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Szabo American Public Transportation Association (APTA) 2012 Rail Conference Dallas, Texas June 4, 2012 Good morning, and regards from President Obama and Secretary LaHood. Let open by recognizing APTA’s tireless commitment on behalf of public transportation and, in particular, thank you for hosting this year’s UIC World Congress on High-Speed Rail in Philadelphia next month. The World Congress will be a great opportunity to carry our message that high-speed and intercity passenger rail must be an integral part of a multi-modal transportation system – a transportation system that forms the backbone of our economy, just like the Transcontinental Railroad and Interstate Highway System did in centuries past. So this morning, let me talk about the future of our country, particularly our transportation needs and how they affect our economy. In 1955, President Eisenhower told America in a State of the Union address: A modern, efficient highway system is essential to meet the needs of our growing population, our expanding economy, and our national security. In some respects, that statement is just as true today. Except today, President Eisenhower’s vision would not just be limited to our highways. It would include highways, airports, public transit systems, waterways, and of course our railroads. To provide for the future, all of these modes will need to work in concert at full strength. But don’t take it from me. Take it from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has stated that – in order to support a 21st century economy – America needs to target high levels of investments at improving performance across all transportation modes. They went on to say – and this is a direct quote: There can be no more business as usual. As the Chamber recognizes – and as President Obama continues to emphasize – transportation is, and always has been, the bloodline of our economy.
No economy can ever grow faster than its transportation system can carry it. But today, our network is saddled with gridlock – and it’s heavily reliant on foreign oil. Moreover, by 2050, our transportation network will have to move more than 100 million more people and 4 billion more tons of freight per year. In the meantime, traffic congestion is already placing a huge strain on our economy, with costs approaching $130 billion each year. According to one study, more than 19 out of 20 Americans are concerned about the state of our country’s transportation infrastructure. They realize business as usual won’t create more jobs or improve our transportation performance. And it definitely won’t help us kick our addiction to foreign oil. Meanwhile, with service levels targeted for the marketplace, passenger rail can be the most cost-effective, least oil-reliant, and most environmentally friendly mode of transportation. Two railroad tracks can carry as many people in an hour as sixteen lanes of highway. That’s why there’s so much growing support for rail development. Backed by the President’s investments in high-speed and intercity passenger rail – as we speak – 32 states are now moving ahead with 153 rail-development projects. This year alone, 44 projects in 16 states – representing close to $3 billion in federal funding – are underway or set to break ground. And, other projects are already coming in on time and on budget. The President’s support for passenger rail remains as strong as ever. His Fiscal Year 2013 budget requests $2.5 billion combined with $6 billion in immediate transportation investments – a total of $8.5 billion for the continued development of high-speed and intercity passenger rail projects. America’s rail renaissance is well underway. From 1995 to 2008, ridership on commuter rail, light rail, and heavy rail shot up 72 percent.
The 10.4 billion trips Americans took using public transportation last year was the most since 1957. And last year Amtrak set another record, transporting more than 30 million travelers. Judging by what we’re seeing so far for 2012, Amtrak is well on pace to set yet another ridership record – its 9th in the last 10 years. Americans want – and they deserve – more transportation choices. They’re tired of being stuck in traffic, delayed in airports, and facing pain at the pump. And, analysis shows that Americans’ travel habits are beginning to undergo rapid change. According to a new report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and the Frontier Group, the average American drives six percent fewer miles today than in 2004. But, leading this trend are the 16- to 34-year-olds. From 2001 to 2009, this group reduced their vehicle-miles traveled by 23 percent and increased their average passenger miles traveled by trains and buses by a whopping 40 percent. This is the future, and it’s time for Congress to understand these facts and prepare for this trend. To adequately meet the transportation mobility needs of our citizens, America needs a fully-funded, multi-year transportation bill. We need a bill that not only sparks confidence in long-term planning – but one that shows the private sector that we’re serious about developing a 21st century transportation network that is safer, more energy efficient, more environmentally sustainable and offers citizens more transportation choice than the one we inherited. And, as we meet the travel demands of our citizens, that’s when we’ll meet the demands of a growing 21st century economy. Today, even though America’s economy is growing again, adding jobs now for 27 consecutive months, we know we must do more. As unemployment continues to recede, we must do everything we can to accelerate the pace of our economic recovery. In New England, we’re seeing a great example of how rail development can help make that happen.
