LaHood, the keynote speaker at a luncheon sponsored by the Galesburg Area Chamber of Commerce, spoke for about 15 minutes. Much of his focus was on the importance of the railroad to the Galesburg area. LaHood also visited the BNSF classification yard, spoke to Knox College students and met privately with representatives of the National Railroad Hall of Fame and the Galesburg Regional Economic Development Association.
Before LaHood began to speak, Knox College President Roger Taylor thanked him for taking time "to continue to help strengthen Galesburg as a center for railroads and railroad history. ... BNSF isn't merely a major employer, it's a good corporate neighbor."
Taylor illustrated how important the railroad is to the college by pointing out that Colorado ranks third in providing students for Knox, behind Illinois and Missouri "because of the railroad."
LaHood, who formerly was a congressman from Peoria and represented a portion of eastern Knox County, said he's well aware of how rough the recession has been on this area.
"The people of Knox County, and certainly Galesburg, have been sorely tested by the recession," LaHood said.
He complimented the area for making the railroad a focus as the road to recovery.
"The railroad can certainly become the economic engine to your recovery," LaHood said. He praised local residents for not, as he put it, sitting around in the coffee shops and bemoaning their fate.
"In Galesburg and Knox County, you know what your economic engine is. You know how to create jobs and we're (the federal government) going to help," he said. LaHood said Illinois' share of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act is $9.7 billion. He said $935 million is available to help rebuild and modernize the state's transportation infrastructure.
With Amtrak Chairman Tom
Carper, the former mayor of Macomb, in attendance, LaHood mentioned money that
will be used to improve the Galesburg Amtrak depot. He talked about President
Obama's high-speed rail initiative and said, "I know passenger rail and Amtrak
have been the lifeblood of Knox County and Knox College," as well as Macomb and
Western Illinois University, and Bloomington-Normal and Illinois State University.
"Passenger and freight rail transportation are closely linked," he said. "People and goods use the same infrastructure to travel on."
Federal stimulus money of about $88.5 million will be used to build a third main rail in the BNSF yards, as well as storage tracks, which will help Amtrak's on-time performance. Some federal money also will help build two railroad overpasses and one underpass.
LaHood talked briefly about a national rail plan being developed, which should be in place this winter.
"On passenger rail, I
think the lesson is, people will come; if you build a light rail system, people
will use it. In America, people are getting tired of being stuck in traffic for
an hour and a half (although he acknowledged that's not a problem in
Galesburg). We need to offer people opportunities for all forms of
"They've made a huge investment in high-speed rail in Europe and Spain," he said, recounting a ride on a train traveling 250 mph in Spain that, if it was late arriving, all passengers received their money back.
LaHood was upbeat for the most part. "The Recovery Act is responsible for creating or saving one million jobs with one million jobs in the pipeline," he said. On a number of occasions, he said, "This is America, we can do this.
"We need to get America back to work, that's our number one priority. I'm optimistic about this," he said. "Galesburg is coming back, Knox County is coming back and America will, too."