A Canadian company won a $204 million contract to run two of the three MARC commuter train lines, after a prolonged bidding process became bogged down over minority business contracts, the Holocaust and Iran.
The Maryland Board of Public Works awarded the $204.7 million contract to Bombardier Transportation to operate and maintain MARC's Camden and Brunswick lines, which shuttle commuters from D.C. to as far as Baltimore and Martinsburg, W.Va. The nearly six-year deal also would allow a five-year renewal option for $205 million, bringing the potential total to $409.7 million.
"We have identified a quality company with a wealth of experience in operating commuter rail service," Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a statement. "Together with our recent MARC investments, including new locomotives, new passenger cars, station improvements and safety enhancements, the MARC system is in better condition today than at any time in its history."
Bombardier had beat out two other contractors with a lower cost and better technical scores, according to state documents.
But the award was a long time coming. An initial round of bidding was scrapped because not enough companies competed. Then one of the bidders, Keolis, received outside criticism for its parent company's role in transporting Jews to Nazi death camps.
Two weeks ago, the board deferred a decision when the Maryland Minority Contractors Association raised questions about how much of the contract would go to minority-owned businesses. The association had told the Baltimore Sun that it was seeking minority participation of at least 25 percent.
Bombardier has pledged to award nearly 8 percent of the contract to minority-owned businesses, slightly higher than the 7 percent goal set for the project, according to state officials.
A new wrinkle came Wednesday when Nancy Kopp, treasurer of the three-person Public Works Board, asked about Bombardier's work in Iran. Maryland passed a law this spring that bans companies seeking state contracts from having investments in the energy sector in Iran as of Jan. 1.
Tom Martin, president of Bombardier's U.S. subsidiary, said Bombardier has five small legacy contracts that will end in a few years to provide subcomponents to transit systems there. But he said the company is "totally in compliance" with all U.S. and European Union laws regarding business with Iran and will be complying with Maryland's upcoming law, as well.
Bombardier takes the spot of CSX, which had wanted to get out of train operations but will continue to own the tracks. The contract officially begins Thursday, but the transition will take up to eight months. The company plans to extend offers to existing CSX crews to remain on the lines. Amtrak, meanwhile, will continue to run MARC's Penn Line.