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Secretary Ray LaHood --Remarks as Prepared-- Spain-United States Business Roundtable Rail Transport 2011 Hotel Wellington, Madrid, Spain

Thank you, Minister Blanco, for your wonderful hospitality – and for your ongoing partnership.  Thank you, Ambassador Solomont, for the warm welcome.  Thank you, all, for inviting me to take part in this extraordinary gathering.

I’m delighted to represent President Obama, Vice President Biden, and the American people on this, my second trip to Spain.  I returned to listen and to learn.  I’ve returned to extend the president’s gratitude for Spain’s technical support and guidance as America begins the heavy lifting of building a national high-speed rail network.  And I’ve returned to ask for your continued collaboration as we move down the track toward a better future for both of our nations.

Now, it’s not lost on anyone that when President Obama proposed his high-speed rail plan, he specifically called out Spain as an example for America to emulate.  We know that, today, 40 percent of Spain’s population lives within 30 miles of a high-speed rail station – and that as your network expands, that number will rise to 90 percent by the year 2020.  We know that the high-speed line between Madrid and Seville is so successful that more people travel between here and there by rail than by both car and airplane combined. 

President Obama has been crystal clear:  There is absolutely no reason that the same can’t be true on the line between Boston and Washington, or Detroit and Chicago, or San Francisco and Los Angeles.  That’s why President Obama and the Congress provided seed money to get us started – to hire workers, to manufacture and lay track, and to build new stations.  And that’s why, going forward, America will continue looking to Spain – and others – for both inspiration and information.

So, let me tell you a little about President Obama’s vision and plan.  We envision an America in which 80 percent of people have access to high-speed rail – and we know that as our system emerges, economic growth and opportunity will follow. 

First, in the short-term, high-speed rail will create manufacturing and construction jobs.  To date, 30 rail companies from around the world have pledged that, if selected for high-speed rail contracts, they’ll hire American workers and expand their bases of operations in the United States.    Spanish companies like Talgo and CAF are already seizing the opportunity.  In fact, CAF has opened shop in Elmira, New York, and is manufacturing rail cars for Amtrak to use along its high-speed lines.

Second, once track is laid and stations constructed, high-speed rail will spark economic development.  It will generate quality jobs at small businesses all along its corridors.

Third, over the long-run, high-speed rail will bolster America’s economic competitiveness.  We know that our nation will be home to 100 million additional people by the year 2050.  That’s twice the population of Spain.  Our highways and airports simply can’t handle the expansion.  We need to do something or we’ll be crushed under the weight of our own growth.

How do we bring the president and vice president’s vision to life? 

Well, we’re borrowing a page from Spain’s playbook and designing an integrated network, with trains moving at different speeds.  Where it makes sense, we’ll build state-of-the-art, world-class high-speed lines, on par with anything in Europe or Asia.    We won’t do it everywhere, but in places like California – and eventually the northeast corridor – we’ll one day ride trains travelling at least 220 miles-per-hour.  Feeding into this true high-speed core will be regional service, which will be as fast as – or faster than – the best trains America uses today.  Finally, we will build out our emerging corridors, which is happening already. These will be local lines, along which entrepreneurs can open shop.

We’re also taking heart in another dimension of Spain’s experience.  In 1986 – just 25 years ago – Spain made the bold decision to create one of the most advanced high-speed train systems in the world.  At the time, you had your share of skeptics and cynics.

Spain’s old passenger rail system was known for delays and service interruptions.  The country had little high-speed rail manufacturing capacity – to say nothing of equipment, signaling, communication, or electrification services. 

But in 1992, the Madrid-to-Seville line opened for business.  And then everything changed.  Soon thereafter, the train had a 99 percent on-time record.  People and public officials from across Spain not only demanded high-speed rail, but competed fiercely for funding.  Today, several other corridors are in service – including lines from Madrid to Barcelona and from Madrid to Valencia – with more under construction.  There’s near universal political support for continuing to expand the system.

You may have heard that, back in the United States, we have a handful of naysayers.  They tell us that the long-term benefits of high-speed rail aren’t worth the short-term sacrifice.  They tell us that jobs, economic development, and competitiveness aren’t worth the investment.  They tell us that it’s fine for America to settle for a second-rate transportation system.

But I think these naysayers could learn a lesson from your example.  It’s an example of dreaming big and building big, despite the political risks.  It’s an example of galvanizing public support behind an idea whose time has come.  It’s an example of how people with a daring vision can spur entire new industries -- and put their neighbors and countrymen to work constructing something that transforms their communities for the better.

Because of President Obama, America has made a similar commitment. We’ve set the goal of building the safest, fastest, most efficient ways to move people and products – not just in spite of economic hardship, but as a way to overcome it.  On behalf the president, I’m deeply grateful for all you’re doing to aid in this essential endeavor.  I look forward to our continued friendship – and to our continued work together.

Friday, June 17, 2011