Committee halts funding for Milwaukee trains

The Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee has turned down plans to develop a maintenance facility in Milwaukee for rail cars made by the Spanish company Talgo. The state originally purchased two passenger car train sets from Talgo in 2009, entering a 20-year contract for the maintenance of the cars in which the state assumed responsibility for providing a maintenance facility.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation was requesting $2.5 million to finish design engineering for the facility, with the final cost expected to be between $55 and $63 million.

Brock Bergey, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said the trains cannot run under the current status of the project.

“Because of the decision (against funding the facility), the state really is unable to put the trains into service,” Bergey said.

The plan was to use the Talgo train sets in place of Amtrak passenger cars on the existing Milwaukee-to-Chicago line. The DOT estimated that the Talgo equipment would cost about $5.1 million more than the Amtrak equipment.

Marquette associate professor of marketing Richard Robinson said the joint finance committee’s decision is politically motivated.

“It’s most unfortunate that the proposed high speed rail downtown has become a victim of partisan politics,” Robinson said. “After all, improved transportation ultimately benefits so many of us. We can only hope that the voice of reason soon enables us to move forward.”

Robinson noted that the planning for the Talgo trains has been a long process.

“Transportation planning requires a significant lead time,” Robinson said.

The state has already spent $72 million on the project. While using Amtrak equipment would cost significantly less than the Talgo equipment, Talgo President Antonio Perez and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett have both argued that using the Amtrak station, which is located in Chicago, could cost Milwaukee approximately 60 jobs.

Bergey said he is not sure whether Talgo will leave Milwaukee.

“The state is working with Talgo to resolve any issues in a mutually satisfactory way,” Bergey said.

According to the request made to the joint finance committee at the time of the original purchase, the DOT thought the Talgo trains could be used as part of a possible Milwaukee-to-Madison extension and maybe even future service to the Twin Cities.