The vice president made the announcement with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood during a visit to Philadelphia's historic 30th Street Station, where passengers traveling from Pittsburgh and Harrisburg on Amtrak's Keystone Corridor connect to high-speed Acela service to Boston, New York City, and Washington, DC.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, left, and Vice President Joe Biden en route to the site of their announcement at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station. (Photo by David Lienemann courtesy The White House)
Biden said the investment will help the nation reach President Barack Obama's goal of giving 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years, as outlined in his State of the Union address on January 25.
"As a long time Amtrak rider and advocate, I understand the need to invest in a modern rail system that will help connect communities, reduce congestion and create quality, skilled manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced. This plan will help us to do that, while also increasing access to convenient high speed rail for more Americans," said Biden who for years has commuted by train from his home in Wilmington, Delaware to Washington, DC.
Since track improvements raised speeds between Harrisburg and Philadelphia to 110 mph in 2006, the Keystone Corridor has seen rail ridership rise by 57 percent. Today, more passengers travel by rail than by plane from Harrisburg to Philadelphia, and onward to New York City and Washington, DC.
"In America, we pride ourselves on dreaming big and building big," said Secretary LaHood. "This historic investment in America's high-speed rail network keeps us on track toward economic opportunity and competitiveness in the 21st century. It's an investment in tomorrow that will create manufacturing, construction, and operations jobs today."
As the first step, the President's budget for the coming fiscal year would invest $8 billion in expanding Americans' access to high-speed passenger rail service focused on developing or improving three types of interconnected corridors:
Biden said the proposal streamlines the Department of Transportation's rail programs, making it simpler for states, cities, and private companies to apply for grants and loans.
For the first time, all high speed and intercity passenger rail programs will be consolidated into two new accounts: a $4 billion account for network development, focused on building new infrastructure, stations, and equipment; and a $4 billion account for system preservation and renewal. This second account will be used to maintain state of good repair on Amtrak and other publicly-owned assets, bring stations into compliances with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and provide temporary operating support to crucial state corridors while the full system is being built and developed.
Biden said that "strong Buy American requirements" will create tens of thousands of jobs in construction, manufacturing, and rail operations.
The administration expects this investment will open the door to new public-private partnerships, and attract significant private investment in developing and operating passenger rail corridors.
Said LaHood, "We have innovative entrepreneurs. We have skilled workers. We have whip-smart engineers, physicists, chemists, and designers. But our ability to take advantage of our top-notch resources is only as good as our ability to move goods and people quickly, safely, and reliably."
"As I blogged yesterday," LaHood said, "We must, once again, build the best roadways, runways, and railways in the world. And the one element of America's infrastructure that is emblematic of a nation seeking to secure long-term economic prosperity for future generations is high-speed intercity rail."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.