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T head chooses new rail service
Group would replace Amtrak
By Mac Daniel, Globe Staff, 12/6/2002
A Boston-based consortium that includes a former MBTA general manager has been chosen by the head of the MBTA to run the region's commuter rail service in a move that could make it a viable private-sector competitor to Amtrak.
General manager Michael H. Mulhern will ask the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority board to award a $1.07 billion, five-year contract to the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. to operate the nation's fifth-largest commuter rail operation starting next summer.
If its bid is accepted, Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad, made up of European rail powerhouse Connex, Canada's Bombardier of North America, and a Boston transportation consulting firm headed by former MBTA general manager James F. O'Leary, would replace Amtrak as commuter rail operator.
Boston's commuter rail network, with 146,000 riders per weekday, is the nation's fifth largest behind the Long Island Railroad, New York's Metro-North Railroad, New Jersey Transit, and Chicago's Metra, according to Jane's World Railways. Boston is also Amtrak's largest and most profitable commuter-rail operation.
''By choosing the proposal that offered the lowest price and earned the highest technical evaluation, [Mulhern] is confident this recommendation will serve both to contain costs and improve the quality of service for years to come,'' said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo. ''He wouldn't bring this recommendation to the board if he felt otherwise.''
Running the region's commuter rail system would give Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad the chance to prove itself a worthy rail operator competitor to Amtrak.
''MBCR is very pleased to learn that its bid has been placed on the MBTA board agenda for next week,'' said spokeswoman Tara Frier. ''However, it's premature to comment further until there is a final decision.''
Officials with Boston & Maine Corp., also known as Guilford Rail, said yesterday they were disappointed that Mulhern did not choose them. But they applauded the T for a fair and comprehensive bid process. A third bidder, TransitAmerica, was disqualified for submitting an incomplete bid. Officials also said the selection process was equitable.
The MassBay conglomerate had emerged as the front-runner because of its rail operation experience, deep pockets, and worldwide clout.
Under the contract, MassBay would receive an average of $214.4 million annually from the T over five years, plus another $15 million under a separate contract for ''mobilization services,'' making the total cost of the contract $1.087 billion.
T officials said the one-time $15 million will be used to pay for the transition from Amtrak to MassBay. It includes purchase of support and maintenance vehicles, cost of a 100-person-plus transition team, inspections of all track and infrastructure, and setting up and meeting payroll for 1,700 employees when the changeover occurs on July 1.
T officials say the new contract will yield an estimated $50 million in savings over five years.
The cost of the new pact includes operating the planned Greenbush service on the South Shore and other costs Amtrak never had to pay for, Pesaturo said.
Other T officials said the increased price probably includes a 15 percent to 20 percent pay raise for current commuter rail workers, something rail unions had called for.
The new contract also includes financial penalties for poor service and financial incentives for accurate fare collection and for exceeding performance levels, he said.
Amtrak dropped out of the bidding process in July, saying the terms of the new contract would prohibit it from turning a profit.
Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad bid $1,072,194,212 on the contract while Boston and Maine Corp. bid $2.02 billion. It could not be determined why there was such a large financial discrepancy between the two bids. T officials refused to provide or discuss details of either proposal.
Many rail analysts say the new contract could be a key first step in bringing privatized rail services to the United States.
The pending move also marks the beginning of the end of Amtrak's often-strained relationship with the MBTA.
A commuter rail passenger died of a heart attack this year after the Amtrak crew delayed getting him immediate medical help while making two scheduled station stops.
Mulhern told a legislative committee this week that the quality of service offered by Amtrak has recently begun to ''drop off.''
Pending the award of the contract, legislators and T officials have said the focus will shift to the transition to the private carrier.
One of the most stubborn issues in the transition will most likely be over control of a section of the Attleboro rail line that stretches from Boston to the Rhode Island border.
-- Anonymous, December 06, 2002