Passenger Rail Systemby Senator Cory A. Booker
Posted on 2015-12-17
BOOKER. Mr. President, I would first say thank you. I do share
that enthusiasm. I appreciate the way the Senator began his remarks.
This is a tradition of bipartisanship that goes beyond the Senator and
me, but I want to say this about Senator Wicker because I am new to the
Senate. I am here about 25 months now. But this last full year when I
have been working on this passenger rail bill as the ranking member of
that subcommittee, I have found him to be tough, to be balanced, to be
strong and thoughtful about what is best for America, thinking about
our country first, thinking about his great State, our country, how we
are going to create jobs and how we are going to improve in an
increasingly globally competitive environment. It has been an honor to
work with him. I think what we accomplished together is extraordinary,
and it is going to have a profound impact.
This bill makes critical investments in our rail infrastructure. It makes important safety reforms, and it helps to move our country forward, literally and figuratively.
Rail efficiency and safety is critical to our national success. It is a priority. This idea of protecting Americans is a priority of both Senator Wicker and me, and it is critical that we have rail safety, especially as we go forward. I have seen, unfortunately, in the past some very challenging accidents.
For me and my constituents in New Jersey, rail is incredibly important. We are part of the Northeast Corridor, which is probably the busiest rail corridor in the country. It is one of the most productive regions of our Nation, and, unfortunately, it has an inadequate infrastructure. More people use rail than fly in that corridor. The challenge is that the corridor itself has become a choke hold right around the New York-New Jersey region. One of the reasons is because the Hudson River crossing--the busiest river crossing in the United States of America--has tunnels that are inadequate and ineffective at this point. These tunnels were built back in 1910. Nobody in this body remembers those years, personally, but the tunnel began construction 1 year after the famous flights at Kitty Hawk were just getting off the ground in air travel. These tunnels were completed less than a decade before the start of the First World War.
So today, these tunnels are in horrible condition. The whole region is suffering as a result of it. I hear time and again from constituents about the urgency for investment in rail. Residents now, because of the delays, because of the challenges with New Jersey Transit, have to leave earlier for work, miss time with their families, miss dropping off their kids at school, lose out on productivity. The productivity losses in this region amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. So this is an urgent cause for us. That is why I was so grateful, really celebrating the fact that we have a partnership in the Senate that can actually get something done when it comes to rail travel.
For us in this region, we know the challenges. We have tunnels under the Hudson River that are clearly in a state of significant decay and disrepair that some engineers say have less than a decade on them. One single day of missing access to those tunnels for that artery could hurt our regional economy by about $100 million for one single day in wasted productivity.
So this spring Senator Wicker and I joined together to introduce this legislation, the Railroad Enhancement and Efficiency Act. That bill is making critical investments. The bill very critically would allow the Northeast Corridor to reinvest its profits into that region, which is going to be significant for helping to give us a 21st century competitive infrastructure. That is something I cannot understate the urgency of. The bill adds critical safety provisions that will help with positive train control.
Earlier, as was mentioned by Senator Wicker, the Chamber passed the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act, or FAST Act, a 5-year, $305 billion transportation compromise bill that, for the first time, includes the rail provisions that I am proud to say were in our Railroad Enhancement and Efficiency Act.
So this bill that passed the Senate will enable critical projects, such as the Hudson Tunnel plan. It is going to achieve incredible safety for our communities. I just want to again thank [[Page S8759]] Senator Wicker for his noble service. I am sure he and I would both like to thank Senators Thune and Nelson, the ranking members on the overall committee, who worked to ensure that our bill was part of the massive highway transportation bill. There is our long-term economic competitiveness as a country. We talked about national security. Well, our economy fuels our strength at home and abroad. Investing in infrastructure, which has a long history of being a bipartisan priority, is something on which I am proud to join with Senator Wicker and continue that great American tradition of investing in our communities, creating more growth, creating more jobs, and creating a strong economy, which makes for a strong nation.