Walker won and trains lost. He quickly moved to kill the Milwaukee to Madison part of the project, but he claimed to support upgrades to the Hiawatha line. Meanwhile, Talgo was already well along in the construction of two sets of trains to serve that line. In fact, the state has already paid Talgo $40 million for those trains, and it paid another $12 million to other vendors, for a total cost so far of $52 million.
But Walker, apparently backed into a corner by extremist legislators who were even more anti-train than he was, decided to renege on even the Hiawatha trains.
So Talgo filed a claim against the state for an additional $66 million in unpaid invoices and other losses due to the deal gone bad. That claim was recently denied by the state as expected, and a formal lawsuit is likely.
To add insult to injury, in May the completed trains were unceremoniously moved from the now abandoned Milwaukee Talgo plant for Indiana, where it is possible they will become part of the Wolverine line connecting Chicago to Detroit. And, in fact, Illinois is paying for an extension of Amtrak service to Rockford, and plans are in place to also go from Rockford to Dubuque. From there it’s not hard to imagine completing the line to the Twin Cities and bypassing Wisconsin altogether.
Walker claimed that he opposed the 100% federally funded train because of the annual operating costs to the state, which amounted to around $7 million. But now the state is on the line for as much as $118 million, for which it will have received nothing at all. In other words, for the dollars the governor has put at risk, the state could have funded the new train operation for about a decade and a half.
Had Walker not been elected governor, the Chicago to Milwaukee to Madison service would have started a year ago. Sleek new trains would have been connecting us and providing economic development opportunities not just in Milwaukee but in other places along the line. A train station near Monona Terrace would be bustling and contributing to a revival of that portion of Madison’s downtown. Even more importantly, Wisconsin would have been literally on the map as the first place in the country outside of the northeast corridor to be served by new higher-speed passenger rail.
Instead, Wisconsin now ranks a consistent 37th in job creation under Walker, the Talgo plant and its Milwaukee jobs are gone, the Madison station never happened and the ancillary development around it is on the ropes, our own tax dollars are on their way to build the same kind of system in other states, and we’re still on the hook for as much as $118 million. Even if we don’t end up paying out that much, every dollar that is lost will be lost completely.