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Commuter rail bidder is linked to French crash

The French passenger train that crashed outside Paris Friday, killing at least six, was operated by the owners of one of the two companies vying to run Greater Boston's commuter rail service.

Human error has been ruled out by France's transport minister, and the investigation is focused on a detached piece of metal in a switching joint on the tracks, the head of the French national railway, SNCF, said on Saturday, according to an Associated Press report.

''The SNCF considers itself responsible,'' said rail company chief Guillaume Pepy, according to the Associated Press. ''It is responsible for the lives of its clients.''


Keolis Commuter Services LLC, a joint venture between SNCF and its subsidiary Keolis America Inc., is the only other bidder competing with the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad to operate the Boston area commuter rail.

Alan Eisner, a Keolis spokesman, said the company does not expect the accident to affect its bid in Massachusetts.

"SNCF, which is Keolis' partner, transports millions of passengers a day throughout the world and we think we have an extraordinary safety record considering the volume of people that we transport daily," he said.

Kelios has contracts in 12 countries and operates rail service for Virginia Rail Express, a commuter rail line in Washington and Northern Virginia that serves about 19,000 daily commuters.

MBTA officials said last year they had hoped for at least half a dozen competitors for an eight-year contract that currently pays the operator $300 million a year. But in the end, only Keolis and Mass Bay ended up submitting bids.

Kelly Smith, an MBTA spokeswoman, said the two bidders are expected to submit their final proposals in the coming weeks and a decision is expected to be made in 2014.

She said she would not comment on the accident or its implications because the MBTA does not comment on bidders during the procurement process.


Mass Bay spokesman Scott Farmelant also declined to comment on the crash, but said that "MBCR looks forward to submitting our bid in August."

Mass Bay has collected more than $1 billion in fees from running the commuter rail since 2003.

During the accident Friday, one of the worst in recent French history, the seven-car train split into two, with some cars riding up the station platform and flipping over, the New York Times reported.

At least six people died, two were in critical condition, and seven more were in serious condition, officials said; 21 others were still in the hospital, according to the Times.

Officials said the death toll might increase as the wreckage is removed because some victims might be trapped under the overturned cars.

French President François Hollande promised a thorough investigation of the accident.

Mass Bay's bid team consists of Veolia Transportation Inc., Bombardier Transit Corp., and Alternate Concepts Inc., according to to the MBTA

Veolia was involved in a 2008 accident in Chatsworth, Calif., when a passenger train collided head-on with a freight train.

According to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board, an engineer working for Connex Railroad LLC, a unit of Veolia Transportation, was texting on his phone and did not respond to a stop signal at a rail control point.

Twenty-five people died in that crash, according to the report.

Javier Panzar can be reached at javier.panzar@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @jpanzar.