Metro

MBTA rail operator hit with $804,000 fine

The operator of the MBTA’s commuter rail service has been fined $804,000 for late trains and other performance issues, including station and train cleanliness, according to transit officials.

Officials for the company, Keolis Commuter Services, said mechanical problems and old trains partly contributed to the poor performance, while state officials noted that the contract is still new.

“After four months of running MBTA commuter rail, October was a disappointing month for Keolis and our passengers, but we’re determined to improve,” said Mac Daniel, a Keolis spokesman.

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Keolis took over operation of the commuter rail in July after winning a $2.68 billion, eight-year contract. The deal calls for penalties for service delays, a provision promoted by MBTA officials as a way to ensure quality service from the international rail service company.

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The MBTA levied fines of $434,000 for inadequate on-time performance, which dipped to 85 percent in October, and also fined the company $370,000 for inadequate fare collection, staffing, cleanliness, and lighting failures during the past four months.

Thomas M. Mulligan, general manager of Keolis, said mechanical problems have been a significant issue for the company. Some of the commuter rail locomotives were built in the 1970s, Mulligan reminded the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board of directors during its monthly meeting Wednesday, where the company’s performance was discussed.

“It’s like trying to keep an old car together,” Mulligan said. “It’s very challenging, so the new equipment would be a relief to a lot of the situations that we face today.”

The MBTA has sought to replace some of the aging fleet, purchasing 75 new commuter rail coaches and 40 new locomotives. Fifty of the coaches and eight of the locomotives are in service.

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Twenty-five coaches and 11 locomotives are undergoing testing before being put into service. Officials are still waiting on the delivery of 21 locomotives from a $222 million contract awarded in August 2010 to Idaho company MotivePower Inc.

Beverly A. Scott, general manager of the MBTA, said she is not satisfied with Keolis’ performance, but noted that the company is only four months into an eight-year contract.

“I think Keolis did a very good job in terms of the initial transition and mobilization,” Scott said.

“I’m also very clear that what we want, on a 10-point scale, we want a 10, and I know that’s going to take time.”

Since Keolis began running the service in July, the company has struggled to match the on-time performance last year by the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co.

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In October, on-time performance slipped to its lowest since Keolis took over, with trains staying on schedule only 85 percent of the time, compared with a rate of 90 percent for the same period last year.

According to the MBTA, trains on the Fitchburg/South Acton Line were late most often, with 64 percent of trips arriving on time in October.

In addition to the on-time penalties, the company was also fined for failures in vehicle cleanliness, station maintenance, train staffing, fare collection, lighting, and toilets, and the size of train and rail car combinations.

Mulligan said several issues contributed to the late trains, such as leaves on the tracks creating slippery conditions and track work on the Fitchburg line.

Eric Asselin, the executive vice president of Keolis North America, also told the MassDOT board of directors that “resistance to change” by employees has contributed to the decline in performance.

He mentioned a “lack of training for managers,” and said the company still needs to ensure that all employees respect safety procedures. When asked about safety concerns, Mulligan noted that some employees do not wear hard hats in certain areas, despite concerns from the company.

In addition, the company has been running without a permanent chief mechanical officer. Gerald Francis, who served as interim general manager before Mulligan was appointed, has been overseeing day-to-day mechanical operations.

Asselin also placed some blame on the delays in the delivery of new equipment. “Until these problems are resolved, on-time performance will continue to suffer,” Asselin said.

Mulligan said Keolis is seeking to improve in several ways, including filling critical vacancies, creating an anonymous tipline where employees can report safety violations, and developing job performance appraisals.

Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com.