Last week, I traveled with Vice President Biden to Philadelphia to announce a comprehensive plan for an American high-speed rail network. As the Vice President said that day, "We know that public infrastructure investment increases private-sector productivity, promotes growth, and creates jobs."
That’s because transportation is the lifeblood of today’s global economy. And if we can’t move goods and people faster and more efficiently than our competition, there’s no way we can remain the most prosperous and productive country in the world. The undeniable fact is that our existing systems are not up to tomorrow's load.
Unfortunately, some continue to take the short view on our economy. Robert Samuelson's attack on President Obama's high-speed rail initiative in Monday’s Washington Post was equally as shortsighted as the Post’s editorial last month criticizing our high-speed rail plan.
But as the Secretary of Transportation, let me be clear: there is no amount of money that could build enough capacity on our highways and at airports to keep up with our expected population growth in coming decades. America’s population will grow by 70 million in the next 25 years and 100 million in the next 40 years. Adding capacity to an interstate highway in the congested Northeast would cost more than $40 million per mile and cause enormous traffic backups, assuming we even had the space. A relatively “inexpensive” airport runway can cost half a billion dollars to construct.
High-speed rail can alleviate congestion both in the air and on our roads. It can do that with more energy efficiency than other forms of transportation. High-speed rail will involve upgrades to our freight rail system that will be needed to serve a swelling population. And it will support an industry that will add jobs for our workers.
In fact, more than 30 foreign and domestic rail manufacturers and suppliers have committed to locating or expanding their base of operations in the United States if they get the chance to work on our high speed rail program. Some are already locating here.
Siemens, for example, is manufacturing train cars and other equipment in Sacramento. CAF is doing the same in Elmira, New York. Caterpillar/EMD is building a locomotive assembly plant in Indiana. And Steel Dynamics, Inc. is expanding a steel manufacturing plant in Columbia City, Indiana.
One need look no further than Wisconsin to see that rail companies are chomping at the bit to hire American workers and use American materials to help jump-start an American high-speed rail manufacturing industry. Talgo, a Spanish-owned rail manufacturer, set up shop in Milwaukee, hiring more than 100 workers and planning to hire even more. When Governor Scott Walker closed the door on Wisconsin's high-speed rail segment, Talgo decided to close the door on its operation in Milwaukee and move elsewhere.
Along the increasingly congested roadways near Amtrak's Keystone Corridor in Pennsylvania, we can see an example of how American rail works. Harrisburg-to-Philadelphia is too short a distance to fly, but too long for some travelers to drive. Amtrak upgrades to that corridor's rail line increased speeds significantly so that ridership increased by 57 percent. And business travelers like the line because they can work while traveling--unlike drivers who would otherwise be stuck in traffic.
Amtrak's enormously successful Acela service in the Northeast Corridor demonstrates that safe, convenient, reliable passenger rail can carry its own weight. Last year that line took in $1.40 in revenue for every dollar in operating costs, and Amtrak has enjoyed 15 straight months of ridership growth.
The President understands what the Washington Post does not—that we can’t shortchange tomorrow's economy by failing to lay the foundation for growth today. That’s why the President Obama is launching a high-speed rail network that will serve 80 percent of Americans and its legacy will be more than trains, tracks, and ties. It will be an economy on the move and a future that we are prepared to win.