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Failed Obama Rail Project Collapses, Nigeria Purchases Unused Trains

A Nigerian city purchased two trains intended for a high-speed rail line in Wisconsin more than a decade after the Obama administration doled out $810 million to the state for the project.

Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor of Lagos State, Nigeria, visited Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Wednesday to inspect the trains and announce the purchase, he tweeted. The trains will be used for a metro rail project that is under construction in Lagos, Nigeria’s capital and most populous city.

“Today, I inspected our newly acquired Talgo Intra-City Ten Coach metropolitan trains, for our Red Line Metro project in Lagos,” Sanwo-Olu said Wednesday. “These new trains which were originally intended to connect Madison and Milwaukee in the United States, are now headed for Lagos state.”

“We have completed the acquisition of the trains and ramping up the completion of the ancillary infrastructure like the train stations,” the African leader continued. “We are irrevocably committed to completing the Red Line Metro rail project by the end of this year and bring a new lease of life to public transportation in Lagos.”

But the trains were built as part of former President Barack Obama’s ambitious plan to develop a highly-accessible high-speed rail system across the U.S., Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) reported. The Obama administration awarded Wisconsin, led by former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, $810 million for the project in 2009.

The Department of Transportation, however, canceled the project shortly after former Republican Gov. Scott Walker was elected in 2010. Walker promised to distance the state from the project during his campaign, garnering angry letters from then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

“Unless you change your position, we plan to engage in an orderly transition to wind down Wisconsin’s project so that we do not waste taxpayer’s money,” LaHood wrote in a November 2010 letter to Walker.

After the administration nixed the project, it transferred the funds to California for a different rail project. That plan, however, has largely failed, with officials scaling it back and critics dubbing it the “bullet train to nowhere.”

Still, Talgo, the private company contracted to develop the rail line, built the two trains by 2012 and billed Wisconsin, according to WPR. Talgo then terminated its contract with Wisconsin and sued the state over the project.

“It’s a little bittersweet,” Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said on Tuesday, WPR reported. “I’m sending my congratulations to the governor in Lagos State in Nigeria, but also a little disappointed that we missed out on the opportunity to have those trainsets operating here in Milwaukee and in Wisconsin.”

The Lagos metro project is expected to begin operation by the end of 2022 and carry 500,000 passengers per day.

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