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Wis. board denies claim for high-speed rail work

Todd Richmond, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- A railroad company doesn't deserve any compensation for work it performed on a high-speed rail line before Gov. Scott Walker killed the project, according to a Wisconsin Claims Board decision released Thursday.

Milwaukee-based Wisconsin & Southern insists the state owes it $160,000 for work it did from June to November 2010 to prepare to share its tracks from Madison to Milwaukee with Amtrak.

The railroad's executives said their employees began the work before it brokered a contract with the Department of Transportation that October because the department wanted to move quickly ahead of the November elections. Democrats had touted the project as a key job creator and wanted it well on its way before the elections because then-Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle had decided not to run again.

Wisconsin & Southern officials also argued they had no choice but to undertake the project. They said sharing the tracks with Amtrak involved scheduling ramifications that would have impacted business and they feared Amtrak might seize the tracks. They insisted DOT officials assured them that the railroad would be reimbursed.

Walker, a Republican, ultimately won the governor's office in November 2010. He promptly refused any federal stimulus for the rail line, ending the project.

The DOT, now under Walker's control, argued that almost all of Wisconsin & Southern's work took place before the contact was finalized. The deal didn't provide for payment of back expenses and the agency has no record of any written approval for that work. The claims also include payment for outside consultants the railroad hired without authority, the agency argued.

The board issued a three-paragraph decision Thursday. Two paragraphs summarized both sides' arguments. The third was one sentence long. It said Wisconsin & Southern failed to show any state officers or employees were negligent and the state isn't legally liable for the railroad's expenses.

Board members asked Wisconsin & Southern vice president of finance Timothy Karp during a hearing last month if the claim was precursor to a lawsuit. Karp told the board the railroad didn't plan to sue because the state is a business partner.

Wisconsin & Southern spokesman Ken Lucht told The Associated Press by phone Thursday that the railroad would accept the board's decision.

"We kind of figured that would be the conclusion," Lucht said. "We respect the decision of the board. It was speculative project. It was three years ago. We're going to move on and we're not going to take this any further."