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Doyle eyes uses for GM plant

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Gazette Staff
February 26, 2009
— Gov. Jim Doyle said Wednesday that the idle General Motors plant in Janesville could be a possible manufacturing site for passenger rail cars.

Traveling in Spain, the governor said the high-speed rail system he's seen in that country could have applications for the Midwest in general and Janesville specifically.


Doyle is trying to cultivate partnerships between Spanish and Wisconsin manufacturers.


In a conference call with reporters, Doyle said he has spoken "very specifically" about the idle GM plant as a potential manufacturing site for passenger rail cars, though he hasn't given up hope that the auto manufacturer will put the plant back to work.


"I hope GM will be in that plant, and I've had talks with GM in the last couple of weeks even about it," Doyle said in an online report posted by WisBusiness.com.


"That's still something I haven't given up the possibility of. But if not, we need to find another big-time, high-quality manufacturer and it seems to me that rail may be a possible answer."


A local GM Retention Task Force headed by Tim Cullen and Brad Dutcher is working to convince GM officials to award another product to the Janesville plant. Workers there stopped making full-size sport utility vehicles in December and production of medium-duty Isuzu trucks will end in late April.


Then the plant will be completely idle.


Cullen said he's been aware for several months that the governor is pursuing the possibility of rail car production for Janesville.


While his task force is trying to retain GM, Cullen said it would be a mistake for people to think there are no other ongoing efforts to find a reuse for the sprawling facility on the city's south side.


Most of those efforts, he said, are confidential.


"The reality of it is that if you're talking to Company A and word of that gets out, you won't be talking to Company A much longer because Company A has a headquarters and operation in some other community," Cullen said. "That community will then rightfully ask Company A why it's not spending money at home."


State Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, applauded Doyle's mission to Spain.


"The General Motors plant is well-positioned to build passenger rail cars," she said. "It is located along a railroad line. We have a well-educated, skilled workforce with a strong work ethic that is eager to go back to work. The plant has plenty of space. And we have a great technical college ready to train workers in the skills of train manufacturing."


Passenger rail car production in Janesville would be a component of a high-speed rail system Doyle is touting.


He told reporters Wednesday that that funding for the first stages of high-speed rail expansion in Wisconsin could be laid in place using federal stimulus cash. He said a line from Chicago through Madison, Milwaukee and to the Twin Cities could become a reality within 10 years.


WisBusiness.com reported that Doyle said the expansion of passenger rail has "tremendous potential for economic development for our region," and rail could fill a need that the air travel industry has "abandoned in recent years."


Doyle said demand for the service will grow as people see the ease and economy of rail travel, which he has witnessed in Spain where major cities are linked by high-speed passenger lines.


"As our streets and highways become more congested, there will be a growing demand for high-speed passenger rail in the coming years," Robson said. "Cities and regions across the nation are already developing plans for commuter rail. I am pleased that Governor Doyle is aggressively recruiting train manufacturers to locate factories in our state.


"Our request for GM to bring another vehicle line to Janesville is still on the table," Robson said. "But we can pursue more than one path at the same time."



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