There, our partners are extending Amtrak’s Downeaster service between Boston and Portland, returning passenger rail service to the Maine towns of Freeport and Brunswick for the first time since 1959. Research done by the Center for Neighborhood Technology finds that this service extension will bring more than $7.2 billion in private development to the corridor over the next 18 years and some $75 million in new annual tax revenues for the States of Maine and New Hampshire. Already, work along the line has provided business to 53 companies in 20 different states. At the FRA, our focus is on maximizing those benefits, which is why all federally-funded rail projects must comply with US DOT’s strict Buy America requirements. Buy America ensures that – from tracks to cross ties, train sets, construction materials and new stations – everything is built with American-made parts and supplies, creating a huge ripple effect throughout the supply chain. But to make that ripple effect even larger, the Next Generation Corridor Equipment Pool Committee – or as we call it the Section 305 committee – has made great progress standardizing parts and components for passenger rail cars and locomotives. Standardization has numerous benefits, including lowering the costs of production and creating broader competition among manufacturers and suppliers. For operators, standardization makes it easier to maintain equipment and creates lower lifecycle costs. As a result, Caltrans and a pool of Midwestern States have just released a $551 million RFP for approximately 130 new bi-level, American-made passenger rail cars and will soon follow with an RFP for 35 new high-performance locomotives. The states’ initial order for 35 locomotives is expected to be followed by a replacement of Amtrak’s existing diesel locomotive fleet. Their 2012 Fleet Strategy Plan calls for 280 diesel locomotives to be replaced using the 305 specification. So, I challenge APTA – and the commuter railroads in this room –to look at ways to hitchhike on to the good work of the 305. Both the bi-level passenger coaches and the diesel locomotive procurements have room for many options, including the ability of commuter agencies to utilize the specs. By combining multiple orders, all will benefit from the economies of scale on equipment and replacement parts, saving significantly in operating, maintenance and capital costs.
Moving ahead, FRA continues to provide the technical guidance our state partners need to complete projects on time and on budget. We’ve identified more than 20 areas for guidance, and we’ll be issuing a draft of our first technical guidance document covering Statewide Rail Plans by the end of this month. In addition to that, we’ve published a notice in the Federal Register announcing seven new categorical exclusions (CEs), for which the public comment period will be completed by the end of June. Now, before I address FRA’s efforts to lead an evolution in railroad safety culture, I’d like to touch upon the issue of Positive Train Control. We’ve heard the concerns expressed by the industry – particularly the challenges faced by commuter authorities – and we continue to work with all to make PTC deployment a reality. Our status report to Congress on PTC implementation is on pace to be delivered well ahead of schedule. And we’re confident it will give members of Congress the facts they need to make informed decisions. But right now, as FRA continues working with states to modernize America’s rail network, we’re focused on doing the same with rail industry safety culture. The centerpiece of our efforts is our Risk Reduction Program, which creates a framework in which railroads can more proactively identify and eliminate risks. And right now the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) is developing recommendations for both passenger and freight carriers. The Committee’s Passenger Safety Working Group has developed guidelines for a System Safety Program to be applied to commuter rail, intercity passenger rail, and high-speed rail operations. The System Safety Program is based on a voluntary commuter railroad program administered by APTA over the past 15 years. And the System Safety Program recommended by the Passenger Safety Working Group satisfies the Rail Safety Improvement Act requirement for railroads to establish a risk reduction program. FRA is currently using the Committee’s recommendation to develop final language for a System Safety Program notice of proposed rulemaking that will be issued this fall. While the railroads today are as safe as they’ve ever been, the Risk Reduction Program will help us gather new data, establish new and innovative practices, and further our efforts to continually drive down the numbers of accidents and incidents.
In particular, let me recognize both Amtrak and New Jersey Transit as two of the passenger operators helping lead the way in our Risk Reduction efforts. Both are involved with Confidential Close Calls Reporting pilot projects, a non-punitive approach to self-reporting incidents that could have resulted in an accident, but didn’t. In our early pilots on close calls reporting, we’re seeing a remarkable 70% reduction in accidents and injuries combined with a 90% reduction in discipline cases. All this takes us back to the premise that – whether we’re talking safety or talking transportation policy – there can be no more business as usual. Having a safe rail network that can ensure mobility for 100 million more Americans and help haul 4 billion more tons of freight … Providing alternatives to paying ever-escalating costs for fuel at the pump … These are not luxuries. These are necessities. And as a Nation, we must continue to evolve – to adapt – just as we have so many times in our past. In 1919, it took Dwight D. Eisenhower, then a major in the U.S. Army, 62 days to travel by road from the nation’s capital to San Francisco. When he became President, he set a goal to build a highway network that would bring our cities closer together, catalyze industry, and power the strongest economy the world has ever seen. It took 10 administrations and 28 sessions of Congress to build out the Interstate system. But, incrementally, we got it done. Through boom years, through bust years – through eight recessions – we built the best national highway system in the world. Years from now, the next generation will no doubt look at the choices we made today. They’ll see we knew of the threats of climate change. They’ll see we were well aware of the crushing effects of rising fuel prices, and of our dependence on foreign oil. They’ll see we knew of the coming population growth – and of the debilitating effects
and costs of congestion. When they look at the choices we made – with the knowledge we had – will they say we got it right? Like Lincoln did … or like Eisenhower did? With the commitment of President Obama – and with the talent, dedication and energy of everyone in the room – I’m convinced America will one day have the true 21st century rail network we need to win the future. Thank you very much.
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