James Rowen
Op Ed

Loss of Talgo Train Hurts Foxconn Deal

High speed rail would have better connected Racine area to Madison, Chicago.

By - Jul 20th, 2017 02:44 pm
Talgo Trainsets. Photo by Garrick Jannene.

Talgo Trainsets. Photo by Garrick Jannene.

Republicans say they believe in austerity and fiscal responsibility.


Deep into this story about the return of a train maintenance facility in Milwaukee which had been part of the entire Amtrak expansion which Gov. Scott Walker killed in 2011 after campaigning against it is a key statistic:

$50 million.

That’s the amount of state money – – our money – – which Wisconsin under Walker had to pay to Talgo, the train manufacturer which built the trains which were supposed to run between Milwaukee and Chicago and for more trains then westward to Madison to join midwest rail all the way to the Pacific Ocean, after breaking a contract with the private company Talgo which was to assemble the trains in a high-unemployment Milwaukee neighborhood and use the plant to service Amtrak equipment into the future.

In 2013, the first two Talgo trains which were to be added to the very busy Milwaukee-Chicago Hiawatha line were instead welcomed in Oregon, while the next two were built, but then having been banned in Wisconsin, were forfeited to Talgo in the settlement.

$50 million could have covered more than 30 years of estimated annual operating costs to run the new trains between Milwaukee and Madison, according to state officials in 2011, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Plus, the trains went to Talgo as part of the settlement, so Wisconsin ended up with exactly zero new train service, zero rail line construction jobs scheduled in the thousands, zero long-term train assembly jobs, along with 50 million bucks – – thanks to Walker’s need for partisan, self-serving headlines and anti-Milwaukee suburban votes which helped him win the 2010 gubernatorial election.

All of which looks worse, as I pointed out the other day, since the Foxconn mega-factory rumored to be located in Racine County cannot offer high-tech workers lured from Madison an easy, road congestion-free ride to Racine County’s convenient Sturtevant Amtrak station.

Nor can Chicago residents who might be hired at the plant ride the Metro commuter train with a transfer to Racine at the end of the existing line in Kenosha, because Walker and Assembly Leader Robin Vos also killed Wisconsin’s coordinating regional transit authorities and a commuter train from Kenosha to Racine and Milwaukee – – all in service to the the road-builder lobby and a parallel, pro-car, anti-transit ideology.

A summary post, here.

And here.

Amazing how many good ideas and solid public services these anti-transit Republicans have derailed.

James Rowen, a former journalist and mayoral staffer in Milwaukee and Madison, writes a regular blog, The Political Environment

21 thoughts on “Op Ed: Loss of Talgo Train Hurts Foxconn Deal”

  1. Jason Troll says:

    Wow, come back to reality if you only think the state tax payer was on the hook for $50 million. Your point may have been the start up costs, but the next generation of state tax payers would have been burden with the steep loses of a train that would benefit so few passengers. Then you add the caboose to boot. I am sure the last thing on Fox Comm’s mind is that boondoggle. Scott Walker won because of such nonsense, thanks for the laugh.

  2. Tom R. says:

    Jason, how efficiently people are going to get to work will be one of the first things on Foxcomm’s agenda. The rest of the world realizes the benefits and extreme importance of mass rail transit to a modern, functional economy…. The automobile is by no means the only option. But speaking of cars, what the next generation will be paying for is the roads we build today… Because that’s how Walker operates… Spend now, pay later. Put it on the credit card so he can further his own agenda by saying he never raised taxes. Don’t fall for it…it’s a Terrible business model , and he calls himself a conservative republican! He’s not being very conservative with the next generations money!

  3. Vincent Hanna says:

    Troll once again demonstrates how obtuse and blindly partisan he is. It goes without saying that companies care about attracting a high-quality workforce. What attracts a high-quality workforce? Good public transit is extremely high on the list, if not number one. Of course Foxconn cares about this, even if it isn’t number one on their list. They care more about the $2 billion to $3 billion in incentives they will demand. Who is paying for that Troll?

