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    MBTA fines commuter rail operator $1.6 million

    Ontime performance, cleanliness still issues

    The French firm Keolis took over the commuter rail service in July.
    Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/File
    The French firm Keolis took over the commuter rail service in July.

    The company that runs the state’s commuter rail service has been ordered to pay $1.6 million in penalties for poor performance in November and December, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority announced Friday.

    The new fines bring the total levied against Keolis to $2.4 million in the seven months it has been running the commuter rail, a sign of the company’s slow progress in living up to some of the promises made when it took over operation in July, including a pledge to increase on-time performance.

    About half of the fines levied by the MBTA have been for late trains in October, November, and December. The other half were for problems including cleanliness, staffing, and fare collection.

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    The company, through a spokesman, vowed to improve.

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    “We are seeing increases in on-time reliability system-wide and will continue to work on all levels to strengthen that performance,” Keolis spokesman Mac Daniel said in a statement.

    According to figures released Friday, the on-time rate for December was 89.82%, which is a slight improvement over the same time last year, when the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company was running the commuter rail.

    Paul Regan, the executive director of the independent MBTA Advisory Board, said the T’s aging equipment undermines the new company’s efforts to provide reliable service.

    “The longer they have to wait for reliable vehicles, the more unfair it is that they’re penalized for having to use equipment that they thought was going to be replaced,” Regan said.

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    The T is now dealing with significant mechanical issues with the new locomotives that have been ordered at a cost of $222 million. The Globe this week reported that the T’s 40 new commuter rail locomotives have been sidelined by flaws, and so far, just eight have been repaired.

    On Friday, neither the T nor the MBTA spoke at length about the reasons behind the performance ratings and penalties, but Keolis has previously tied some of its performance issues to the equipment provided by the T.

    “It’s very challenging, so the new equipment would be a relief to a lot of the situations that we face today,” Thomas M. Mulligan, the general manager of Keolis, told the MassDOT board of directors at a November meeting.

    At one point, he likened the current mechanical issues, with some of the locomotives dating back to the 1970s, to “trying to keep an old car together.”

    The T has taken steps to upgrade its fleet of locomotives and coaches on the line, but has frequently run into problems. In 2008, the agency chose South Korea’s Hyundai Rotem to build new coaches despite its lack of experience in the United States rail car market. The company delivered the coaches years late and with mechanical issues.

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    When the MBTA chose Keolis for the largest operating contract in state history, the T’s general manager, Beverly A. Scott, called it a contract with “no excuses” for benchmarks such as on-time performance. MBCR had drawn criticism for a contract that awarded bonuses to the company despite poor service.

    Ronald J. Hartman, the former rail division chief executive of Veolia Transportation, the largest shareholder of MBCR, said Friday that Keolis agreed to a stringent contract.

    “It’s tough, and they promised a lot of stuff, and they never delivered,” Hartman said.

    Under the eight-year contract, Keolis is fined at least $250 for every train that is later than five minutes, or at least $500 for late trains during peak hours. A train later than 40 minutes can cost Keolis $2,500, or $5,000 during peak hours.

    The contract requirements are wide-ranging, and include provisions such as providing enough staff per every 300 customers and making sure seats have been wiped down. A problem with a toilet system, for example, costs Keolis $750, according to the contract.

    The MBTA detailed the reasons for the penalties Friday.

    Failures with “station maintenance” in November cost Keolis the most — $176,000 in fines. In December, Keolis was fined $140,250 for failing to staff its trains with enough workers.

    For both November and December, the T levied the maximum monthly fine for late trains: $434,425.

    In November, Keolis was also fined the maximum $434,425 for other issues, such as cleanliness and staffing. In December, other penalties amounted to $325,750 for such performance issues.

    MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said in a statement that the agency will continue to work with Keolis to improve service and the commuter rail experience for customers.

    “While certain indicators are trending in the right direction, the penalties make it clear that there is much room for improvement,” Pesaturo said.

    Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.