Wisconsin does not have the money to run high-speed trains between Milwaukee and Madison.
But Gov. Jim Doyle on Friday said the state now has its best opportunity to get the cash.
“Clearly, one of the main criteria for getting the federal recovery money is determining what projects can get going right away,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to guarantee we’ll get the money, but we’re moving ahead and well-positioned to receive those funds.”
Doyle on Friday announced a $47 million agreement with Spanish train manufacturer Talgo Inc. to build two, 14-car trains and establish new assembly and maintenance facilities in Wisconsin.
The trains will replace the passenger cars Amtrak runs on its Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago, and the Talgo deal comes with an option to buy two more trains if the state can get federal stimulus money to build a high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes $8 billion for passenger-rail upgrades. The Milwaukee-to-Madison line is estimated at $500 million.
If stimulus money covers the Milwaukee-to-Madison line, Doyle said, construction could start in four years.
Proponents of the Madison-to-Milwaukee line called Doyle’s announcement a big step toward high-speed rail.
“I truly think that 15 years from now, people will not believe we didn’t have this before,” said Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. “It’s going to become such an essential part of our daily lives.”
Talgo CEO and President Antonio Perez said the company also will build assembly and maintenance facilities in Wisconsin for the trains. Talgo is examining sites in Milwaukee and Janesville, he said, and will make a decision within nine months.
The new trains — combined with plans for the Milwaukee-to-Madison line, a Milwaukee-to-Green Bay line, a Madison-to-the Twin Cities line and an upgrade for high-speed rail to the Chicago-to-Milwaukee line — led state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, to say he would be surprised if the state does not receive stimulus money.
“We’re really on the edge of something very big,” he said.
But if stimulus money does not cover the costs and the state is forced to put up cash, there will be a political battle, said state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend.
“I continue to believe high-speed rail between Madison and Milwaukee is a waste of time,” he said. “To spend money on rail when our roads and highways need work is irresponsible.”
Craig Thompson, executive director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin, said high-speed rail could benefit the state. But without a devoted source of money for the train, he said, Wisconsin is too cash-strapped to pay for it.
“To try to do it within our existing transportation budget would be ludicrous,” he said. “We don’t have the money to take care of our basic needs.”
For now, state officials will wait for the distribution of stimulus money for rail projects. Although the new partnership with Talgo does not guarantee money for the Milwaukee-to-Madison line, Doyle said, it should make Wisconsin the most attractive candidate.
“This is the most shovel-ready rail project in the Midwest,” he said. “Maybe even in the United States.”