State House News Service

Only 2 Companies Vie For Commuter Rail Contract

BOSTON — State officials had hoped to attract a number of bidders for a new commuter rail contract but only two companies submitted statements of qualifications to the MBTA.

“Like our General Manager [Jonathan] Davis, I was hoping for a much bigger group of bidders for this contract,” said MBTA Advisory Board Executive Director Paul Regan. “It’s one of the most lucrative contracts in the country, I think.”

The two companies vying for the contract to operate 664 miles of passenger service include the current operator Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company and Keolis Commuter Services (KCS).

“The MBTA looks forward to a robust competition between the bidders excited about the opportunity to operate the commuter rail system,” MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in a statement Monday.

The MBTA released a request for qualified bidders in May, hoping to attract a broad field of contestants seeking the valuable contract, which MBCR has held since 2003.

“I’m hopeful there will be a number of bidders,” Lt. Gov. Tim Murray told the News Service in May. More bidders would encourage more competitive bids, which could benefit the MBTA even if MBCR wins the contract again.

The T’s deadline for statements of qualifications from interested bidders was July 26.

KCS is a joint venture between Keolis Rail Services America and the SNCF, the French National Railway. Keolis “operates 6,000 daily commuter trains in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany,” the group’s cover letter states, while SNCF “operates over 1,000 daily intercity passenger trains…. and 12,000 daily commuter trains in 22 cities and metropolitan regions across France.”

SNCF would provide “managerial and technical resources,” the cover letter says. The Maryland-based KCS was established in June and submitted its statement of qualifications about a month later, on July 19.

MBCR, a consortium of Alternate Concepts Inc., Bombardier Transit Corporation and Veolia Transportation Inc., was established specifically to operate the suburban Boston rail line, which is the fifth busiest commuter rail in the country, according to the MBTA.

“After nine years, we understand the uniqueness of this complicated railroad with its multiple lines, aging infrastructure, discerning customers, and varying right-of-way owners,” the company wrote in its cover letter. “We know the day-to-day pressures of being a large and visible public agency residing where the often conflicting pressures from riders, taxpayers, elected officials, community groups and the media all intersect.”

KCS touted its experience working with other public agencies.

“Safety, service quality, customer satisfaction and responsiveness to the agency that hired us are prominent among the basic tenets that define our approach to the provision of commuter rail services,” the company wrote.

The MBTA has said it will spend $3 million on the roughly year-long bidding process. The MBTA said 31 entities expressed interest and received the request for qualifications.

Regan said that if the process allows for it, the MBTA should seek more bidders, but said, “Unfortunately, the deadlines are real.”

Regan, who said he was “disappointed” that only two bidders have shown interest, was at a loss for the reasons why more entities had not bid on such a lucrative contract.

“Perhaps there just aren’t that many companies big enough to participate in this but I know the T leadership thought there would be more,” Regan said.

The MBCR is operating the commuter rail system under a two-year contract extension, which ends next year, that is valued at $559 million.

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