’It’s time for the next level’: Transport secretary Pete Buttigieg wants US to lead world in high-speed rail

Amtrak has done a 'heroic' job with the constraints placed on them, Secretary Buttigieg said, but that it was long past time for improvements to US rail service

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent in New York
Friday 05 February 2021 14:57
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Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg wants to turn America into a leader in high-speed rail

Pete Buttigieg says it's time to take things to the “next level” and make the US a world leader in high-speed rail.

The newly-minted transport secretary said that Americans have long been “asked to settle for less” when it came to rail service compared to other countries.

He highlighted Japan’s much-lauded bullet train network but also the rail services of the UK and Turkey as superior to the US.

Amtrak has done a “heroic” job with the constraints placed on them, Secretary Buttigieg said, but that it was time for improvements. He noted there was now "bipartisan appetite" for investment in rail, during an interview with MSNBC anchor Joy Reid on Thursday.

“I want the US to be leading the world when it comes to access to high-speed rail,” Sec. Buttigieg said.

As part of his climate agenda, President Biden has pledged to "spark the second great railroad revolution". To improve passenger rail, the president has promised to put the Northeast Corridor on higher speeds and reduce the travel time from DC to New York by half, along with making progress toward completion of the California High Speed Rail project.

There are also plans to expand the Northeast Corridor to the South and build out an end-to-end high speed rail system that will connect the coasts and span the Midwest and the Great West.

Ms Reid highlighted how major transport infrastructure projects of the past, such as President Eisenhower's build-out of the nation's highways, had decimated some Black communities.

She pointed to the example of Overtown, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Miami, Florida, and a hub of Black businesses and entertainment venues that earned the nickname "Southern Harlem". In the 1960s two expressways were built through the middle of Overtown, decimating the neighborhood. Three-quarters of residents, who had no say in the highway project due to segregation, were displaced.

Overtown wasn't alone: Other Black neighborhoods throughout the US from Camden, New Jersey to Nashville and Kansas City suffered a similar fate.

Mr Buttigieg, a 39-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, acknowledged that the highway networks often had “terrible consequences” for communities of color. He said that racial equity was at the center of the Biden administration’s infrastructure plans. 

His remarks echoed a statement to staff that Mr Buttigieg, the first openly gay person to be confirmed to a Cabinet post, made following his swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday.

“I know that, at its best, transportation makes the American Dream possible, getting people and goods to where they need to be — and directly and indirectly creating good-paying jobs," Mr Buttigieg wrote in an email, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

"We also must recognize that at their worst, misguided policies and missed opportunities can reinforce racial and economic inequality, dividing or isolating neighborhoods, undermining the government’s basic role of empowering Americans to thrive.”

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