By Greg Bump
Gov. Jim Doyle said this morning the high-speed rail he has seen in Spain would have “a tremendous application for what we could do in the United States and the Midwest,” adding that the Janesville GM plant could get into the train-manufacturing business.
“I hope GM will be in that plant, and I’ve had talks with GM in the last couple of weeks even about it. 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,” Doyle said.
While he’s in Spain, Doyle is also trying to cultivate business partnerships, and he said he has spoken with Spanish business officials about potential partnerships with Wisconsin manufacturers, such as Super Steel in Milwaukee. And he said he has spoken “very specifically” about the idle GM plant in Janesville 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.
Doyle said in a conference call with reporters this morning from Spain that funding for the first stages of high-speed rail expansion in Wisconsin can 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.
The governor is in Spain this week meeting with government and business officials and touring passenger rail car manufacturing facilities.
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 with federal stimulus cash customers will see major improvements in the Milwaukee-Chicago line in the next year or two.
“The demand is there, we know that,” he said.
Doyle said the state will also “compete very hard” for stimulus money to build a passenger rail link between Milwaukee and Madison is within five to seven years, and a Milwaukee to Watertown link can be completed even sooner.
Doyle said Wisconsin is one of only two states that have set aside funds for the 20 percent match of federal dollars for inter-city rail.
“We are in a good position to be one of the first to move forward here,” he said.
Doyle said demand for the service will grow as people see the ease and economy of rail travel, as he has witnessed in Spain where major cities are linked by high-speed passenger lines.
“Spain confirms how the rail system has helped rev up their economy by providing so much quicker and easier transportation,” he said.