For transportation professionals around the country, there's no week like TRB week--the Transportaton Research Board's Annual Meeting. The gathering, which got started yesterday here in Washington, DC, brings together more than 11,000 policy makers, administrators, practitioners, researchers, and representatives of government, industry, and academic institutions from all around the globe.
I was pleased to kick off my TRB week yesterday with Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo and Deputy Administrator Karen Hedlund at a workshop on the "Economics and Social Impacts of High Speed Rail Systems."
Sponsored by TRB's Intercity Passenger Rail Committee and the Mineta Transportation Institute, this all-day workshop featured sessions on the financing, challenges, and benefits of high speed rail, as well as updates on the status of U.S. and international high speed rail projects.
My message to workshop participants was straightforward: high speed rail is well on its way, and it is not turning back.
In just four years, we have made significant progress transforming President Obama's vision of American high speed rail into reality. Rail passengers on many routes are already enjoying some of the benefits of track and equipment upgrades, and every day brings us closer to true high speed.
Between Chicago and St. Louis and Chicago and Detroit rail passengers have begun to experience speeds of 110 miles per hour along segments of both routes. And just a few weeks ago, the FRA issued two Records of Decision on rail routes between Chicago and St. Louis; these make the corridor eligible to compete for future federal funding, which will help more of the corridor's segments reach higher speeds.
Even faster top speeds are planned for the Northeast Corridor, the country's most popular rail route. DOT has already provided a down payment of more than $3 billion to improve service reliability, boost speeds, and reduce travel times.
We've also joined state partners and Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor Commission, a recent initiative to create a unified vision for improved service between Washington, DC, and Boston.
On the West Coast, one of America's most ambitious plans--California high speed rail--is preparing to break ground later this year. Last year, the FRA signed a Record of Decision allowing construction to begin on the Merced-Fresno segment. And the FRA expects to finish the environmental review of the Fresno-Bakersfield segment six months early.
This world-class high speed project is being supported by a $5 billion investment from the state, matched by $3 billion in federal funding.
The tremendous momentum in the Northeast, Midwest, and West has not gone unnoticed. In the Southeast, ongoing station and service upgrades will help Virginia and North Carolina connect more effectively with the Northeast Corridor. Passenger rail plans are also gathering steam in several other states, like Texas and Oklahoma.
And everywhere this important work occurs, good jobs are being created, not only in construction but also in the resurgent American manufacturing sector. Even better, when stations and service are upgraded, economic development follows, bringing even more jobs.
You don't need to be a transportation professional to read the writing on the wall: in the past four years, we have moved the ball significantly downfield. Americans have embraced passenger rail, and DOT and the rail community are working hard to ensure that people have a convenient, affordable, and safe option for inter-city travel.
That's a commitment we will continue to honor.