LaHood: Passenger rail is coming to U.S.

It’ll be 20 years in the making, but intercity passenger rail is coming to the United States, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood  said today in Des Moines.

Secretary LaHood refrained from making promises about when Iowans might expect passenger rail between Chicago and Omaha, although he noted that the mayor of Des Moines, Frank Cownie, pressed him while he was in town on the importance of bringing passenger rail through Iowa.

LaHood made his prediction at the 2010 NASCO Conference, where he spoke to a crowd of transportation officials in the public and private sectors from Mexico, Canada and the United States. While he touched on other topics, he returned to passenger rail several times in his 30-minute speech.

The way he sees it, passenger rail in the United States is today where the interstate highway system was when President Eisenhower championed its creation more than a half a century ago — a vision slowly becoming a reality.

“Not all of the lines are on the map and we don’t know where the money is coming from,” he said. But: “Two decades from now there will be intercity rail.”

He noted that while Europeans’ passenger rail is the envy of Americans, America has a superior freight rail system. And, he said, he’s talked with freight rail industry executives who are open to expanding into passenger rail service.

LaHood also pointed out that foreign passenger rail companies are setting up shop in the United States, which they view as a growing market.

During a brief press conference after his speech, reporters pushed LaHood for particulars on funding passenger rail through Iowa. He said he wouldn’t make any promises, but he did say that applications for federal money to pay for passenger rail in Iowa were competitive, noting that there is a larger degree of local support for passenger rail here than elsewhere in the country.

Sorry for the crummy Blackberry photo.