Midwest governors and rail executives were hosted by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
"We are stronger working as a region than we are individually, and I want to thank the other Midwest governors for their cooperation and commitment," said Governor Quinn. "We are determined to take full advantage of federal recovery funds and bring high speed rail to Illinois and the Midwest. Today's agreement will help make our vision a reality."
The governors envision a nationwide network including a Chicago hub that would connect trains traveling up to 110 miles per hour serving cities across the region, along with connections to adjoining regional corridors. This plan reflects the proposals advanced earlier this year by President Barack Obama and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Under the Recovery Act, President Obama has made $8 billion available nationwide for high speed passenger rail, the largest investment that the federal government has made in over a decade.
Five governors attended the summit - Iowa Governor Chet Culver; Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle; Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, as well as Illinois Governor Quinn.
Eight Midwest states signed the Memorandum of Understanding including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin.
The agreement signed today establishes a Midwest steering group to provide a single voice in support of the region's collective high speed rail priorities. The steering group will coordinate each state's individual applications and advocacy to the Federal Railroad Administration for Recovery Act funding.
"The Midwest Corridor is a one-of-a-kind partnership that will create jobs for Michigan workers, enhance transportation options for citizens, and provide significant economic development opportunities for communities," said Governor Granholm. "I am pleased that the Obama administration recognizes the importance of this regional initiative and the extensive planning that has already been done to prepare for this opportunity."
Iowa Governor Chet Culver on his 14 city whistlestop tour (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
"Expanding passenger rail service in Iowa is one of my administration's top transportation priorities," said Governor Culver, who ended his 14-city train tour across western Iowa at the Midwest High Speed Rail Summit.
"Reconnecting some of Iowa's largest cities – such as Dubuque, Iowa City and the Quad Cities – to Chicago will add to our state's economic success," said Culver, "and as governor I appreciate the opportunity to work with Governor Quinn on this important regional issue."
Mayor Daley signed the agreement on behalf of the City of Chicago.
"A nationwide network of high speed rail with Chicago as hub is a vital component of the new economy that will emerge from this recession, Daley said. "High speed rail will help us in the challenging task of bringing new businesses, new industries and new opportunities to our region to create new jobs, not just replace those that have already been lost."
The Midwest corridor will connect cities throughout the region with frequent and reliable high speed and conventional intercity rail service.
"We can make high speed rail a reality in Illinois and the Midwest," said Senator Durbin. "I want our region to continue to lead the nation in preparing for a high speed rail network. This network will create jobs, ease traffic congestion and reduce our dependence on foreign oil."
The American Association of Railroads estimates that every dollar invested in railroads — tracks, equipment, locomotives, bridges — yields $3 in economic output. In addition, each $1 billion of rail investment creates 20,000 jobs.
"We are critical stakeholders that need to be engaged from the very beginning of project planning and development," said Edward Hamberger, who heads the Association of American Railroads, a trade association whose members are the major freight railroads and the passenger rail company Amtrak.
Speaking at the Midwest High-Speed Rail Summit, Hamberger said striking the right balance between passenger and freight rail expansion is key to the success of high-speed rail in America. "America's freight railroads support the goal of increased passenger rail investment," he said. "It's good for our economy and the environment when more people and goods move faster by rail."
He pointed out that the country's privately owned freight rail network is the literal foundation for high speed rail in America. Railroads account for 43 percent of intercity freight volume — more than any other mode of transportation.
Hamberger said, "Passenger and freight efforts to grow and expand must complement, not compromise one another."
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.