We don't usually post a blog on the weekend, but today is National Train Day, commemorating the May 1869 driving of the golden spike that completed the nation's first transcontinental railroad. To mark this special occasion, let's hear what Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo said at a National Train Day celebration earlier today in Chicago.
First, let me say a hearty "Happy National Train Day!" to everyone involved in US rail and to all the fans of our nation's railroads.
Rail is thriving in the 21st century. Last year, for example, Amtrak carried more than 30 million passengers, setting its eighth ridership record in nine years. And, judging by the first half of this fiscal year, it looks like they’re on pace to set another record.
If you've been reading the Secretary's blog, then you also know how hard Amtrak has worked to upgrade its tracks and equipment to improve its service. All of those new passengers are riding passenger rail because they're looking for a transportation option that is safe, reliable, affordable, and convenient. And that's what Amtrak provides.
Flying in an airplane or driving on the highway –that’s transportation. But riding the rails –that’s how you travel.
For the past three years I’ve had the honor of informing the public about DOT’s historic investments in passenger rail. And it seems fitting today to reiterate President Obama’s message that strengthening passenger rail is vital to America’s economic future.
People are also looking for more choices. They’re tired of being stuck behind the wheel, tired of congested airports, and tired of the pain they feel at the pump.
In line with the demands we've heard voiced by citizens, $2.3 billion in federally-funded rail development projects are under construction or set to break ground this year.
But even before the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program--even before 32 states got started laying and improving track, building new stations, and moving forward with planning studies--America started experiencing a passenger rail renaissance. Amtrak's dramatic ridership increase demonstrates the strength of that revival, and high-speed rail is the critical next step.
In the Midwest, FRA’s state partners are seeing tremendous progress. Early this year, Michigan and Indiana launched 110 MPH service on 80 miles of track between Kalamazoo and Porter, the fastest trains outside the Northeast Corridor.
These 80 miles are just the beginning.
By 2015, nearly 75 percent of the Chicago-St. Louis line and nearly 80 percent of Chicago-Detroit will see sustained speeds of 110 MPH and all new high-performance equipment. Upon full build out and with trip times under four hours, passenger rail will be faster than the interstates. But although that hasn't happened yet, ridership between Chicago and St. Louis has already increased 212 percent during the past five years.
So to us, it’s simple: If we continue strengthening passenger rail service, even more people will choose it.
America’s rail renaissance has arrived, but it's just getting started. Happy National Train Day to everyone.