I've written a couple of times this month about the resurgence of the automobile industry, but it's important to note that the renewed strength of American manufacturing is not limited to cars and trucks. A quick glance through the news offers solid proof that the American railroad industry is also thriving.
In North Dakota, for example, freight rail loads are growing so fast that BNSF has opened a $35 million railcar facility in Minot just to keep cars in service. In 2011, the railroad added 150 workers to its Minot workforce, bringing the total above 330, with plans to hire even more employees this year.
Passenger rail has grown significantly as well. Between Milwaukee and Chicago, for example, Amtrak's Hiawatha line provided a record 823,163 passenger rides in 2011, up from 792,848 in 2010. And systemwide, Amtrak carried a record 30.2 million passengers last year, setting an annual ridership record for the eighth time in the past nine years.
According to the Association of American Railroads, rail business in the U.S. is poised for even greater gains, with companies expecting to invest a record $13 billion in 2012 to expand, upgrade, and enhance the nation’s freight rail network. These investments include expenditures such as intermodal terminals that facilitate truck to train freight transport; new track, bridges and tunnels; modernized safety equipment; new locomotives and rail cars; and other components that ensure the U.S. freight rail network remains the best in the world.
The freight railroads also expect to hire more than 15,000 employees this year, replacing retiring workers and adding new positions nationwide. That's tremendous news. As Ed Hamberger, AAR President and CEO, said, “As the demand to move more freight by rail increases, freight railroads are continuing to add and fill jobs nationwide. These jobs are well paying, highly skilled careers that cannot be offshored.”
That kind of expansion will require a major investment in capacity. As Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo said at the Southwestern Rail Conference in Dallas last week, "We can’t expect our current freight network will move goods as efficiently in the future unless we make it a national priority to do more than just maintain existing infrastructure."
That's why we've assisted the freight rail industry with support for projects like Fort Worth's Tower 55, the crossroads of American rail. We've invested $34 million in competitive TIGER grants to create 900 jobs upgrading a major chokepoint and helping increase rail capacity by more than 30 percent. A similar project is underway on Chicago's Englewood Flyover, where we're putting 1,500 men and women to work untangling another infamous rail bottleneck.
The ability to move goods and people efficiently is a key part of America's economic foundation. Easing rail traffic means greater economic competitiveness. We can move parts to factories faster. We can move goods to market faster.
And DOT is proud to partner with states, with local governments, and with America's rail companies to build the foundation for an economy that lasts.