Friday, August 21, 2009

Wisconsin Talgo Equipment Order - Thoughts

The Talgo equipment used in Amtrak Cascade service between Vancouver BC and Eugene OR appears to be a commercial success with strong public acceptance, and acquisition of such by the sponsoring agency appears to have been a smart move. Indicative of such is that the "four a day' (+the Seattle-LA Coast Starlight) cover the route in 3'30' while the "three a day" prevalent during 1969 needed 4'00'.

Where I do have a problem, however, is that local agencies seem be be hearing the "siren' of Talgo's "hell on wheels' business model. That model is simply if you buy 'em from us, we'll build 'em wherever you want. Wisconsin recently ordered two Talgo train sets for Chicago-Milwaukee service, with an option for a third for use on a proposed Chicago-Milw-Madison route. Talgo has agreed that the assembly work will be done at a Wisconsin facility and that 80 some jobs will be created resulting from the project. To ensure that the jobs are held by Wisconsin residents, the facility will likely be located in Central Wisconsin as distinct from "border towns" such as, say, Beloit or Kenosha.

My problem is that absent a permanent assembly facility, Talgo will simply set up shop anywhere someone will buy their equipment resulting in increased costs (as well as possibly 'relaxed" quality control) from reduced operational efficiency. While not the case in the Northwest, I would dare say that Wisconsin will end up with equipment unsuitable for the essentially tangent Chi-Milw run. Bi-Levels modeled after the California cars are the most suitable equipment for any Midwest Corridor initiative, but watch Talgo try and peddle their product and business model, say, here in neighboring Illinois.

Those 80 Wisconsin jobs are going to be the most expensive jobs a locality ever "bought".


  1. Gil, I don't see this. Talgo doesn't have a production facility ready to go and it needs one in order to participate in the current stimulus funds opportunity. That Talgo will build a plant in Wisconsin doesn't imply that every state gets one. On the contrary it's smart for Wisconsin as it becomes likely that trains for other states will be built in Wisconsin.

    Why do you say the equipment is unsuited for the chicago - Milwaukee run? Seems like it's good stuff. Lightweight. Well built.

  2. Mr. Parker, only time will tell if Talgo will set up a permanent shop in Wisconsin, thereby "rewarding' them for being the first Midwest customer or if "hell on wheels' will be the model.

    Now regarding the suitability of the equipment, Chi-Milw is as good as a tangent. There will not be any schedule improvements, presuming no change in authorized speed, as has been realized in the Pacific NW.

    Further, this is a small number of highly specialized units not compatible with any other Amtrak equipment that will have to be maintained by an outside contractor - also presumably setting up shop in Wisconsin. That obviously translates into additional costs.

    All told, the cost per seat mile, both operating and recovery of capital, would surely be less had conventional bi-level equipment been ordered. "Exciting" as the Talgo? not likely, but what are we addressing here; a Disneyland ride or economic and efficient movement of people through a Corridor?


  3. Can you say "Super Steel?" They are the ones who would be building the equipment as a subcontractor to Talgo. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel notes, they opened plants in the Chicago suburbs and Virginia to building roll stock for Metra and VRE, respectively.

    They operated a plant in Schenectady, NY, that built news locomotives for the Long Island Rail Road and was rebuilding Rohr turbotrains from use on the Empire Corridor. The LIRR locomotives were plagued with problems from the start and we all know what happened to the turboes.

    Super Steel in New York State was little more than pork for George Pataki and Joe Bruno and their constitutents. Even gentiles know pork ain't kosher. The Schenectady plant closed late last year.

  4. Link to Journal Sentinel article:

  5. We should note that within the past week, Oregon DOT has ordered two Talgo trainsets to be built (with many foreign sourced components) at Talgo's Wisconsin facility. This means that my earlier concerns with regards to a "hell on wheels' business model are, for the moment, unfounded.

    Reportedly, the Oregon Talgos will be to replace two Washington DOT Talgos used to protect existing Portland-Eugene frequencies. Wash wishes to expand frequencies within the Vancouver BC-Portland Corridor as well in all likelihood, to provide additional "protection' as the existing Talgo sets approach "middle age'. However, in the interest of operational efficiency, the Oregon sets should best be assigned to a "pool' that protects all trains operating through the entire Vancouver-Eugene Corridor and maintained at the existing (and being expanded with ARRA '09 funds) Seattle Maintenance Facility.

    However nothing here upsets my earlier expressed thoughts that Talgo equipment is being ordered for routes in which no benefit from this equipment's superior curve handling capacity will result. While the Oregon sets, if in fact they are to be used in a "pool' makes sense for maintenance reasons, it is my understanding that Portland-Eugene is almost as tangent as is Chi-Milw (I've only ridden such once; June 1962 on the Shasta Daylight).

    While there any a number of potential short-distance routes about the land in which Talgo equipment would result in improved schedules such as has been realized Seattle-Portland, those routes are not in the Midwest. While what has been done has been done with regards to Chi-Milw, I can only hope that if there is 'traction" to any other initiatives such as Chi-Stl (and at this time there appears to be, as well as others within Illinois) that the sponsoring agencies will take a second look and realize there is more suitable equipment, such as the California Bi-level cars, for use over such, and that Talgo's marketing can be directed to initiatives, such as within the Mid-Atlantic region, where their equipment will provide public benefit with improved schedules.

  6. All of the current equipment on the Hiawatha is forty-year-old single level cars, so that will not be a change. The current equipment is well-kept for its age, and has even been upgraded in minor ways (most notably in the outlets at each seat for powering laptops), but they are pretty old. BiLevels are OK, but do have their own problems, being slower loading, particularly when handicapped riders board. Replacing the slow lifts with fast and simple deck plates isn't a bad gain in both speed and convenience.

    And, though most of the highest speed parts of the run are tangent, not all of it is, with curves in Racine and Kenosha Counties, plus the very slow curves in Chicago. Lighter weight and tilting equipment will allow faster speeds as the route is upgraded. Even the current 90 minute schedule is far faster than you can drive the same route, with current trains averaging 60 mph, stops included.

  7. Indeed is a commercial success, but it's services still sucks and the receive lots of complains per week

  8. Your very creative!!! I once again find myself spending way to much time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worth it! well done..