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Milwaukee-built Talgo trains head to Africa, while company hires here

Talgo train
Chuck Quirmbach
/
WUWM
One of the Talgo trainsets outside the company plant near N. 27th St. and Capitol Dr.

The Milwaukee-built passenger train cars then-Gov. Scott Walker didn't want for high-speed rail in Wisconsin are headed for use in Africa. Meanwhile, Talgo, the company that built the cars, said they are looking to hire people at its north side factory.

The train car story dates back about a dozen years to when Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle wanted to use federal money to develop high-speed passenger rail between Milwaukee and Madison. The Spanish company, Talgo, signed on to make the train sets in Milwaukee. But as Republican Scott Walker became governor in late 2010, he canceled the high-speed rail. Since then, the train cars have been stored elsewhere and sometimes returned to the Talgo plant.

Tuesday, Acting Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson led off a ceremony to celebrate Talgo's sale of the cars to Lagos State, Nigeria.

Johnson noted the cars, which are mostly painted white, have a red stripe on them. "That's Wisconsin red. That's Badger red," he said. "And, while I'm happy about today, I am a little disappointed in a sense that these trains are not in service in our state. And, I think that our previous governor unfortunately made a mistake in turning these trains away."

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Chuck Quirmbach
/
WUWM
A Talgo train car inside the company's building at the Century City complex.

At the time, Walker argued not enough people would ride high-speed rail in Wisconsin, and there would be high operating costs. A few years later, Walker and Republican legislators couldn't agree on using the Talgo cars on the Amtrak Hiawatha service to Chicago. Wisconsin lost millions of dollars in canceled contracts.

But Lagos Gov. Babaiide Sanwo-Olu said the Talgo cars will fit right into his state's plan for an integrated urban mass transit system. "Where we'll be using road infrastructure, water infrastructure and rail infrastructure. So, we can move more than 20 million Lagosians around the city very efficiently," Sanwo-Olu said.

20220118_112346_HDR.jpg
Chuck Quirmbach
/
WUWM
(left to right): Talgo USA President and CEO Antonio Perez, Milwaukee Acting Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Gov. Babaiide Sanwo-Olu, of Lagos State, Nigeria, pose for photos Tuesday.

The departure of the Talgo cars for the most populous nation in Africa doesn't mean the company is done in Milwaukee. The firm has been refurbishing passenger rail cars brought in from Los Angeles for the last few years.

Talgo USA President and CEO Antonio Perez said his company likes its Milwaukee building at Century City. It is on city-owned land that used to be part of the AO Smith and Tower Automotive frame plant.

"It's a large facility that has the potential to expand. You can see on the north and south side of this facility that there is some space to grow. The city has been very gracious to allow us to expand the space that's available whenever is necessary," Perez told WUWM.

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Chuck Quirmbach
/
WUWM
Current work at Talgo includes refurbishing commuter rail cars brought in from Los Angeles. The company said it's hiring.

Despite hiring challenges with COVID-19, Perez said he's hoping to add about 20 more people here to the current employment of about 120.

"We are looking for electricians, mechanics, what we call manufacturing technicians. We would also like people with lower skills. We have a mentorship program to provide lower skilled personnel some training," he said.

Perez said he's optimistic about more passenger rail in the U.S., especially with Joe Biden as president.

Perez also invited the Lagos governor to come back to Milwaukee someday and buy more train cars.

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