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Talgo project takes fire from Capitol

By Sean Ryan

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.

Robin Vos (right) became the latest at the Racine Republican Party Headquarters listen to the radio broadcast of Senator John Kerry's concession speech, Wednesday Nov. 3, 2004, in Racine, Wis. (AP Photo/Racine Journal Times, Scott Anderson)

State Rep. Robin Vos (right) is the latest politician to call for an investigation into the Talgo deal with Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Racine Journal Times, Scott Anderson)

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.

5 comments

  1. I assume Robin Vos himself is financially set and eating regularly, but there are thousands of Wisconsin wage-earners that are in desperate need of work. This hard-won Talgo project and the already-approved HSR Line to Madison will feed many families over the years. Sore-loser Robin Vos and his sour-grapes GOP colleagues, among them Scott Walker (with his comfy, self-granted $50,000 a year raise) are wasting time and effort trying to break the back of a well-planned and well-supported proposal that is guaranteed to benefit the state and southeastern Wisconsin in particular without having any creative job-building ideas of their own.

  2. There is a difference between “building” trains and assembling them. These are temporary jobs at best.

  3. Ever since I moved here to Wisconsin I have become actually aware of the constant bickering between our elected officials and what I would call the cheapskate mentality of those negotiating any type of project or deal with our city or state. Unfortunately we are the best kept Secret on Lake Michigan which should be no surprise to anyone who lives here. Wisconsin and Milwaukee once known as part of the rust belt was chosen by my father’s company years ago as a place to do business. Due to a downturn in manufacturing many of the heavy industries once situated within our state no longer exists. But because the over legislation and the prevailing antibusiness attitude among some of our elected officials, along with our stingy nature and excessively high taxes have kept many industries from considering our state is a good place to do business. Unfortunately, truth be told I am not surprised by the negative comment made by the new executive director of our former hometown airline. Our legislators need to wake up and smell the coffee because we desperately need new employment opportunities for our citizens if we intend to be competitive in the market.

  4. @Gary Who’s being antibusiness now? Rep Vos. Scott Walker.

  5. What an intellectually dishonest piece.

    The request for information was not a bid. Companies were told the RFI was not required to participate in the Request for Proposal.

    If anyone would like to see the letter documenting this please just email me I would be happy to forward you a copy.

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