ST. LOUIS — Gov. Jay Nixon and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday pledged to share resources, expertise and information to make a planned high-speed rail corridor between St. Louis and Chicago a reality.
At a news conference at the St. Louis Amtrak station, the Democratic governors said cooperation between the states will help them compete for part of roughly $8 billion in federal stimulus money set aside for high-speed rail.
Quinn called the federal government's commitment to high-speed rail "the opportunity of the century." The governors said faster train service will create new jobs and allow workers, academics and tourists to easily move throughout the region. They hope to reduce travel time between St. Louis and Chicago from more than five hours to less than four.
The governors said there would be much competition for the federal money. Several states are expected to pursue the funds to upgrade to high-speed train service.
Nixon said, "I stand here today with Gov. Quinn of Illinois to make one point perfectly clear: Missouri and Illinois will stand together to make sure no other state or collection of states will work as long or fight as hard (for high-speed rail)."
States must pre-apply for the federal funding by July 10 and submit final applications by Aug. 24.
Eight Midwestern states, including Missouri and Illinois, are pushing for a high-speed rail network, with Chicago as its hub, that would link 12 metropolitan areas within 400 miles.
The project initially foresees the upgrades of three existing routes — Chicago-St. Louis; Chicago-Madison, Wis., via Milwaukee; and Chicago-Pontiac, Mich., via Detroit — which preliminary engineering estimates show would cost about $3.4 billion for track and operating equipment.
The plan later calls for improved service along other routes, such as St. Louis to Kansas City, Mo.
In April, Nixon and Quinn — along with the governors of Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley — wrote to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, pointing out work dating back to the mid-1990s to bring high-speed rail to the Midwest. They said they have been seeking upgrades including 110-mph service, greater frequency and more reliable trains.
Currently, the top speed of trains on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor is just under 80 mph. Nixon said Monday he would like rail service as fast as 210 mph.
Last week, the Federal Railroad Administration released criteria for the $8 billion that appeared to favor projects with established revenue sources and multistate cooperation.
California voters in November approved nearly $10 billion in state bonds that could be combined with federal money to build 800 miles of high-speed track.
The Missouri and Illinois governors said they would explore using state funding for rail improvements but didn't commit to an amount.