MDOT confirms its interest in Wisconsin passenger trains idled in legal dispute

From The Detroit News:

Michigan transportation officials are looking to buy or lease new passenger trains sidelined in a legal dispute between their Spanish manufacturer and Wisconsin.

A spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation confirmed officials contacted Talgo Inc. with a request for proposal for an undisclosed number of the trains to be used for at least three high-speed routes until state-of-the-art trains the state is buying arrive in 2018.

“We are examining the possibility of buying or leasing new equipment to run on Amtrak lines in Michigan until (we get) the new equipment that we have ordered,” MDOT spokesman Nick Schirripa said.

The trains that Michigan has an interest in sit unused in Milwaukee after Wisconsin officials and Talgo ended an agreement to use the cars. Talgo is suing Wisconsin after state officials accused the company of never completing promised work and suspended payment.

Nora Friend, the vice president of public affairs and business development in Talgo’s office in Seattle, said Wisconsin won’t be blocking the trains’ sale.

“There is no dispute in Wisconsin about who owns the trains and who has title to them,” Friend said in an e-mail to The Detroit News. “Talgo owns them, is free to see them and in fact, the state of Wisconsin will be more than happy if Talgo sells the trains to the state of Michigan or to any other state and entity interest in acquiring them.”

Friend did not say if Michigan is the front-runner to buy the trains or how long the process will take.

Peg Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, said “we are in litigation” with Talgo and have no comment about the trains or their sale.

One of the routes the Talgo trains would use would be the Wolverine from Chicago to Pontiac that stops in Detroit.

MDOT officials are looking to save money because federal subsidies to use Amtrak trains have been slashed, raising the state’s cost to operate the Wolverine route from $8 million annually to $25 million. That includes funding for two other routes that break off from the Wolverine.

Michigan is partnering with transportation departments in California, Washington, Missouri and Illinois to buy the new trains.