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Commuter rail firm faults MBTA on bid vetting

Current provider calls process unfair

Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., which has operated the commuter rail for the past decade, is vying for another go at the contract, the largest operating contract in state history. John Blanding/Globe Staff

The Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. is crying foul at what they are calling a flawed procurement process that included few substantial conversations, a complaint lodged with the MBTA before the Globe reported Saturday that the T will recommend that the company’s sole competitor be awarded the state’s lucrative commuter rail operating contract.

In a statement from the company Sunday, accompanied by a letter that had been sent to Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s general counsel Thursday, the company alleged that only one in-person discussion had been held between T officials and the MBCR during months of investigations and vetting — not enough, MBCR officials said, to provide the company with any real chance to explain the new ideas it had planned if it were to continue running the commuter train system.


The statement was an early indication that MBCR may choose to pursue a lawsuit if the contract comes out in favor of the company’s competition, Keolis Commuter Services.

“MBTA evaluators never seriously attempted to understand differences between competing proposals, seek improvements in the bids, [or] develop a clear understanding of the differences between the bidders’ cost/pricing structures,” the statement said.

MBCR, which has operated the commuter rail for the past decade, is vying for another go at the contract, the largest operating contract in state history.

After months of reviewing the proposals from Keolis and MBCR, T officials are expected to present their recommendation on the best option for the bid at the Wednesday meeting of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board of directors. The board will review the T’s recommendation and make a final decision.

Last week, two people knowledgeable about the process told the Globe that Keolis had won over the T, and that the company had been in negotiations with MBTA General Manager Beverly A. Scott to provide service for an eight-year term, with the possibility of multiple two-year extensions.


Despite MBCR’s criticism, the T maintains that all the rules were followed and there was no mishandling of the vetting process. MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in an e-mail Sunday that the transit agency had followed guidelines set forth by the Federal Transit Administration on best practices for procurement processes to establish a level playing field.

Pesaturo said MBCR’s description of the procurement process was “simply not accurate.”

“The provisions in the Request for Proposals have been followed to the letter, and all aspects of the procurement process were clearly and fully communicated up front,” Pesaturo said. “The evaluation process has been open, transparent and fair for all parties involved.”

A Keolis spokesman declined to comment on MBCR’s letter.

On Thursday Ronald J. Hartman, chief executive of the rail division at Veolia Transportation, MBCR’s largest shareholder, wrote a three-page letter to the MBTA to express consternation about the process.

“We are making this request because of our concern over the lack of meaningful discussions between our team and the MBTA with respect to this extensive and complex RFP and our proposal,” Hartman wrote in the letter.

In the letter, Hartman argued that it was necessary to meet in person for the company to convey its innovative ideas — including the construction of a new $65 million commuter rail maintenance and training facility in Hyde Park, one of several plans it had floated in a proposal that was hundreds of pages long.


“The innovations underlying these modifications are not simple and warrant some give-and-take discussion,” Hartman wrote. “We expected to have an opportunity to explain our intentions regarding these investments and we continue to believe that they can be better defined and shaped by engagement with the MBTA in a discussion setting. To date, there has been no forum for any dialogue on these very significant offerings.”

Company officials are urging the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board of directors to take another look at the contract.

“We hope the MassDOT Board of Directors will refrain from accepting a recommendation from the MBTA without first undertaking a careful, exhaustive examination of the analysis that was followed during the procurement,” the statement said. “There must be no rush to judgment.”

Paul Regan, executive director of the MBTA Advisory Board, an oversight organization that represents cities and towns served by the T, was skeptical about MBCR’s assertion that it hadn’t had adequate opportunity to have discussions with the T.

“This incumbent provider has an advantage because they’re a known commodity — they have a record in place,” Regan said.

Regan said it is probable that, whatever the outcome of the bidding process, there will be litigation.

“Naturally, you do everything you can to make sure your contract proposal got a fair shake,” Regan said. “It makes perfect sense for a company to make sure they’ve exhausted every opportunity to get that contract. If they have to go to court, they will do that.”


Martine Powers can be reached at martine.powers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.