1.8.09

WITH SLEIGHT OF HAND THE DEAL WAS STRUCK. There are several Trains for America posts on Wisconsin's purchase of a pair of Hiawatha Talgo trains. One refers to a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel report detailing the rent-seeking that has begun.

State Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) and a dozen other Milwaukee-area lawmakers sent a letter to [Talgo USA president Antonio] Perez [surely not the Cincinnati Red?] urging the company to use the Super Steel plant in Milwaukee, Richards said in a news release Wednesday. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has said he would push hard to win the plant.

“The City of Milwaukee is the economic and transportation hub of the state of Wisconsin and would be perfectly suited to minimize transportation costs of the assembled Talgo train sets,” the letter says. “Talgo train sets could be shipped to the Port of Milwaukee, and upon final assembly, the sets would be placed on the Amtrak Hiawatha line at the nearby Milwaukee Intermodal Station.”

The last time a train set was shipped to the Port of Milwaukee, it was the bilevel 400 coaches of the late 1950s. They came from Pullman's Osgood-Bradley works on a Lake Michigan carferry. The sales tax for delivery in Wisconsin was less than that in Illinois. On the other hand, final assembly of a Hiawatha used to mean rolling the cars out of West Milwaukee Shops, finding suitable power, and switching them to the Everett Street Depot.

Another linked article, from the Wisconsin State Journal, finds some legislative opposition to the single-sourcing of the train. Whether the deal was wired or whether other vendors were slow on the uptake remains to be determined. A Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel report details some of Talgo's advantages.

That's because only Talgo trains have the tilt-train technology to handle tight curves at high speeds without jolting passengers, and because their lightweight construction allows quicker acceleration and deceleration, he said.

Among Wisconsin's planned high-speed rail routes, transportation officials count 17 curves of 2 degrees or more in the 86 miles between Chicago and Milwaukee; 20 such curves in the 79 miles between Milwaukee and Madison; 125 curves in the 266 miles between Madison and the Twin Cities; and 58 curves in the 131 miles between Milwaukee and Green Bay, [Wisconsin Department of Transportation general counsel Robert] Jambois wrote in a May 11 memo to Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi.

If the state has to straighten out those curves, track upgrades for high-speed rail would cost $60 million a mile, Jambois said in an interview. But using tilt-train technology cuts the cost to $5 million a mile, he said.

The technology has been improved since the early 1950s, when Patrick McGinnis ordered one such train for the New Haven, to speed things up on the Shore Line ... it came close to Acela timings on tests, without the 150 mph sprints in Rhode Island, and another such train for the Boston and Maine, which describes something like twelve complete circles between Boston and Portland, and whose track was pretty rough.

The technology might permit improvements on the 1939 schedules between La Crosse and the Twin Cities. Hiawathas didn't often get above 75 mph on the left bank of the Father of Waters. East of Tomah, the curves at the Dells had serious speed restrictions. Many of the other curves cited are in yard and terminal areas where speeds aren't going to be that great. I'm not sure what route is being considered for the Green Bay service, although there is a reasonably straight right-of-way that hasn't been built on too severely that would be capable of fast running.

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