State transport chief delays Amtrak cars purchase of Talgo equipment

March 21, 2015

Lansing — The state transportation chief has delayed the purchase of a set of new passenger cars for the Detroit-Chicago Amtrak route following an audit critical of his department for leasing another set of cars that are idle.

While track upgrades continue toward 110-miles-an-hour service throughout the popular passenger route, Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle “has asked the rail staff to complete a much more thorough review of the plan for the Amtrak cars,” department spokesman Jeff Cranson said Friday.

The transportation department has a $58-million proposal to buy the “next generation” passenger cars to provide more-modern amenities for riders using the Detroit-Chicago route.

But MDOT last month was criticized in a state audit for its leasing and refurbishing of a separate set of passenger cars for a proposed intercity commuter service that has yet to get off the drawing board.

Start-up of the proposed service between Detroit and Ann Arbor has been delayed until at least 2017. MDOT leased and refurbished used passenger cars for a demonstration project, intending to learn if there’s enough ridership to make it a permanent route eligible for federal funds.

The state has spent $9.5 million leasing the cars, stored on a siding near Owosso. Steudle, while looking to attract a sublessor for them until the commuter route gets up and running, now wants a more-thorough assessment before pulling the trigger on the Amtrak car purchase.

“He has also asked the finance unit to dive deeply into the business plan and financial aspects related to the maintenance facility, occupation and use, as well as the potential revenue,” Cranson said.

A U.S. affiliate of the Spanish firm Talgo built the Amtrak cars for Wisconsin. They’re available because Gov. Scott Walker called a halt to the purchase.

 

Detroit News Lansing Bureau reporter Gary Heinlein has the full story here.

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