May 06, 2021

Chairs DeFazio, Payne, Jr. Statements from Hearing on High-Speed Rail and Emerging Rail Technologies

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) during today’s hearing titled, “When Unlimited Potential Meets Limited Resources: The Benefits and Challenges of High-Speed Rail and Emerging Rail Technologies.” Videos of DeFazio and Payne, Jr.’s opening statements are here and here. More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you Chair Payne and Ranking Member Crawford for holding this timely hearing.

We are here today to discuss the once-in-a-generation opportunity we have before us. This hearing comes at a time when we can meaningfully invest in a truly transformative form of transportation—high-speed rail. You’ll often hear me say that if I could count on the train trip being under two hours and on-time from Eugene to Portland, I would never fly that route or drive on I-5 again. I know it’s the same for millions of people throughout this country.

For years the preferred solution to relieving traffic congestion was to add more highway lanes. But, as the Secretary of the Virginia Department of Transportation testified at the last rail hearing, it is far more impactful and less expensive to invest in passenger rail. And now we have a welcome and necessary development with high-speed rail—the next logical step in tackling congestion.

Unfortunately, the United States is far behind the curve. Our friends in Europe and Asia are decades ahead of us in developing high-speed rail. The Japanese have a train that travels over 300 miles an hour. And the Chinese are spending $115 billion dollars per year on high-speed rail. They claim they’re going to complete 43,000 miles of high-speed track by 2035. We are investing a tiny fraction of that in all of our rail investments. If high-speed rail can work globally, we can make it work here.

We need to keep up with the competition. And the demand is there—people want to get back to riding the rails. Before the pandemic, Amtrak continually set new records for ridership—with more than 32.5 million passenger trips in fiscal year 2019 alone—a major feat considering how we force Amtrak to fight with one hand behind its back against freight congestion, knee-capped by embarrassingly low federal support. Lower trip times enabled by high-speed rail will induce even more demand.

And increased ridership will benefit our climate. Intercity passenger rail is inherently better for the environment than driving or flying. Traveling on the electrified Northeast Corridor system emits 83 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than driving and up to 73 percent less than flying. Investing in high-speed rail will contribute to lower emissions and a smaller carbon footprint. We need to start looking at rail as a central part of the solution to climate change.

We haven’t made a meaningful investment in high-speed rail since 2009, and even those funds were spread too thin. Meager sums every few years is neither smart nor sustainable investing. Dedicated predictable funding is essential to bold infrastructure investment. That is why I am pleased that President Biden has called for more passenger rail funding in the next surface reauthorization.

Congress needs to remain focused on developing a national program. After all, it was a national vision that led to the creation of our highways and aviation networks, spurring unprecedented economic growth, connecting urban and rural communities alike, and creating millions of jobs. At the time, that was also a pie-in-the-sky undertaking. Now we can’t imagine life without it. Rail is the next step.

I know we’ll hear from today’s witnesses about how federal investments in high-speed rail are also investments in the American workforce. To make sure that’s the case, federal high-speed rail dollars will come with the same non-negotiable conditions that currently apply to other federal rail funding, such as Buy America. You won’t find a stronger Buy America advocate than me, and I won’t allow high-speed rail to be an exception to our domestic procurement rule.

These projects should support our nation’s rail workforce, while expanding the reach of federal investments into the communities where workers spend their money. Any consideration of the economic benefits of high-speed rail must include downstream effects, as well as the many construction jobs created by rail expansion.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on the opportunity we have before us to get high-speed rail right.

Chair Payne, Jr.:

Good morning. I’m excited to kick off my second subcommittee hearing of this Congress as the new Chair.

Thanks to the bold vision of President Biden, we stand at the crossroads of a once-in-a generation opportunity to transform this nation’s passenger rail network and bring it into the 21st century.

The title of today’s hearing says it all. Unlimited Potential of emerging technologies in High-Speed Rail.

From hyperloop to bullet trains to magnetic levitation, we will hear about transformative technologies from distinguished panels of policy experts and leaders of High-Speed Rail projects.

Imagine being able to hop on a train in Newark at 9 in the morning and make it to Washington in time for today’s 11 am hearing.  

High-Speed Rail could be the technology that fully unlocks the potential of passenger rail travel in this country.

Other countries have integrated High-Speed Rail systems into their transportation networks and the United States has an opportunity to do the same.

We have led the world in innovation from breaking the sound barrier to winning the space race. There is nothing stopping us from applying that same perseverance to High-Speed Rail.

But we also must confront the reality of limited resources.

Even if we invest the tens of billions of dollars that is in the American Jobs Plan, it will not be enough to fully implement every project we will hear about today.

That is why we must have today’s conversations that could be the basis for tomorrow’s solutions.

That is not to say Congress hasn’t taken action to help spur High-Speed Rail to deliver on the benefits that are possible.

Congress has made significant rail investments that has made Amtrak’s higher-speed Acela trains operational.

Last year, Chair DeFazio ushered H.R. 2 through the House, to invest $60 billion in the U.S. rail system.

Given President Biden’s call for even more rail funding, I am proposing to robustly fund high-speed rail planning and development in our surface transportation reauthorization package. It is time the United States makes a long-term bold effort to bring greater mobility to the nation.

If we invest in easy access to an interconnected rail network, it will create thousands of jobs, communities will benefit from the implementation of High-Speed Rail.

However, we must ensure that these benefits are equitably distributed and underserved communities are not left out in the cold.

Equity in High-Speed Rail also means a fair shot for minority-owned businesses to obtain work that comes from the implementation of these projects. 

We have assembled a wide roster of witnesses for a robust discussion of High-Speed Rail.

I want to hear why it is good policy to invest in High-Speed Rail.

I want to hear how these technologies could redefine short and long-distance travel.

And finally, I want to hear about how these technologies can be made available to all Americans.

It is my hope that Members gain a better understanding of the promise that High-Speed Rail represents and how it can be a positive force for change.

So I hope you will all join me in this subcommittee’s effort to appreciate the rail technologies of the future.