By U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood

Feb 25, 2011

I’ve been pretty vocal about the economic benefits of moving forward on American high-speed rail. And yesterday was no different, when I was honored to speak at the Indiana Rail Summit.

In addition to being the crossroads of America, Indiana is also the heartland of America’s emerging rail manufacturing industry.  And these manufacturing jobs are proof that high-speed rail is already creating jobs and providing economic benefits.

With Mark Maassel
With Mark Maassel, Northwest Indiana Forum CEO; photo courtesy office of Rep. Pete Visclosky

Skilled workers at Columbia City’s Steel Dynamics, Incorporated, are already forging the steel track for construction workers to install in New England. Engineers are busy grading new routes.  These are good jobs that American workers and their families are benefitting from now.

Photo courtesy Jon L. Hendricks, The Times Soon, factory workers will get to work building new locomotives and cars to race along the tracks.  We have already secured commitments from 30 foreign and domestic rail manufacturers.  If selected for high-speed rail contracts, they’ll establish or expand their base of operations in shuttered American manufacturing plants, hiring American workers.  And our “100% 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 then there are the ripples of growth and expansion along the corridors and near stations.  When America was building our Interstate highway system, other businesses followed.  First, a few small businesses–like gas stations–planted their feet near off-ramps.  Soon, entire towns grew, with grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses benefiting from the activity that highway access created.

Our highways are proof that if you build it, they will come.  Today, existing towns can be revitalized in much the same way, with rail.

In Meridian, Mississippi, for example, a small town mayor leveraged $1.3 million of public dollars and $135 million of private dollars to build a downtown transportation hub.  Now, Amtrak service comes to the station and brings 350,000 passengers a year through a town of only 40,000.  Rail has breathed new life–and new business–into a historic community.

Finally, we must think about the economic consequences of not building an efficient alternative to our roadways.  Four decades from now, America will be home to 100 million additional people.  That’s the equivalent of adding another California, Texas, New York, and Florida.  If we settle for the status quo, our families and neighbors will fight ever-thickening congestion on their way from one place to another.  If we fail to lay a new foundation for competitiveness, our goods will hit bottlenecks instead of markets and America’s next generation of entrepreneurs will find our arteries of commerce clogged.

With Rep Visclosky
Talking rail, jobs with Indiana Rep. Pete Visclosky

Let’s not forget that it took ten presidential administrations and 28 sessions of Congress to make America’s roadways the best in the world.  It took leaders who were courageous enough to think about the next generation, not just the next election.

Today, we have a President, a Vice President, and many governors and legislators from many states leading the way.  But we need more leaders to help move this train further down the track.  We need leaders with the vision to represent the two-thirds of Americans who are ready to ride high-speed rail.  We need leaders with the vision to represent the more than two-thirds of Florida residents who support state and federal funding of high-speed rail.

With President Obama and Vice President Biden

We need partners who understand we’re not building high-speed rail for ourselves.  Like those who built the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway system, we’re building it for our children and for their children.

Right now, Americans of every party, across the country, are calling for increased high-speed rail investment.  They see the path to winning the future, and this administration is doing everything we can to make sure the work gets done.

And when we bring this vision to life, our legacy will be much more than trains, tracks, and ties.  It will be an American economy on the move for generation after generation.

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