When we talk about high-speed passenger rail, there's a lot of excitement about the Northeast Corridor and California. But President Obama's vision for American high-speed rail encompasses several corridors across America, and the Midwest is doing a terrific job of staking its own claim as a passenger rail market built for speed.
On Tuesday, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo was in Milwaukee, and his message was clear: The Midwest Regional Rail Initiative is not something we can afford to set aside for later.
Administrator Szabo and I have said many times that no economy can grow faster than its transportation network can carry it, and that applies to Milwaukee, Chicago, and the Midwest's 40 largest cities. The region’s highways are already the second-most congested in the country, costing more than $10 billion a year in lost economic productivity. And the population is expected to grow 30 percent by 2050.
As Administrator Szabo said, "We can act now, or we can be slowed down by population growth later. And right now, the most common-sense path forward is to optimize the most cost effective, least oil-reliant, and most environmentally-friendly mode of transportation –the Midwest’s rail network."
With a federal investment of more than $2.5 billion, this Administration is acting now. Earlier this year, for example, Amtrak introduced 110 miles-per-hour service on an 80-mile stretch between Porter, Indiana, and Kalamazoo, Michigan. These are now America’s fastest trains outside of the Northeast Corridor.
But those 80 miles are just the start.
Even better, tomorrow's high-speed rail is creating good jobs in the Midwest today.
This morning, Deputy Federal Railroad Administrator Karen Hedlund was in Rochelle, Illinois, where Nippon Sharyo is opening a new American railcar manufacturing plant. The company expects the new plant to employ 250 workers.
In addition, it will create additional jobs throughout the company’s American supply-chain. Nippon Sharyo has already identified more than 200 potential suppliers and vendors in the Midwest region alone. In fact, Super Steel, a Milwaukee maker of steel railcar components, held a job fair last Saturday for welders and other craftsmen who will work on Nippon Sharyo orders.
In 2009, 30 different manufacturers made a commitment to me that--should we develop high-speed rail--they would build plants in America and hire American workers. In building this $50 million plant, Nippon Sharyo is fulfilling its commitment.
As Deputy Administrator Hedlund said, "Today, we’re seeing real proof of what’s possible when federal, state, and local governments team up with the private sector to make smart investments in transportation."
Together with our partners in the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative and the rail supply industry, DOT is keeping Midwest high-speed rail on track.