Janesville48.9°

Deal may make Janesville a site to build trains

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
July 18, 2009

Janesville has a foot in the door in a deal that will bring 80 jobs to Wisconsin, but so does Milwaukee.


Wisconsin has agreed to a $47 million deal with Spanish train manufacturer Talgo for two 14-car passenger "train sets" to be built in Wisconsin. The trains would replace aging trains now running between Milwaukee and Chicago.


Gov. Jim Doyle made the announcement with Talgo officials Friday in Madison.


Rep. Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, confirmed Friday that Talgo has looked in Janesville for a possible manufacturing building.


"We're aggressively going after that thing for Rock County," Sheridan said.


The vacant General Motors plant is probably not in the mix, but the former LSI building, with more than 700,000 square feet and rail access, is, Sheridan said. LSI supplied the GM plant.


"The locations of the assembly and maintenance facilities have not yet been determined but are likely to be in south-central or southeastern Wisconsin," according to the governor's statement. "Together, the assembly and maintenance facilities are expected to create about 80 jobs for Wisconsin workers "


Antonio Perez, CEO and president of Talgo's U.S. operations, said during the announcement in Madison that he visited the GM plant in Janesville and said the factory has "potential," but the company doesn't expect to make a decision for six to nine months.


State officials hope to have the Talgo cars in service by 2011.


The deal provides for two additional train sets if the state secures federal stimulus funding to extend passenger rail service from Milwaukee to Madison.


Perez said the facility could become a regional assembly and maintenance hub as Talgo expands to other Midwestern states, creating more jobs.


Sheridan said he has been in touch with the governor on the deal, and he is arranging to talk to Talgo officials. He believes he will be able to do that next week.


Brad Dutcher, district representative for the international UAW and former president of UAW Local 95 in Janesville, recently talked with Talgo officials in Washington state, Sheridan said.


Talgo services Amtrak Cascades trains in Seattle.


Sheridan said Janesville has a lot to offer, including a Development Opportunity Zone that was part of the recently passed state budget. Janesville was to be the only place in Wisconsin to get a DOZ, but the final budget deal also assigned one to Kenosha, Sheridan said.


Sheridan said the experience of putting together an incentive offer that GM ultimately rejected will help Janesville sell itself to Talgo.


"There are a number of incentives, not to mention the great workers we have here, the large pool of workers that are ready to hit the ground running," Sheridan said.


Sheridan cautioned that Janesville might not succeed in attracting the train plant, and he said Janesville needs to continue to diversify its employer base.


"We're going to go through this process a number of times, I suspect, in the future, and we're going to win some, and we're going to lose some," Sheridan said.


Sheridan said this deal has been in the making at least since Doyle visited Spain in February.


Talgo cars are made of aluminum alloy with welded seams to form a frame that makes them lighter weight and stronger than traditional rail cars, according to Doyle's statement. The cars use a technology that allows them to tilt in curves and to ride smoother at higher speed for a more comfortable ride.


The aluminum alloy frames will be made in Spain and then shipped to Wisconsin for assembly. Talgo will work with vendors in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the Untied States to supply parts for outfitting the trains, Doyle said.


The trains will be put into service on the Amtrak Hiawatha line with the cars pulled by existing locomotives, Doyle said. Each train set provides a seating capacity of 420, compared to the current capacity of 350.


The Amtrak Hiawatha provides daily trips between Chicago and Milwaukee. Ridership was more than 766,000 in 2008, a 24 percent increase over 2007.


Wisconsin and Illinois pay for the Amtrak line between Milwaukee and Chicago. Last year, the two states paid about $7 million to run it.


Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.



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