Even if you remember that it was Gov. Scott Walker who wanted to kill the high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee, there's a chance you don't remember who started it. It wasn't Walker's Democratic opponent in 2010, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Or the governor before Walker, Democrat Jim Doyle. Instead it was Wisconsin's longest-serving governor — a Republican governor — Gov. Tommy Thompson.
In 2010, Democrats controlled everything, from the White House, to Congress, to the governor's office to the Wisconsin state Legislature. Republicans were pushing back, and the Tea Party was in full swing. But something was changing in American politics and in Wisconsin — and Scott Walker used the high-speed rail plan to seize the moment.
When Wisconsin rejected $810 million in federal stimulus money for high-speed rail, the money was redistributed to other states. California got the largest chunk to go toward a rail line connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles, a project that is still ongoing.
Before Gov. Scott Walker canceled the high-speed rail line that would have connected Madison to Milwaukee in 2010, Wisconsin bought two trains from a Spanish company named Talgo.
The story of these trains is messy. And in a way, they're the physical reminder of the debate Wisconsin had almost a decade ago.
When former Gov. Tommy Thompson decided to return to politics in 2012, he was walking into a Wisconsin that was as divided as ever. The game had changed, and Thompson had to play by a new set of rules. That meant a new take on some of his old positions, including the train.
Because the story of "Derailed" happened over the course of decades, there's a lot there, and a lot we didn't get to. Some of it, like Gov. Jim Doyle's role in ending the train, is still discussed today. Other stuff, like the 2016 Olympics connection, seems to have been lost to history. Here are some of the questions we didn't get to in "Derailed.
Derailed is a limited-run podcast from Wisconsin Public Radio about Wisconsin’s high-speed rail line that never was. It’s a look at how the project came together, how it fell apart, and what it says about how Wisconsin has changed.
Reported and produced by Bridgit Bowden, WPR’s Special Projects Reporter, and Shawn Johnson, WPR’s Capitol Bureau Chief.
With support from:
Producer — Hannah Haynes
Editor — Noah Ovshinsky
Digital Editors — Andrea Anderson, Jenny Peek and John K. Wilson
Technical Directors — Brad Kolberg and Karl Christenson
Music — Karl Christenson
Art Direction — John Nichols and Grace Lorentz
Digital Design — Jane Jiumaleh, Anna Rueden and Amanda Starich
Digital Project Manager — Jenny Peek
Specials thanks to Mike Crane, Mike Arnold, David Hyland, Adam Friedrich and Jeffrey Potter for their organizational support.
Contact — firstname.lastname@example.org