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Vote on MARC operator delayed by Board of Public Works

ANNAPOLIS — The Board of Public Works delayed a decision Wednesday that would have awarded a Pennsylvania rail company the right to operate MARC’s Camden and Brunswick lines.

Horsham, Pa.-based Bombardier Transportation Services USA Corp. — a subsidiary of Bombardier Inc., a Montreal-based rail technology company — was selected last month by the Maryland Transit Administration to run the commuter rail lines over the length of a $204.7 million, five-year, eight-month contract that included a five-year, $205 million option.

The board, comprised of Gov. Martin O’Malley, Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot, has final say on state procurements.

The contract award first found the spotlight in 2010, when a frontrunner was revealed to have ties to the Holocaust, sending a ripple effect through Annapolis and setting the MARC award back almost two years.

The contract was modified Wednesday to increase the required MBE participation rate to 7.97 percent from 7 percent, a change that an MTA spokesman said caused the voting delay.

Terry Owens, the spokesman, said the rate revision came in response to questions from a minority business organization, but he could not name that organization.

Owens added that the agency would continue to address those questions over the next two weeks before presenting the contract to the board at its next meeting on Oct. 17. He could not say whether the required MBE participation percentage would change again before that meeting, and wouldn’t address whether there were other questions being asked about the procurement.

Takirra Winfield, a spokeswoman for O’Malley, said the item was withdrawn from Wednesday’s agenda because “more discussion” was needed.

The postponed vote has added further delay to an already star-crossed MTA contract.

In June 2010, after CSX Transportation Inc. told the state it wanted to get out of the commuter rail business, a Rockville-based subsidiary of the French national railroad, SNCF, said it was a finalist to win the operations contract. The request for proposals was ultimately scrapped in December 2010, officials said, in order to drum up more competition.

SNCF became the majority shareholder of Keolis Rail Services America LLC in March 2010, following a deal that gave the railway 56.7 percent of Keolis’ shares.

But Holocaust survivors demanded during the 2011 General Assembly that lawmakers force SNCF to disclose its cooperation with the Nazis as a condition for bidding on future RFP.

A group of lawmakers sponsored a bill — which passed, and was signed into law by O’Malley — that forced SNCF to disclose its part in the Holocaust as a precursor to bidding on the MARC contract.

From 1942 to 1944, during World War II, 76,000 people were herded into cattle cars owned by the French national railroad and sent to the French border. German engineers then drove the trains to concentration camps.

Keolis came in second place, bidding $218.4 million. Silver Spring-based Veolia/Connex Railroad LLC was a distant third, bidding $265.5 million.

CSX has been operating the Camden and Brunswick lines on a two-year, $118 million contract.