Maryland officials are poised to award a $204.7 million contract to a Canadian company to run two of the three MARC commuter train lines.
The Maryland Board of Public Works is slated to approve the choice Wednesday, after the Maryland Transit Administration selected Bombardier Transportation as its preferred choice of three viable bids. It beat out Keolis and Veolia Transportation with the lowest price and the best technical scores, according to state documents.
The contract, for five years and eight months, would entail a U.S. subsidiary of the company operating and maintaining MARC's Camden and Brunswick lines, the less popular routes of the commuter rail service that boasts a ridership of about 33,000 each day. Amtrak will continue to run the Penn Line. The deal also would allow a five-year renewal option for $205 million more, bringing the potential total to $409.7 million.
|The two MARC lines that might change management|
|Brunswick Line: Martinsburg, W.Va. to Union Station, avg. 7,742 trips per day|
|Camden Line: Baltimore's Camden Station-Union Station, avg. 4,597 trips per day|
|Source: MARC, June ridership|
"We've got a proven record as an operator and a maintainer," said Bombardier Transportation spokesman Marc Laforge. The company already provides similar service for a portion of the MBTA commuter trains in Massachusetts, NJ Transit in New Jersey and GOTransit in Toronto, plus maintains trains for five other North American agencies.
The current operator of the two MARC lines, CSX, had told Maryland officials it wanted out of the passenger business, although the freight company will continue to own the tracks.
But in 2010 Maryland officials asked CSX to extend its contract when they canceled the bidding process due to a lack of competition, said MTA spokesman Terry Owens. Reportedly, Keolis was the sole bidder to respond to the request for proposal.
Keolis later came under fire because of its parent company's role in transporting Jews to Nazi death camps. "That controversy did not factor into our bidding process," Owens said. "All of the bidders were required to meet the demands of the [request for proposal], and they all did."
Rafael Guroian, chairman of the MARC Riders Advisory Council, said he and other riders didn't necessarily root for one bidder or another. "Getting a new operator to replace CSX is a good thing for everyone," he said. CSX made minimal investment in staff on the trains, leading to understaffing that was noticeably worse than on the Penn Line, Guroian said. But he worried the transition could be a period of adjustment.
Laforge said he expects a smooth handover, which he said would take up to eight months, and Bombardier would extend offers to all the current CSX train crews.
Guroian said he hoped the offer would be good enough to woo the conductors to stay on, noting that the Camden riders, especially, have a close relationship with the crews, even celebrating birthdays together.