  4. Jason Troll says:

    Where did you find that number $3 billion in incentives? Vince, where would the Packer, Bucks, Brewers, Northwestern Mutual and Miller Brewing be with out some concessions, but $ 3 billion?? Did the Russians tell you that?

  5. MilwaukeeMax says:

    Jason the Troll,
    “So few passengers”??? The Hiawatha line is one of the most successful and highly ridden rail lines in the nation. Those numbers would only have gone up with improved and extended service. The state was looking at yearly operating costs (after federal funding that has been provided for the Hiawatha going WAY back) at around $250,000 per year. That’s PEANUTS compared to yearly road costs for overblown boondoggle highway projects.
    The article is spot on. For the tens of millions the state has paid NOT to accept the grant and build the line, we could have had thirty years worth of service paid for.

    How do you spell Republican? S-T-U-P-I-D

  6. The Conductor says:

    The Walker supporters are already out in force with the usual lies. Foxconn is a Chinese company, so of course they would rated high speed rail very highly. Why? Well, for one thing, China has built over 3,500 miles of true high speed rail in just the past decade, while Wisconsin blew a chance to build even 90 miles of a moderate speed rail connection. Now the true, clue-free Walkerites are all set to say that of course China has rail, because they don’t have modern roads! Sorry, conservatives, you still know too little: China’s expressway system is longer than that of the US, as of 2015. And it’s newer, too.

    Oh, but the operating costs of the train! The state would get stuck with that! Yeah, another rightie radio lie you bought. Let’s put it in scale for you, eh? Current I-94 Only construction projects in just the past couple of years in only Southeastern Wisconsin total $7.2 billion – for just that one highway. For that same amount of money could have funded the train to Madison – for about 1,200 years.

  7. Markm says:

    I don’t mean to feed the Troll, but “Then you add the caboose to boot.”
    Huh? What does that even mean?

  8. Paul Trotter says:

    Let’s also not forget that over 100 manufacturing companies in WI would have been positively impacted by this project if it had gone forward. Troll also seems to forget that rail lasts a great deal longer than concrete. When was the last time you saw a major project in progress to replace rail? Now contrast that with concrete and asphalt. Yes – endless repair and reconstruction.

  9. Eric J says:

    At this point Walker would do better to resurrect and approve the Kenosha casino. Wouldn’t cost the state nearly as much in $$$$$$ giveaways. ( What’s a few million in legal fees to the Wisconsin Republicans–nothing new to them )

  10. Tom R. says:

    That’s absolutely true, rail is far cheaper to put in place, and maintain, than super highways.It also takes much less land to purchase for right of way, too. Fiscally, a good rail system is very conservative compared to a highway system. That’s why, before politics got involved and divisive politicians decided to use passenger rail as a wedge issue to divide their constituents instead of unite them, some of the greatest supporters of passenger rail were conservative politicians like Newt Gingrich, certainly Tommy Thompson, and Trump himself. Somehow, in the US, the reverse has become true. Trains are considered to be in the “liberal” camp, while highways are for “conservatives”. That is not the reality at all.

  11. Mary Kay Wagner says:

    Jason, the article also didn’t mention the $60 million punitive damages the state paid in the settlement with Talgo nor did it mention the $810 million the state gave back to the federal government in transit dollars (which were snapped up by 5 other states run by Republican governors). So in total, Scott Walker’s political grandstanding cost the state of Wisconsin $920 million dollars plus the economic development and jobs that goes along with such an investment in infrastructure. In Minnesota they have seem development to the tune of $17 billion (billion with a B) since they began their transit investment. Is it any wonder our neighbors to the west are doing so much better.

  12. Jim Rowen says:

    To Mary Kay Wagner; The $810 million figure is referenced in one of the links; I should have included it in the post. Talgo made a claim for punitive damages, but it was not allowed and the $50 million figure covers what was awarded.

  13. Vincent Hanna says:

    The figures come directly from Tom Still. I linked to his story in another Foxconn story here. He based the figures on previous deals like Tesla.

  14. Majority Type says:

    The story and the comments are a bit amusing.

