big – just like the generations before us who built the Erie Canal, the Transcontinental Railroad, and the Interstate Highway System.

We can’t wait for a transportation crisis to cripple our economy.

Our generation’s job is to invest in America’s future.

And that future has to include high-speed and higher-performing intercity passenger rail.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. I’m happy to answer your questions.

Updated: Thursday, December 6, 2012