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Hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee - "The Federal Role in National Rail Policy"


Location: Washington, DC

Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), senior member of the Commerce Committee, today issued a statement at a hearing entitled "The Federal Role in National Rail Policy."

"It's no secret that the United States lags woefully behind the rest of the world when it comes to developing high-speed rail and creating the good jobs for American workers that come with it," said Sen. Kerry. "Countries around the world continue to build out their transportation systems as we have fallen farther and farther behind and the United States should never be second to anyone, anywhere. The infrastructure investments we have made in this Congress are a fresh start and we must continue investing in a modern and reliable transportation system network in the United States."

In 2008, Sens. Kerry and Arlen Specter (D-Penn.) introduced the High-Speed Rail for America Act, which would transform America's outdated and underfunded passenger rail system into a world class system. He successfully included $8 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to expand high speed rail projects and has been a fierce advocate for an advanced, high-speed system throughout the nation.

Sen. Kerry's full statement as prepared is below:

Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for this hearing. It comes at an important time -- a time of economic challenges rarely experienced in this country. And I believe a first-rate American high speed rail system is a critical part of our efforts to meet those challenges.

The history of America is, in large part, a history of railroads, and I believe the development of a high speed rail system will be as important in the years ahead. It will make our air cleaner, ease traffic congestion, save families' money and time, lessen our dependence on foreign oil - and it will create jobs.

That is why I have previously introduced legislation, called the High Speed Rail for America Act, to authorize $8 billion over a six-year period for tax-exempt bonds to finance high-speed rail projects. The bill also called for an Office of High-Speed Passenger Rail to oversee the development of high-speed rail and provide a consistent source of funding. I am also working with Senator Dodd on National Infrastructure Bank legislation to leverage private capital in merit-based commercially viable projects of national significance that span both traditional and technological infrastructure--roads, airports, bridges, high-speed rails, smart grid and broadband.

A 2008 National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission report says that over the next 50 years, the population of the United States will grow by some 120 million people. This will greatly intensify the demand for transportation services by private individuals and by businesses. Most of that growth will occur in metropolitan areas.

Estimates indicate that the U.S. needs to invest at least $225 billion annually for the next 50 years to upgrade our existing transportation network to a good state of repair and to build the more advanced facilities we will require to remain competitive. Unfortunately, the United States is spending less than 40 percent of this amount today.

Congestion is crippling our major cities. Even the infrastructure in our small towns is aging at an alarming rate. We cannot just focus on building more roads. We have to find broader solutions. That is why we must develop high-speed rail here in the United States.

It's no secret that the United States lags woefully behind the rest of the world when it comes to developing high-speed rail.

- Japan, which unveiled the world's first high-speed rail system in 1964, has a 1,350-mile network in which speeds of more than 300 miles per hour are possible.

- France, which holds the world speed record for high-speed rail -- 357 miles per hour -- has a 1,180 mile network and plans to add another 1,500 miles.

- Spain plans to spend more than $100 billion over the next decade to build Europe's largest high-speed rail network. It will create tens of thousands of jobs. And when it's done, nearly everyone in Spain will live within 30 miles of a train station.

- And earlier this year, China announced a plan to expand its high-speed rail system to a network of over 16,000 miles by the year 2020. In this year alone, China has poured more than $50 billion into this system.

I think we can permanently retire the outdated myth that China doesn't care about clean energy. They do care, they are acting, and they're moving fast. I rode the 200-mile-an-hour bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin. The old train took eight hours and ran on diesel. The new electric train takes twenty-nine minutes. That's right, twenty-nine minutes. Shanghai's "mag lev" train actually goes 300 miles per hour.

It's clear from the experiences in these countries that a successful high-speed rail system will require a significant financial commitment. But the benefits are worth the price tag -- something President Obama and some of our colleagues recognize.

Last year, the number of people riding Amtrak surged to an all-time high with an 11 percent increase in ridership. And thanks to the leadership of Senator Lautenberg, Amtrak was reauthorized with $1.5 billion over a five-year period to finance the construction and equipment for 11 high-speed rail corridors.

Last year, I successfully included $8 billion in the Recovery Act to expand high speed rail projects. This is the largest investment in infrastructure since the Interstate highway system was developed and is right now laying the groundwork for 13 new, large-scale high-speed rail corridors around the nation.

Countries around the world have realized the benefits of high-speed rail and continue to build out their transportation systems as we have fallen farther and farther behind. But the infrastructure investments we have made in this Congress can spark a renaissance in the American economy, if we continue investing in a modern and reliable transportation system network in the United States.

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