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Biden administration heralds commitment to high speed rail

By Admin

Reported by David Lassen for Trains.

President Joe Biden and passenger rail advocates on Friday hailed announcement of two major Federal Railroad Administration programs — one providing $8.2 billion in grants for construction of passenger-focused projects [see “FRA announces $8.2 billion in Federal-State Partnership passenger grants,” Trains News Wire, Dec. 8, 2023] and the other announcing routes selected for further passenger development, either as new or extended routes, or with increased frequencies [see “Full list of passenger routes …,” News Wire, Dec. 8, 2023].

Biden highlighted the $6.1 billion for the Brightline West and California high speed projects included in the Federal-State Partnership funding during an appearance Friday in Las Vegas, Nev., saying “world-class high speed rail” had been one of his commitments as a presidential candidate. “Today I’m here to deliver on that vision,” he said. “You have no idea how much this pleases me.

“Together, we’re finally going to make high-speed rail happen between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. We’ve been talking about this project for decades. Now we’re really getting it done.”

Emphasizing the economic impacts of the project, he said it would create 35,000 jobs during construction, 10,000 in union building trades, with another 1,000 in operating jobs when the project is completed. He also focused on that aspect of the California project, saying it had created 12,000 construction jobs to date, with more to come.

The California project, he said, “is the most ambitious rail project in the entire Western hemisphere,” with a goal of carrying 31 million passengers annually when fully completed between Los Angeles and San Francisco. “Think of how this grain will transform California’s Central Valley with new businesses, new residents, vistiors, economic opportunies, or what it will mean to folks who live in inland towns and commute to work in California coastal cities. It’s a game changer.”

Along with the other projects announced Friday, and the FRA’s Corridor Identification and Development Program — “supporting 69 rail projects still in their early stages across 44 states” — Biden said the announcements were part of the administration’s “biggest investment for passenger rail literally since the creation of Amtrak a half a century ago.”

Wes Edens, Brightline founder and chairman, called the funding “a historic moment that will serve as a foundation for a new industry, and a remarkable project that will serve as the blueprint for how we can repeat this model throughout the country. We’re ready to get to work to bring our vision of American-made, American-built, world-class, state-of-the-art high speed train travel to America.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg also focused on the high-speed rail grants in a conference call with reporters.

“If you’ve ever seen the standard of passenger rail service in Japan, or Germany, or for that matter Spain or Italy,” Buttigieg said, according to CBS News, “and come home and say, ‘Why can’t we have these nice things,’ this is the beginning of the answer to that.”

Unions also celebrated on the high-speed announcements.

“The idea of high-speed rail has been discussed in this country for decades, and it is beyond exciting to see it coming together,” said Jeremy Ferguson, president of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division (SMART-TD) in a statement. “Our members, and our brothers and sisters throughout rail labor should see this as a day when our nation’s president and the country itself recognize our value and what we bring to the table.

Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, said in a statement, “On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of workers we represent in the passenger rail and building trades sectors, we commend the Biden Administration for awarding this federal funding to support the Brightline West and California high-speed rail projects. Both projects have already demonstrated their commitment to high-road job creation by agreeing to use skilled workers for the construction, operation, and maintenance of these high-speed rail lines.”

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