Talgo project takes fire from Capitol
Published: March 23, 2010
Tags: high-speed rail, Klein, Nora Friend, Rail, Republican Party of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, Talgo Inc., Tower Automotive, train-manufacturing contract, Vos, Willie Wade, Wisconsin Department of Transportation
Attacks Tuesday against train maker Talgo Inc.’s state contract did not faze the company or Milwaukee’s plans to build a manufacturing plant in the city.
The Spanish company has come under fire from Wisconsin Republicans, including gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker and, on Tuesday, state Rep. Robin Vos. Vos, R-Caledonia, and the Republican Party of Wisconsin called for an investigation of the state’s decision to award a train-manufacturing contract to Talgo without seeking competitive bids.
Vos said members of Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration and democratic committee chairpersons in the Legislature have blocked attempts for public hearings on the contract.
“There’s nothing happening,” Vos said. “They are trying to stonewall this as much as possible.”
Vos said he wants to analyze the Talgo contract to build two trains for Wisconsin to see if the state got a good price. If not, he said, he wants to know if it is too late to nullify the deal.
The first two trains will be built using state money, and, according to a 1997 Wisconsin law, state agencies can award contracts without soliciting bids for such rail projects as equipment purchases, station improvements and parking areas.
Nora Friend, Talgo vice president of public affairs, said the company is committed to setting up a manufacturing plant in Milwaukee despite the protest against the state contract. The deals to build two trains for Wisconsin and two for Oregon are finalized, she said.
Friend said other companies had a chance to compete for the state contract through a Wisconsin Department of Transportation request for information.
“They didn’t,” she said.
Wisconsin cannot back out of its contract for Talgo to build two trains, said Christopher Klein, executive assistant to WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi. The trains will cost the state $43 million, he said.
“They’re already beginning the preparation to build the trains,” Klein said. “They’ve already worked out their deal with the city.”
Talgo’s contract to manufacture trains might be a point of debate in Madison, but not in Milwaukee. The city, under a proposed lease with Talgo, will spend an estimated $6 million renovating a building in the former Tower Automotive site for the company.
The Common Council will consider signing that lease Wednesday. The city Tuesday solicited bids for six contracts to supply HVAC, lighting and other equipment for the Talgo building renovation.
Milwaukee Alderman Willie Wade, the project’s main sponsor on the Common Council, said debates in Madison over Talgo will be handled by Milwaukee’s delegation to the state Legislature.
“I don’t anticipate anything stopping that at this point,” he said of the project. “There’s always rhetoric, and there’s always different sides of each situation.”
The company’s contract with WisDOT also gives the state the option to buy two more trains for new high-speed service between Milwaukee and Madison.
Vos said he wants those future trains awarded under an open request for proposals.
Klein said the state has stimulus money to buy those trains and will follow federal rules to select a company. The federal government has not yet issued the procurement rules, he said.