27.6.11

THE ORPHANS BECOME MORE EXPENSIVE.  Work continues on the Talgo trains the Wisconsin Department of Transportation ordered to provide new coaches on the Milwaukee to Chicago trains, and ultimately to provide the trains to run to Madison.  The Superintendent has his reservations about fixed-formation trains, no matter their provenance, and maintains that traditional passenger rail is more than adequate for regional passenger train service within 500 miles of Chicago, once upon a time home to the best passenger rail network in the world.

Recent news from the Milwaukee Talgo plant does not provide evidence to change the Superintendent's mind.
But now the state Department of Transportation is asking the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee to authorize borrowing $21.4 million more to cover related costs, including $11.7 million to build and equip a temporary maintenance base at Talgo's factory on Milwaukee's north side; $6.9 million for a British consulting company to oversee the manufacturing process; and up to $2.5 million for spare parts.

Together with $800,000 in separately appropriated funds, that brings the total cost of the train car acquisition to $69.7 million, almost 47% more than the original $47.5 million price tag, according to the department's funding request.

Reggie Newson, executive assistant to state Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb, said the state is required to pay many of those costs to fulfill contracts signed by Doyle's administration. Newson and Gottlieb were named to their positions under Walker.

But former Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi, who served under Doyle, said nearly all of the costs would have been covered by an $810 million federal stimulus grant awarded to Wisconsin last year to extend the Hiawatha to Madison, as part of a larger plan for high-speed trains connecting Chicago to the Twin Cities and other Midwestern destinations. Walker, however, campaigned against the 110-mph route, and the federal government yanked the funds after his election in November.

"We made a commitment based on having the grant," Busalacchi said. "When they gave back that money, they threw all that away."

Gottlieb and Newson agree that at least half the additional costs - $3.2 million for a temporary maintenance base and $8.5 million for equipment - would have been covered by the stimulus grant. But they and other transportation officials say much of the remainder would have been the state's responsibility.
The original plan intended to place a maintenance base near the Talgo factory at Capitol Drive, a deadhead move on tracks once maintained to passenger standards for the Chippewa Hiawatha and Copper Country Limited.  Without rehabilitation, a train going to the shed will take almost as much time to get from the Milwaukee Depot to the maintenance base as it does to get to Chicago.  There is some vacant ground at Merrill Park -- that's 35th Street for younger Milwaukeeans quite suitable for building a train terminal.  But if you look at the property closely, you'll see that it's a good place for parking E units and rib-side coaches.

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