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Wisconsin legislative committee rejects maintenance facility plan for new Hiawatha trains


Yesterday, the Wisconsin State Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted to not move ahead with plans to build a maintenance facility to service two new Talgo trains that the Spanish manufacturer has been building for Amtrak's Hiawatha service between Milwaukee and Chicago.

The 12-4 vote, which followed party lines, means that the state may have to store the new trains rather than put them in revenue service. The state’s contract with Talgo called for the state to provide a permanent maintenance facility for the trains, but Republicans on the committee voted against a proposal to borrow $2.5 million to continue planning for it. Building the facility would cost $55 million to $63 million, according to a March 14 memo from the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

According to local news reports, the committee’s Republicans noted that even if the state stored the new trains and continued to use existing 20- to 30-year-old Amtrak trains, the state could save $10 million a year by not moving ahead with building the facility and maintaining the new trains.

However, the committee’s Democrats said the state was at risk of paying legal costs if it breaches its contract with Talgo. They also noted that the cost of the new maintenance facility would have been covered by an $810 million federal grant the state received to build a high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison, Wis.; the U.S. Department of Transportation revoked the grant after Scott Walker, who opposed the high-speed rail line, was elected governor in November 2010.

"Wednesday’s decision to not provide funding for the permanent rail maintenance facility means that the state will be unable to put the Talgo trains into revenue service," said Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb in a prepared statement. "We hope to work cooperatively with Talgo to resolve any outstanding contractual issues in a mutually satisfactory way. Existing rail service on the Hiawatha route, using Amtrak equipment, will continue without interruption. Walker’s administration supported plans to build the maintenance facility."

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration supported plans to build the maintenance facility. 

When Talgo built a manufacturing plant in Milwaukee, it anticipated receiving an order from the Wisconsin DOT for additional trains that would operate on the Milwaukee-to-Madison high-speed rail line. After Walker rejected the federal dollars for the corridor, Talgo planned to continue operating a maintenance facility at the site for the Hiawatha equipment.


Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/15/2012