Plan to replace Amtrak trains with Talgo is mothballed

MADISON -- A legislative committee voted to mothball Talgo trains and close the base at the former Tower Automotive plant. Lawmakers instead want to continue using old Amtrak trains.

At the time, it was considered a good boost by many city of Milwaukee leaders. Get Spanish train manufacturer Talgo to move into the former Tower Automotive site, build trains for Amtrak's Hiawatha line, and hire workers in the neighborhood where so many are unemployed.

On Wednesday, the state Legislature's Joint Committee on Finance voted against the moving ahead with a $55 million to $63 million maintenance base for the Talgo trains.

"This is not a good investment for our taxpayers. This is a bad train deal that doesn't go away...The Amtrak trains are $10 million less for maintenance," said Republican Alberta Darling.

Voting against the plan essentially means mothballing the new trains, losing $72 million already spent on buying the trains, and using the 20-30 year old Amtrak equipment. That's a potential violation of the state's contract with Talgo.

"If we do what the chairman wants us to do today, we are going to mothball these trains. We're going to lose jobs and we're going to be sued," said Democrat Jon Richards.

The committee's decision is final unless Gov. Scott Walker decides to veto it.

Talgo's president indicated if something isn't worked out, legal action is a possibility. "I'm very disappointed with the way the facts were accounted for, how they were related and how the decision was made on very wrong assumptions of comparing very modern trains with other trains that need to be replaced," Talgo President Antonio Perez said.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he is assuring Talgo he will do what he can to keep the trains and manufacturing center running its North American headquarters in Milwaukee. "What we need right now, is we need a pragmatic approach to this problem that will allow us to move forward and have these jobs remain in Milwaukee. These are good, family-supporting jobs, and this action by the joint finance committee calls into question whether it is committed to creating jobs in the state of Wisconsin," Barrett said.