The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
James P. RePass - President & CEO
The Hon. John Robert Smith - Chairman
MA Office: 59 Gates Street, Boston, MA. 02127
Fax (CT): 860-536-5482
January 28-29, 2008
St. Louis, Mo
The First Carmichael Conference
Comments of James P. RePass
President & CEO, NCI Inc.
Vol. 9 No. 7 - February 18, 2008
It has been nearly 19 years since this organization was founded as the Northeast Corridor Initiative in Boston as a coalition of business, government, labor, environmental, and academic leaders, in an effort to reverse and overcome a decade-long White House prohibition on the start of work on the Northeast Corridor Improvement Project (NECIP) first approved by Congress, during the Administration of President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s.
As some of you may know, in 1990-1991 at the invitation of White House Office of Management and Budget Director Dick Darman, who just this week passed away from leukemia at age 64, NCI directors including former Rhode Island Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy, former New York Power Authority Chairman and CEO Richard M. Flynn, New Hampshire industrialist and major Republican fund-raiser the late Robert Pullman, and our then-executive director Lincoln Chafee -- later a United States Senator from Rhode Island plus myself and a few others visited the White House on three separate occasions to negotiate the release of $125 million in embargoed funds that had been authorized for the construction of NECIP.
These negotiations bore fruit in late September 1991, and President George Bush agreed to end his Administrations blockage of the project. Work began almost immediately by Amtrak under the leadership of its legendary Chairman and CEO W. Graham Claytor, Jr., and by 1999 the project was completed, resulting in a dramatic reduction in commercial ground travel time between Boston and New York to 3-_ hours, down from the previous 5-6. This project, which electrified the rails between New Haven and Boston allowing for fully-electric service along the entire length of the Northeast Corridor from Washington to Boston, was the most significant transportation improvement project in the Northeast since the completion of the Interstate Highway System in the 1960s.
We tell this story not simply to boast although we are proud that a handful of citizens was able to overcome what an army of lobbyists had blocked for a decade and more --- but because we want you to understand the way this victory was achieved, because that directly relates to why we are here today.
What we did then, and what the American people must do now, is to weld together a bi-partisan coalition of citizens across this country and get America moving again.
When we went to the White House, we went neither as Democrats --- although Gov. Garrahy was a long-serving liberal Democrat, and Dick Flynn, the son of Boss Flynn of the Bronx who placed Franklin D. Roosevelts name in nomination at the Democratic National Convention of 1932, was himself a leading party activist for decades; we went not as Republicans, although Lincoln Chaffee bears the name of one of Americas leading Republican families, and even though Robert Pullman was the key GOP fund-raiser for George H.W. Bush in New Hampshire in 1988, and a powerhouse nationally in the Republican Party.
We went not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans, acting very much in that special can-do American spirit witnessed by Frenchman Alexis DeTocqueville in his visits to America in the early part of the19th century.
I believe that here, in St. Louis, at the start of this intensive and important Presidential election year of 2008, we must once again undertake to create a bipartisan national coalition not simply to lobby for more money for trains, or highways, or airports, or any other single mode, but to organize and implement a new national commitment, irrespective of political party or ideology, to ask our Presidential contenders to put the crisis in American transportation squarely on the election-year agenda and demand that, this time, we create a comprehensive program to design, fund, build, and operate a fully-integrated multi-modal transportation system that is once again the best in the world. We had that once; we can do it again; but we must make sure that attention is paid.
It is my belief, shared by many others, that the people are well ahead of the politicians on this matter. A gas tax that has been frozen for nearly two decades cannot be expected to repair the system that has been allowed to languish for that long and longer. I believe it is better to tax ourselves, and keep some of that money here to build infrastructure, than to send it overseas to a place where, time and time and time again, our sons and daughters are being sent to die, even as I speak, to prop up the broken, petroleum-dependent system now in such obvious decline.
And, it is my belief that the people here today, the people in this room, can be the vanguard of a new day in America, a day where we get our energy needs from renewable resources that dont despoil the earth or kill our children or pollute the air, a day when we operate a transportation system that is fast, efficient, safe, and reliable, and accessible to all Americans, not just those on the coasts or in high-density corridors.
Finally, it is my belief that we must start here, now, to make that day draw nigh. Thank you for coming. I look forward to the next two days here in St. Louis and them, over the rest of 2008, the Presidential campaign where I pledge to you that the message we create here, in St. Louis, will reach from New York to California, from New Orleans to Chicago, and the ears of the Presidential candidates of both parties, whoever they might be. Let us make that our promise, to ourselves, to our country, and to our children.
It is my privilege now to introduce Gil Carmichael, former Administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration under George H. W. Bush, and far more than that. When my little band of brothers began to traipse down to Washington, we began to meet regularly with FRA Administrator Gil Carmichael, who proved to be, and over the years has proven repeatedly, that he represents the very best element in American society, the citizen who gets into politics to make a difference.
Gil as some of you know was actually --- like me, by the way --- a car guy before he became a transportation guy. He was also a progressive in Mississippi politics, 40 years ago, when to be a progressive in that state often meant to be the target of abuse, or much worse.
While Gil, that year many long years ago, did not succeed in becoming governor of that state, he did something far more important. He made it possible to be publicly outspoken in the cause of justice, at a time when that took real courage. He quite literally put his life on the line for his beliefs, and made the world a better place for it. So, while you and I know of his reputation as a progressive in the field of transportation, of his long devotion to making the nations transportation system, especially its long-neglected rail system, one that could carry us into the 21st century, what Gil really is, is a great American who has made this place better just by being in it. One quick anecdote: in Mississippi, near Gils home in Meridian, on property he was redeveloping, he discovered not long ago an old municipal swimming pool, filled in and paved over. Upon investigation, he learned that that pool had once served the white children of the county, and that when the courts ordered it integrated, the town fathers of that era chose instead to bulldoze it shut.
When Gil discovered that history, he and his partner chose to spend their own money to rebuild and re-open that pool to all in that community, even though that had never been part of the redevelopment plan. Now that, I like to think, is a real American.
And that is one reason why, when Gil called me just a few weeks ago and asked me to put together a major national conference to get the transportation issue in front of the Presidential candidates of both parties, I decided to name it for him, by the way over his objections. You know, in this and other countries, we often name things after people when they are gone. After all I have learned from Gil, and after so many years now of help and friendship to this cause Gil has shown me and others, this Carmichael Conference is a fitting way to both honor Gil Carmichael, and to let the world know that he is very much on the case of Americas transportation challenge.
It is my deep honor to introduce to you, Gilbert E. Carmichael, who I am privileged to call my friend.
* Yes, John F. Kennedy said it first, during the 1960 Presidential campaign. I heard him say it; hard to believe that was 50 years ago, almost, and yet we still need to heed those words --- JPR
[ Publishers Note: This is the third in a series of addresses--- last weeks was by former Amtrak Chairman and long-time NCI Chair John Robert Smith --- from the Carmichael Conference on the Future of American Transportation held January 28-29 at the Hyatt Regency, St. Louis, MO; Destination:Freedom will publish addresses from this important American conference each week, so that those who could not attend can also participate in the debate, and also benefit from the thoughts of the impressive list of American transportation leaders who did attend, and spoke to us. It is also our intention to collect the speeches, and presentations, into a single CD-ROM so that the proceedings can be more widely distributed. ]