Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxBusiness, labor groups teaming in high-speed rail push Hillicon Valley: Uber, Lyft agree to take California labor win nationwide | Zoom to implement new security program along with FTC | Virgin Hyperloop completes first test ride with passengers Uber, Lyft eager to take California labor win nationwide MORE said Tuesday that 2014 was the "busiest year" year for high-speed rail construction since the Obama administration began pushing for more railways in 2009.
Speaking at the U.S. High Speed Rail Association's summit in Washington, Foxx said funding from the transportation department has helped double the amount of railways that can operate at speeds between 90 and 125 miles-per-hour.
"Over the past five years, we’ve invested more than $12 billion in high-performance rail," Foxx said. "Our High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program is the largest grant program for passenger rail in our nation’s history. Compared to 2009, over 24 million more Americans – a population about as big as Texas’ – now have access to upgraded rail service – or soon will."
Foxx added that more than $4 billion worth of rail projects were under construction this year.
"2014 is shaping up to be our busiest construction year since our high-performance rail program began," he said. "Right now, 47 projects representing $4.4 billion are either under construction or are about to be."
Republicans in Congress have disputed the definition of trains that run 125 miles-per-hour as high-speed.
They have also sharply criticized perhaps the largest component of the Obama administration's high-speed rail push - a proposed 800-mile system in California that would run trains as fast as 220 miles-per-hour.
The Obama administration has provided more than $3 billion to the California high-speed railway, more than any other individual project in the administration's initial list of proposed railways.
Cost estimates for the first leg of the California high-speed railway have risen from $33 billion in 2011 to $98 billion now and Republicans in Washington have questioned whether the state can provide its share of the money. GOP officials have also suggested that the line will not attract enough ridership to be profitable for the Golden State.
Foxx said Tuesday there was no question about the ability of high-speed railways to attract riders, however.
"When you look the data about how Americans are moving around the country, rail is among the fastest-growing modes of travel," he said. "Amtrak has broken its ridership record for ten of the past eleven years, reaching nearly 32 million riders in 2013.
"Between New York and Washington, Amtrak now carries three times as many passengers as all the airlines put together do on that route, making the Northeast Corridor the busiest rail corridor on the continent," the DOT chief continued. "The key word for transportation in the 21st is choice. And these numbers are no surprise. Passengers want options, and when they have options, like passenger rail, they choose them."