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Commuter Rail Operator Hit With $804K In Penalties

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Just four months into its eight-year contract, the French operator of the Bay State's commuter rail line has been hit with $804,000 in performance-related penalties.

Keolis, the company that won the $2.7 billion contract, was fined $434,000 for on-time performance issues and $370,000 for other issues, such as station and train cleanliness, according to a presentation to the state transportation board Wednesday by Keolis officials.

Keolis General Manager Thomas Mulligan blamed old equipment for the on-time performance issues and said new equipment is on the way.

"It's a new contract, so I mean that's the first experience we've all had with it," Mulligan told reporters when asked about the penalties. "Any on-time performance penalty that's going to cost you money isn't good, so in the grand scheme of things, you just have to analyze the situation and just prepare whatever type of a process you need to address those concerns."

Some of the locomotives currently in service were first built in the 1970s, Mulligan said. "It's like trying to keep an old car together," he said during his presentation to the seven-member board.

Fifty new double decker coaches are in service, and 25 coaches are in the testing and inspection phase, according to the MBTA.

By early next year, all 75 new coaches, which were built by Hyundai Rotem, will be in service. State transportation officials have previously criticized Hyundai Rotem, accusing the company of falling behind schedule in delivering trains, which also required fixing once they reached Massachusetts.

Year-to-date, on-time performance on the commuter rail is at 89 percent, according to the presentation. July's on-time performance rate stood at 87 percent, August 90 percent, and September 92 percent, which dropped to 85 percent in October.

"There's a lot of room for improvement but at the same time . . . we are four months into this," MBTA general manager Beverly Scott told reporters.

Janice Loux, a member of the state transportation board, said Keolis is in a "honeymoon period" but warned of a potential "rough stretch" with the start of winter, a season that often causes severe public transit delays.

"It's a big contract to pick up," she said. "I would imagine you're just getting your head around what you really want to do."

Addressing the transportation board, Eric Asselin, Keolis executive vice president, said that the service's new management is encountering resistance from some corners in the organization, adding, "very clearly there is a need for a stronger reorganization."

Mulligan said the mechanical department has a lax attitude about some safety measures, such as wearing hard hats. He told the board that Keolis is developing a "new safety management training culture" and "contract compliance training."

"We're the new operator and it's a change, and people are reluctant to change," he told reporters after his presentation, adding that the issues aren't "insurmountable."

Mulligan added that Keolis is working with the commuter rail's labor organizations to implement a "confidential close call reporting system" for employees to report safety issues.

Loux expressed skepticism about the anonymous tip line leading to better attitudes about safety.

"You need to create a culture of safety that is talked about, felt and it has to become part of your organizational mantra," she said. "I don't think you have it yet."

"We don't have it yet but it's certainly our intention," Mulligan said.

This article was originally published on November 19, 2014.

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