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Secretary Ray LaHood Northeast Corridor (NEC) Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission Kick Off Meeting

Thank you for your kind introduction.  It’s great to be here with so many friends and familiar faces: from our dedicated leadership within the Department of Transportation, including Roy Kienitz, Chris Bertram, Joe Szabo, Karen Rae, and Therese McMillan, to our state DOT leaders and representatives from Amtrak, many of whom have traveled great distances to join us.  I trust that you all took the train.  I also want to extend a special thanks to Delaware DOT Secretary Carolann Wicks for her proactive preparation efforts in advance of today’s meeting.

The Northeast Corridor Commission was created – in accordance with the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 – for a simple reason: You may come from different states, with different economic strengths and different needs, but we are stronger and more effective when we work together.

Today marks the start of an unprecedented new partnership between Northeast corridor states and the Department of Transportation.  This partnership will allow the leaders of this crucial region to better coordinate transportation planning and investment so that every state gets the biggest “bang for their buck.”  It will revitalize and develop partnerships among state transportation interests, freight railroads, and Amtrak.
It will bring together leaders not just from rail, but from all transportation modes. 

Maybe most exciting of all, it will help us write the next chapter in the emerging story of America’s high-speed intercity passenger rail system – and a big part of that work will be your joint vision for the future of the NEC.

Everyone with a stake in the NEC should be extraordinarily proud of the current network.  It’s become part of the social fabric in northeastern cities, and it’s an engine of economic growth.  That said, we all recognize the crucial need for expansion and improvement to accommodate growing populations.  And grow it we will—through collaboration and innovation.

Later this morning, Amtrak will discuss a new vision for the Northeast Corridor – Washington to Boston in 3 hours.  While we have to do much to make that vision a reality, it is the type of bold departure from the past that the president is looking for.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the opportunity before us today is just as great as it was half a century ago, when President Eisenhower signed the interstate highway legislation into law.  He envisioned building – and I quote – “a vast system of inter-connected highways, crisscrossing the nation.”  With the vision of the President and the Congress – and the hard work of those who put down mile after mile of pavement, that’s exactly what America built.

For decades, our interstates have moved products of industry to market.  For hundreds of millions of people, they’ve linked affordable homes and quality jobs – as is certainly the case along the I-95 corridor.  But let’s not forget – they didn’t start out that way.  They started out as a bold, daring idea. 

Today, the Obama Administration is working to achieve a vision of similar scope and scale with our rail program.  As with interstates during the 1950s, we don’t know where every route will run or where every dollar will come from.  But we do know this: You can’t stop this train.  I promise you: In less time than it took to plan and pave that “vast system of inter-connected highways,” you’ll see high-speed trains carry significant numbers of Americans within and between regions.

And if anyone wasn’t sure how strong the President’s commitment is to rail’s future, look no further than the vision he laid out earlier this month.  He committed the Unites States to laying and maintaining 4,000 miles of track – some for transit, some for freight, and some for high-speed passenger rail.  That’s enough to stretch from coast to coast.

I hope all of you will join us in explaining to Congress and the public exactly why this matters: It’s an investment in economic opportunity.  It’s an investment in economic competitiveness.  And it’s an investment in America’s future.

This is an exciting time – for the Northeast corridor, for us at the Department of Transportation, and for the American people.  As we embark upon this long-term project and partnership, I couldn’t ask for a better team.

It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work.  If we do this right – and I know we will – the railroads our children inherit will be not only faster, but safer, more reliable and more fuel efficient than ever before.  That’s a legacy that we can all be proud of.

Thank you for your dedicated service on this important commission.

Monday, September 27, 2010