17.7.09

EL HIAWATHA? Wisconsin Governor Doyle would like a passenger train factory.

Wisconsin will purchase two trains from a Spanish manufacturer that plans to establish assembly and maintenance facilities in the state, Gov. Jim Doyle announced Friday morning.

Talgo is expected to create about 80 manufacturing and maintenance jobs in Wisconsin. The company could add more jobs if other states buy its trains, Doyle said.Locations of the assembly and maintenance facilities haven't been chosen yet, but a statement from Doyle said they're likely to be located in south-central or southeastern Wisconsin. Antonio Perez, chief executive officer and president of Talgo Inc., the company's U.S. subsidiary, said it has scouted locations in Milwaukee and Janesville. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he would push hard to win the plant.

The two 14-car Talgo train sets, which will cost the state $47 million, will replace cars now used on Amtrak's Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha Service. They will boost the capacity of each Hiawatha train from 350 to 420 passengers. Hiawatha ridership jumped 24% last year, to 766,167.

There are Talgo trains in operation between Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, British Columbia. They're configured for faster operation than conventional trains on curving tracks (not an issue on a line that once posted a 100 mph speed limit for steam trains at the State Line curves) and there is the potential for additional sales to other states, a development that can reduce the cost of the trains. Presumably, they're improvements on the design that failed (IN SOME WAYS AHEAD OF HIS TIME, April 2005) on the New Haven and Boston and Maine in the 1950s.

On the other hand, they're fixed formation trains. That's nothing new on the Milwaukee run, where two Electroliners protected five round trips on the North Shore Line until 1963, and two French RTG Turbotrains protected five round trips for Amtrak from the middle 1970s to the middle 1980s (there were more than two trains, and sometimes there were run-throughs to St. Louis and Detroit.) There are currently two Rohr Industries knock-offs up for sale in New York, but they, like the French version, aren't well suited to cold weather. The disadvantage of a fixed formation is that it's hauling empty seats around on some runs and leaving passengers standing on others. The North Shore Line solved the problem by scheduling 'Liner Followers at known peak times. Amtrak never bothered with the Turbotrains, although some formations were revised to offer six or four cars. The Milwaukee Road conceived of its Hiawathas as full-sized trains, and up to the end, strengthened its formations with older coaches.

The coaches were built at Milwaukee Shops. The land is now a Miller Park parking lot. Diesels for the 1950s Talgo trains were built by Fairbanks-Morse in Beloit and tested on the C&M. It probably didn't help the Talgo trains any that the diesels were oddities on the owning railroads.

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