Off the Rails: Expensive Fallout Continues from GOP Train Rejection

  • Published on December 15th, 2010

Talgo's series 8 train won't be built in WisconsinAfter kissing a high-speed rail line goodbye, Wisconsin’s new GOP/Tea Party Governor, Scott Walker, can kiss a bunch of jobs goodbye.

Talgo, a Spanish-owned rail car company, had located a factory in Milwaukee, in anticipation of the high-speed rail line between that city and Madison. As part of an $8 billion federal initiative to stimulate business and tourism by linking up the states of the midwest from Minnesota to Ohio, the factory would have had access to markets across America.

But Walker, the County Executive of Milwaukee County, had made fighting the rail line an ideological centerpiece of his campaign for governor against Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. After his victory as part of the Republican/Tea Party wave in November he vowed to cut the line, and now the Federal Government has said “Fine, we’re sending the money to other states.”

Out of work

Now Talgo says there’s no reason to have a facility in Milwaukee, and will shutter the place, taking 125 high-paying jobs with it. The economic ripple effect from that move alone will cost hundreds more jobs, on top of the 5,000 jobs that would have been created by the rail line construction and thousands more that would have been created by the boost in economic activity.

“It’s just an unfortunate situation for us because we have already spent a lot of resources, financial and otherwise, to transfer the know-how and the technology to the current workforce in Milwaukee,” Talgo Vice President Nora Friend told WISN news.

The jobless rate is 9.4 percent in Wisconsin, and Walker had made job-creating a centerpiece of his campaign.

Walker’s office responded:

“Gov.-elect Walker’s transition team reached out to Talgo in an effort to keep them in Wisconsin. While he is disappointed that the company made the decision to leave, the fact that the Madison to Milwaukee train line is dead is in the best interest of Wisconsin taxpayers.”

The fallout spreads

It’s not just the rail-line itself that Walker killed. A new train station in downtown Madison was part of the plan; this was going to be a catalyst for downtown redevelopment, but with the money gone, city planners are scrambling to figure out what to do with the gaping hole in their blueprints. With the keystone removed, plans for hotels, office buildings, and an underground parking garage may all collapse as well.

“We had planned a new hotel to serve Monona Terrace,” Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said. “That’s something I will continue to work on. As for the other projects, we just don’t know yet. We’ll have to evaluate.”

And a high-end restaurant across the street from the planned station has already said it will be shutting down, since rail customers had been a big part of their business plan.

“Basically, thanks to the vote by the GOP and Scott Walker administration, I’m going to terminate 45 jobs and $1.8 million in commerce per year,” said restaurateur Chris Berge.


Meanwhile, two Democrats in the Wisconsin Legislature pointed out that even though Walker cancelled the high-speed rail line, the state is still obligated to $101 million for other expenses, including a freight-rail upgrades and a train-maintenance facility. Those would have been covered as part of the Federal grant; now the state will have to pay for them itself.

The La Cross Tribune – which endorsed Walker for Governor! – was scathing in their Tuesday editorial:

Scott Walker isn’t even governor yet, and he has lost an $810 million game of chicken with our money….

Walker wouldn’t listen to the feds. He wouldn’t listen to business leaders. He wouldn’t listen to transportation experts. He didn’t even have the courtesy to respond to repeated efforts by Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz to discuss the matter because, of course, Cieslewicz is a Democrat and mayor of the state’s capitol and second-largest city. Why bother.

When Walker promised during his campaign to create 250,000 jobs, we absurdly assumed that he meant to create them in Wisconsin. We didn’t realize he would provide such an economic boost for other states.

Madison Mayor is even more snarky. On his blog, he writes:

And, don’t kid yourself: It’s not just $810 million from the feds. You can bet some of that money was contributed by the hard-working taxpayers of Wisconsin.

And our money has just gone down the Scott Walker rathole.

He hasn’t just thumbed his nose at high-speed rail. He has thumbed his nose at western Wisconsin.

…In the spirit of your philosophy about government, why don’t you suggest that Wisconsin taxpayers who have too much money in their pocket cut out the middle man in Madison and just write a check to the good people of the Golden State.

If you’re really that stupid, you can mail your non-deductible, unappreciated check to: Wisconsin’s New Governor Is Off the Rails Fund, c/o State of California Franchise Tax Board, P.O. Box 942840, Sacramento, CA 94240-0002.

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About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.