Patti Wenzel

The train is gone, why does Talgo have to go with it?

By - Dec 13th, 2010 04:00 am
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Flickr Creative Commons photo by KB35

The high speed train that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said would never die is now dead. Blame Scott Walker, blame citizens who wouldn’t get on board with the idea, blame LaHood for taking the money back after seeing the writing on the wall.

I’ve never been convinced that Wisconsinites would park their cars and hop the train. I know I wasn’t going to drive 5 miles from my home in West Allis to either the Intermodal Station or the planned Brookfield stop to board a train that would take longer to get to Madison than the drive.

So the train advocates are bemoaning the loss of the project and the 55 permanent jobs the line itself would have brought, but what I don’t understand is why does Talgo have to go?

Talgo announced Friday that it would close its Milwaukee manufacturing operations in 2010, citing the end of the high-speed rail project. They will keep a maintenance facility in the city, but move everything else to a more “train-friendly” state.

Currently, Talgo is hiring 125 workers to construct 2 train sets for the Milwaukee-to-Chicago Hiawatha line and 2 trains for the state of Oregon. None of those trains would have run on the line between Milwaukee and Madison. We still have the Hiawatha and the Empire Builder that runs to Minneapolis, so why the rush to leave?

Why can’t Talgo continue to build trains here, especially if they’re going to invest the capital and manpower to build trains for the next two years. Why not stay for 20 years, or 100 years?

Leaving the state because we won’t be using the product they make is idiotic. Milwaukee has a number of international businesses that make equipment for coal, gold and copper mining, and we don’t do any of those things here. In fact, the last mine in the state of Wisconsin closed over a decade ago.

Using Talgo’s logic, maybe Bucyrus and Ladish should pick up and move to West Virginia, Colorado or even China, where their biggest markets are.

Talgo won’t say where they plan on moving to, but Illinois is a good bet. Gov. Patrick Quinn has actively been pursuing the company and LaHood did give our southern neighbor a nice chunk of the $810 million he pulled from Wisconsin.

I have no inside information, but I would guess that Talgo would have chosen Wisconsin to build trains due to the trained workforce, close access to suppliers and central location to North American markets whether we had the Obama-line or not. And with the soon-to-come reductions in income and business taxes, business regulations and revamped Commerce Department under Governor-elect Walker, doing business in Wisconsin will be a better prospect than in regulation-heavy Illinois.

Could this be a political game hatched up by Tom Barrett? He may look like a nice guy, but underneath he’s probably the same kind of cold, strategizing politician who is looking forward to his next election and higher offices.

Barrett now has a point he can dredge up for the next four years as he tries to figure out how pry Walker out of the governor’s chair. That argument, along with Barrett’s threatened suit against the state to recoup the funds used for the long-needed cleanup at the old Tower Automotive site, sound more like sour grapes than the “grown-up leadership” Barrett touted during the election.

Instead, Barrett should work with Walker to keep Talgo here – hold them to their contract with the city, build up the benefits we still have as a manufacturing state and the benefits that will be coming. Talgo leaders should look at the next two years as an investment to be built upon, and not a temporary stop.

More about the History of Talgo in Milwaukee

0 thoughts on “The train is gone, why does Talgo have to go with it?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think talking about maturity and then using terms like “obama-line” might be counter productive.
    Did you consider that they might be trying to send a message to other states that trains bring business, to encourage a pro-train sentiment which would directly benefit them? In a time when good jobs are in short supply, it’s a pretty powerful statement.
    The whole Tom Barrett conspiracy theory just isn’t really flying with me.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Mz. Wenzel;
    This article and your article on healthcare last week sounds suspiciously like a person who has stepped isn something they don’t like and dosen’t know how to remove it without getting their hands dirty.
    When it became apparent that governor elect Walker was going to follow through on his threat to stop the Federal Interstate Rail link in Wisconsin we, as proponents of an integrated mass transit system, pointed out that jobs would be lost, the funds would not be transferred to a highway repair fund, we would have to reimburse the Feds for monies spent and Talgo might move out of Milwaukee.
    Unfortunately, we were correct on all of those points, but I can’t understand why your surprised.
    One of the hallmarks of the Ryan/Walker/Republican/TeaParty economic philosophy is a Free Market. Why does Talgo choose to leave Wisconsin when we offer all of the advantages you stated in your article? The answer is because they can. Obviously they simply do not agree with you.
    Your attack on Barrett is ridiculous. He supported the expansion of the Rail service, worked his backside off to get Talgo to come here in the first place and clearly warned Walker that they might pull out if it was stopped.
    Now about that stuff on your shoes, you might reconsider who you hang out with and where you meet.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Why are they moving?

    Well, selling and building trains is competitive and why not ensconce your facility in a state that will be buying trains? Illinois is an easy bet, given the old equipment on their many trains that will need replacing.

