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The company that operates the state's commuter rail system has been fined more than $434,000 after nearly two-thirds of the trains were late or canceled during the heavy snowfalls that pounded the region last month, transit officials said Monday.
Keolis Commuter Services had an on-time performance rate of roughly 35 percent, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority said. The poor performance warranted the maximum fine allowed under the company's contract with the state, the MBTA said.
Keolis disputed the fine, describing the unprecedented February snowfalls as acts of nature out of its control that resulted in the suspension of service, train delays and train cancellations because the weather caused portions of the commuter rail property to be substantially unusable.
"We are not trying to make excuses, but we are explaining that there are issues and we are trying to work through them," company spokeswoman Leslie Aun said.
Keolis formally notified the MBTA of the problems it was facing after each of the four blockbuster storms that disrupted service, beginning in late January, Aun added. Just as the system was recovering from one winter blow, "a storm would come and knock us down again," she said.
Bernard Tabary, the chief executive of Keolis' Paris-based parent company, Keolis International, last week apologized for the breakdowns and delays that plagued the system during the snowiest month on record for the Boston area. More than 100 inches of snow have fallen in the city this winter, wreaking havoc not only on commuter rail lines but also on trolley and bus services operated by the MBTA.
Keolis, which has cited the heavy snow and aging equipment, said it had restored 80 percent of commuter rail service and planned to be back at full service by March 30.
The company had 49 locomotives in service on Monday, but at least 62 were needed for full operation, Aun said.
MBTA officials said Keolis is aware that its recovery plan will be under intense scrutiny.
Keolis was awarded an eight-year, $2.68 billion contract last year by the MBTA to run the state's 394 miles of commuter rail track.
The MBTA's general manager, Beverly Scott, announced her resignation Feb. 11 after the agency was heavily criticized by commuters for its performance during the winter onslaught, which included several shutdowns of the system for 24 hours or longer. An interim replacement for her, state Department of Transportation highway administrator Frank DePaola, was named last week.