    1. Does anyone know what Foxconn does, or why they’re building a U.S. factory? If you did, you’d realize that where they locate the factory has nothing to do with luring high-tech workers from Madison or Chicago.

    2. Tom R, yes, a rail line is cheaper than a higjway. And it moves a small fraction of the people and goods. I know that “progressives” have a nostalgia fetish of some sort for trains, but your arguments are laughable.

    3. I know you hate Walker, but there’s really no reason to be completely stupid about it.

  15. James says:

    Here’s “Murphy’s Law” from 2015 which breaks down the numbers, and details actions by the Governor and Legislature that killed the deal:


  16. Tom R says:

    Majority type…..you don’t know me or that I hate Walker….you only know that I think he made some very poor business decisions. I don’t hate anyone, I don’t waste my energy on that.
    Furthermore, rails move far more people and goods than you apparently realize….so saving the taxpayers a great, great deal of money by using more rail is hardly stupid. It’s smart, and as I said, it is hardly an idea embraced only by progressives. Please don’t be so quick to pigeon hole the whole world into progressive vs. conservative.
    Also, being aware of those facts, yes facts, and arguing for them, hardly means one has a nostalgic fetish …really? If you think trains are only nostalgia….do away with the Hiawatha all together and see what that does for mke-Chicago commuters and the mke economy. Perhaps you have an irrational fear , hatred or ignorance of any type of travel besides cars, and how cost effective it is, is many ways. I don’t know, why are you so apparently vehemently anti-rail, as opposed to just being indifferent about it.
    And finally…..shame on you for calling me stupid. Again, you don’t even know me, but we are both citizens of Wisconsin, and the US, I’m assuming. Please don’t be so devisive. Didn’t your parents teach you not to call people stupid? Very impolite. We can disagree but still be decent and respectful. We’re neighbors, don’t forget that.

  17. Tom D says:

    Majority Type,

    Railroads are far, FAR cheaper to build and maintain than highways.

    Railroads can be rebuilt for under $200,000/track mile, while rebuilding highways can cost over $7 million/lane mile. (FWIW a track mile has more capacity for freight or people than a highway lane mile).

    Last I heard, Wisconsin is spending $1.9 billion to rebuild 35 miles of I-94, while over 75 miles of the parallel railroad (including a piece in Illinois) was recently rebuilt for just $15 million.


    Also, trains carry lots of freight. According to Wisconsin DOT, trains bring MORE tons of freight into Wisconsin than trucks:

    (see chart 5-2 on page 5-9)

  18. Fred says:

    And for freight, railroads are far more fuel efficient than trucks, by a factor of 3 or 4 – that’s good whether you care more about emissions or costs.

    (Not sure what the comparison is like for passenger trains vs. planes or cars, but I bet it’s similarly favorable to trains.)

  19. Tom D says:

    Trains are more fuel-efficient than cars and trucks partly because rubber tires consume energy while rolling, but steel wheels don’t.

    The bottom of each tire (where the rubber meets the road) is flat and that “flat spot” doesn’t rotate with the tire—it always stays on the bottom. This means a rolling tire’s sidewall constantly bends (and gets warm) taking energy. Steel wheels don’t flex and have no similar energy need.

    This is why keeping your tires properly inflated improves gas mileage (higher tire pressure reduces the size of the “flat spot” and reduces sidewall flexing). But even with higher tire pressure, there is still considerable sidewall flexing and an unavoidable energy loss.

  20. WashCoRepub says:

    Belling reporting on his show today and his Web site that the Foxconn deal will be announced on Thurs. aft. Hope that turns out to be the case… If true, what a great time to be a Wisconsin Republican! One fiscal policy success after another. Will be very interesting to see how much money Dems can put into the Governor’s race next year…

  21. Vincent Hanna says:

    Hey Troll still think the figure is fake news? “A plan to bring a massive Foxconn Technology Group plant to Wisconsin could cost $1 billion to $3 billion in local, state and federal incentives over coming years — a stunning sum for a project that backers say could transform the state’s economy.” http://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/2017/07/25/foxconn-deal-could-include-more-than-1-billion-taxpayer-backed-incentives/509975001/

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