    Sounds like the free market is delivering the bad news, Patti.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Patti, Patti, Patti – I fear that you are slipping off the deep end.
    We know where the train will be going: instead of going from Chicago to the Twin Cities through Wisconsin – the obvious choice – it will now go through Rockford and Dubuque and up the Mississippi corridor, bypassing our formerly progressive state altogether. Why would Talgo stay in Milwaukee when the focus of the project has moved to Illinois?
    As for whether or not you would be willing to take the train, can you anticipate the future? Perhaps you’ll change your mind when gasoline is up to six or ten bucks a gallon – and that’s coming, you know!
    It’s been shown repeatedly that rail is the most energy and cost efficient means of moving people and freight around the nation. We understood that once-upon-a-time, and maybe we’re re-learning that lesson – except in Walker’s Wisconsin, of course!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Good reply.

    Neocon/tea party/lunatic supporters are in such a panicked, anger-and-ignorance-fueled rush to get rid of “big government spending” that they’re stampeding right off a cliff, and there is nothing anyone can say to stop them.

    People enraged by what they see as “big government spending” and “government getting in the way of business” and so forth have some unpleasant surprises coming to them. The Glorious Free Market doesn’t actually have their best interests in mind. When they realize this, their options will be either to admit they were wrong and blame themselves, or to try desperately to contort logic, reason, and fact to point the finger of blame at everyone else.

    I’ll bet you can guess which one is more likely.

    This will be the slant of right-wing punditry, from the cynically manipulative professionals all the way down to the adorably clueless Patty Wenzel, for at least the next two years: “Hmm, somehow things aren’t magically working out as we’d imagined. Clearly, it is the fault of the dirty, evil liberals.”

  6. Anonymous says:

    When Talgo agreed to build trains in Milwaukee, it had a firm contract to build two sets for the Milw-Chicago line. There was an option for the two sets for the Madison line. Oregon comes in and wants two trains built for them. Talgo agrees to manufacture trains in Milwaukee, why? Because we were going to give them so much business? 2 trains? maybe 2 more? There is still a passenger line running between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities. Might it need a new train set someday? If this is not politically motivated, than I guess we were planning on them vacating the property after manufacturing the other two train sets for the Madison line. I can’t see how we can avoid the conclusion that politics plays into where a company locates. Politics brought them here, politics is taking them out.

  7. Anonymous says:

    As Editor in Chief of ThirdCoast Digest, I feel it’s important to state that the opinions of our individual writers do not necessarily reflect the views of all of us. Certainly in this case I, at least, could not disagree more with Ms. Wenzel’s assertions, more, especially in regards to a conspiracy theory involving Tom Barrett intentionally sabotaging the economic health of this region. Ms. Wenzel does do double duty: she alternates between reporting and commentary. This is commentary. Thanks.

  8. Anonymous says:

    You seem surprised by this. Don’t be. Why would Barrett want to lose jobs of any kind? Your point is silly.

    Talgo was talked into being here, even with all of the disadvantages, because they could demonstrate their products for the US market on an active rail line, just as Siemens does in South Sacramento. No rail line, no Talgo. Milwaukee is an extra switching charge for all steel and materials from the East Coast, so far less desirable from a transportation standpoint, since everything they would make her comes in and goes out via rail. Moving to Hammond or Chicago means just one switching charge off of the two bi eastern railroads.

    No one will ride it. That’s rich! The similar “college” line running in Illinois is doing very well, and Amtrak nationally is now the number seven airline in the US. They just had another record Thanksgiving, as well as the biggest single one day passenger count in the railroad’s history. No one will ride it was wrong just about 29 million times last year on Amtrak alone.

    And the Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawatha line – of which the Madison line would have been an extension – is up over 90% in the last decade, which they have handled easily by simply adding a couple of cars to the train. I-94 capacity been doubled lately? The $2 billion on paving south of Milwaukee and the $1 billion for the Marquette Interchange won’t do that. Smart antirail folks stay away from that “no one will” stuff these days… People read that on a full train car too often, and snort out loud.

    Talgo is gone, and the jobs, too. And this weekend’s snow should have been a hint why we thought this could be useful. Montana and North Dakota’s Republicans sure get it, voting consistently for Amtrak because they know their roads shut down. The Hiawatha is on time 95% of the time. In the teeth of a very nasty blizzard and icing conditions, the train mostly departed and arrived on time, with a few even getting in early, and with every passenger safe.How many Madison business people didn’t make their meetings in Milwaukee and Chicago because they couldn’t drive, and there is no viable alternative? That’s business, and we just flushed it all away.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Governor-In-Charge Jim Doyle is who stopped the train, not Impeachment-Elect Scott Walker, who was just the Milwaukee County Executive and will be until early 2011.

    Wisconsin had it after years of preparation and finagling. We had it, until Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I moved away from Wisconsin over a year ago because I was sick of it, all of it. The politics being the chief reason. Wisconsinites are quickly bringing the entire state to bankruptcy through their poor choices.

    Spending billions of dollars on a slow train is an irresponsible thing to do, it doesn’t matter if the money goes away. The state is better off. The money saved will make far more than 55 jobs.

    This article (oh yeah, commentary that the editor won’t stand behind) brings up an interesting thing to think about in Talgo deciding to go to another state.

    Why did they decide to locate in WI in the first place in an era where every sane employer is heading south? Hint, Quid pro quo… So let them leave and suck another state dry.

    If Illinois somehow miraculously proves that slow speed trains are the best idea for the United States ever conceived since 1840 than by all means, strap on the suspenders, put on the conductors hat, and pull the string to the steam whistle.

    You train people are insane. Choo Choo!

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