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As part of his "GROW America" bus tour this week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx yesterday said federal funding for long-distance rail and intracity public transit systems should be increased because passenger rail "is an important piece of our transportation puzzle."In a blog post yesterday, Foxx said that it makes sense for cities and states to invest in passenger rail at a time when Amtrak ridership is at an all-time high and more people are riding public transportation than at any time in the past 50 years. In addition, a mix of transportation options are necessary to serve the nation's growing population."It makes sense that the North Carolina DOT and Charlotte would have a vision to build a new Gateway Station that would be located closer to the city center and that would not only serve intercity passenger rail, but buses, and — one day — a streetcar and new commuter-rail service," wrote Foxx, after he visited Charlotte, N.C., yesterday to tour the site of a future station. He added: "Sure, we can continue investing less in our passenger rail system than we should and watch our country's competitiveness slip lower and lower. Or, we can choose to build projects like the proposed Gateway Station that would bring our passenger train services into the 21st century."Also during the tour, Foxx yesterday visited Durham, N.C., to highlight the importance of light-rail projects, such as the proposed 17-mile Durham-Orange light-rail line. The line would connect Durham and the town of Chapel Hill, providing a "critical link" between two central business districts, large medical facilities and universities, he said in a prepared statement.