Buttigieg Pledges to be 2nd Biggest Rail Enthusiast

Secretary of Transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg said during his confirmation hearing this week before a Senate committee that he will be the second biggest passenger rail enthusiast in the Biden administration.

Pete Buttigieg

The biggest passenger rail enthusiast would be President Joseph Biden, who is well known for having commuted to Washington on Amtrak during his time in the Senate.

“As a mayor from the industrial Midwest, I will bring a bottom-up perspective on transportation programs and funding,” Buttigieg said.

“If confirmed, I look forward to working with our partners at the state, local, territorial, and tribal levels to find solutions to our infrastructure issues while we also prepare for the future of transportation at a time of great change.”

During the hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee, some committee members pressed Buttigieg to favor their pet rail projects.

Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker invited Buttigieg to visit his state to talk about restoration of Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast.

Amtrak has been absent from that region of the country since 2005 when the Amtrak’s tri-weekly Sunset Limited was suspended following Hurricane Katrina.

Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal pressed Buttigieg to commit to providing federal funding to complete the Gateway Program to replace and rebuild tunnels under the Hudson River that link New York City and New Jersey.

The 111-year-old tunnels were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Buttigieg lacks a transportation industry background but as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, he offered support for a project about to get underway to add double track to the South Shore Commuter line that links that South Bend and Chicago.

As mayor he also supported proposals to extend the South Shore to downtown South Bend and to establish quiet zones on Norfolk Southern and Canadian National routes in the city.

Buttigieg, who is expected to win Senate confirmation, spoke of the economic power of transportation investment, and signaled his intent to make the DOT less auto-centric.

“There are so many ways that people get around, and I think often we’ve had an auto-centric view that has forgotten, historically, about all of the other different modes,” he said.

“We want to make sure anytime we’re doing a street design that it enables cars, and bicycles, and pedestrians and any other modes—and businesses—to co-exist in a positive way, and we should be putting funding behind that.”

One of Buttigieg’s signature transportation efforts as mayor was to push for South Bend to adopt a “Smart Streets” initiative to bolster development of downtown.

This involved redesigning streets to add bike lanes and reduce vehicle lanes as well as working with the private sector to create economic development partnerships.

Buttigieg spoke about his love of Amtrak travel, including trips aboard the Lake Shore Limited during his college years.

 “I enjoy long train trips as well as short ones, and I think Americans ought to be able to enjoy the highest standard of passenger rail service,” he said.

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