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Keolis official says French-owned firm still interested in running MARC lines

ANNAPOLIS – A Keolis Rail Services America official reaffirmed on Friday the railway’s interest in running two MARC commuter rail lines, despite legislative efforts targeting the company’s majority shareholder.

State lawmakers from both parties are pushing legislation that would require the parent company of Keolis, French national railroad SNCF, to fully disclose its activities during the Holocaust between Jan. 1, 1942, and Dec. 31, 1944, before bidding on the MARC service.

A group of Holocaust survivors and families of the victims charge the French railroad, Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français, transported 76,000 people on the first leg of the trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

“Don’t you think people who have committed atrocious crimes, and participated in such horrific things have to disclose it,” Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore city, asked Tuesday.

Conway is the lead sponsor on SB 479.

State and federal legislation has sought a full accounting of SNCF’s role as the railroad has sought billions of dollars in rail contracts in the United States. SNCF owns a majority stake in Keolis, and Keolis was one of the bidders for two MARC lines last year, before the state decided to start the process over.

“We’re still interested, of course,” Keolis President Steve Townsend said Friday. “I think we should have been awarded the contract” the first time.

The problem is one of perception, Townsend said.

“People really don’t know who Keolis is,” he said. “We haven’t done a good job of telling people who Keolis is. We’re a bus and train operator. We have no World War II history.”

SNCF became the majority shareholder of Keolis in March 2010 after closing on a deal that gave the railway 56.7 percent of the shares.

Townsend, a SNCF representative and a group of lawmakers met Thursday in Annapolis to discuss the legislation, but those in attendance declined to make public the result of the meeting.

A hearing is still scheduled on the House version of the bill, HB 520, for Wednesday.