MBTA to Continue to Contract Commuter Rail (Veolia/MBCR)

Discussion relating to commuter rail, light rail, and subway operations of the MBTA.

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MBTA to Continue to Contract Commuter Rail (Veolia/MBCR)

Postby Teamdriver » Sat Jan 07, 2012 10:51 am

''BOSTON—MBTA management has ruled out the possibility of taking over direct operation of the state's commuter rail network. Instead, officials say they may seek a longer-term contract with a private operator. ''

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massac ... News_links
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Re: MBTA nixes takeover, ponders next rail contract

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Sat Jan 07, 2012 11:15 am

Oh FFS, those idiots don't have the option of staying the course for fear of change. What is "too risky" here when MBCR got vociferously faulted for a big slice of the winter delays by prioritizing profit squeezes over basic maintenance. Do they not see a little unsolvable structural problem here that a pure for-profit operator by definition is going to value profit margin over all else, pretty-pleases be damned? There is a damn good reason why EVERY other transit agency in the top-tier of nationwide ridership runs its own show. The powers that be aren't even trying to feign like they gave serious thought to weighing the alternatives with that terse blanket statement.

Legislative hearing, NOW please! Blow up this whole stinking status quo and shake it to the core. There is no other way it'll change without intervention from the top.
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Re: MBTA nixes takeover, ponders next rail contract

Postby ns3010 » Sat Jan 07, 2012 11:50 am

Of every large commuter rail system in the country (maybe with the exception of Metra), the MBTA is the only one who contracts their services out. While it may not be worth it for smaller systems to develop a whole operating department, there is just about no reason that the T can't or shouldn't do it. If they did everything themselves, then they will have everything done their way, won't have to pay more to compromise. When contracting out, it's not the contracting that eats up the money, it's the problems. If the T handled their own operations, then they could have operations done how they want them done, and maintenance could be handled in a way that is most cost efficient for the T. They could better maintain their equipment and maybe extend the service life by a few years, instead of having an outside company defer maintenance and say "It's not our problem." In the long run, things will be a lot better for the T, and in turn, the taxpayers of Massachusetts.

Also, a long-term contract spells nothing but trouble. If the T ran into trouble with the contractor in the first five years of the contract, then they would have nothing but 5-25 years of hell ahead of them.
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Re: MBTA nixes takeover, ponders next rail contract

Postby jaymac » Sat Jan 07, 2012 11:58 am

More Commonwealth involvement is the only way that major beneficial changes at the T will happen. The umbrellarization of transportation agencies and jurisdictions under the DOT is still going through it initial stages, and any messages from on high are probably a bit in the future. Also in the future is most probably more Commonwealth direct support. The increase in taxes that this would require will have to wait until at least one election cycle has gone by. On a number of fronts, earlier T management had demonstrated managerial and administrative problems, and it is actually good cover for the current power structure to have a contractor around to serve as a punching bag.
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Re: MBTA nixes takeover, ponders next rail contract

Postby MACTRAXX » Sat Jan 07, 2012 1:03 pm

ns3010 wrote:Of every large commuter rail system in the country (maybe with the exception of Metra), the MBTA is the only one who contracts their services out. While it may not be worth it for smaller systems to develop a whole operating department, there is just about no reason that the T can't or shouldn't do it. If they did everything themselves, then they will have everything done their way, won't have to pay more to compromise. When contracting out, it's not the contracting that eats up the money, it's the problems. If the T handled their own operations, then they could have operations done how they want them done, and maintenance could be handled in a way that is most cost efficient for the T. They could better maintain their equipment and maybe extend the service life by a few years, instead of having an outside company defer maintenance and say "It's not our problem." In the long run, things will be a lot better for the T, and in turn, the taxpayers of Massachusetts.

Also, a long-term contract spells nothing but trouble. If the T ran into trouble with the contractor in the first five years of the contract, then they would have nothing but 5-25 years of hell ahead of them.


NS: METRA directly operates parts of its system-Milwaukee District N&W,Rock Island District,Metra Electric and SouthWest Service...
The Chicago RTA created a operating company for the MW and RI services initially: The Northeast Illinois Rail Corporation (NIRC)...

The big two METRA contract operations are the BNSF Aurora Line and the three former C&NW routes operated by Union Pacific...

With the financial problems that the MBTA is having it may pay for the MBTA to directly take over the Commuter Rail operations-perhaps
creating its own operating Corporation: "Massachusetts Bay Regional Rail Corporation" to operate the system...Another option is to take over
just half of the system and contract out operating the other...or the new MBRRC can have two distinct divisions: N and S...

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Re: MBTA nixes takeover, ponders next rail contract

Postby CRail » Sat Jan 07, 2012 6:12 pm

jaymac wrote:...and it is actually good cover for the current power structure to have a contractor around to serve as a punching bag.


This is probably either THE reason or at least a major one of a number of reasons why they've made this decision. The T is constantly a target for criticism, some rightfully, and some not. With the Commuter Rail comes a new set of scrutiny that upper management may not be willing to bear. Although part of me doesn't blame them, I still think the takeover is something that should be done.

The only contractor I see feasible is Amtrak, because it is not a for profit corporation (Some federal administrations like to forget that, but fortunately our current isn't one of them). Conrail perhaps back in the day being Amtrak's freight counterpart, but being a freight railroad that wouldn't make sense nor is it relevant anyways since they don't really exist any longer.

If another entity were created whether it be a single government owned/controlled one like the MBRRC suggested above, or a conglomerate made up of at least 1 Gov't body and 1 actual functioning railroad (none of MBCR's parent companies are either), I could see a feasible company doing a decent job. I'd also like to see some type of "Buy American" type clause which requires the company(ies) running the system to be from here (2 of the 3 current contractor's parents are not), otherwise we're continuing to send state funds to other countries. In any event, more thought and more strict prerequisites must be carefully encompassed in the new contract bidding to prevent the problems we have with MBCR from surviving them.
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Re: MBTA nixes takeover, ponders next rail contract

Postby R36 Combine Coach » Sat Jan 07, 2012 6:44 pm

MARC is also a contract operated service, with Penn Line (Amtrak) and Camden/Brunswick Lines by CSX.
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Re: MBTA nixes takeover, ponders next rail contract

Postby obienick » Sat Jan 07, 2012 10:09 pm

Great. Longer-term contracts mean less accountability. Which in turn means worse service.
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Re: MBTA nixes takeover, ponders next rail contract

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Sat Jan 07, 2012 10:20 pm

R36 Combine Coach wrote:MARC is also a contract operated service, with Penn Line (Amtrak) and Camden/Brunswick Lines by CSX.


That's a little different because MARC (#9 in ridership) splits its operator contracts by who owns the lines. Seattle Sounder (#13, BNSF), Minneapolis Northstar (#19, BNSF) also use the line owner.

The nearest analogies to the T in the Top 20 are CalTrain (#7, TransitAmerica taking over from Amtrak this year), VRE (#10, Veolia), Miami Tri-Rail (#11, Veolia), Dallas TRE (#14, Herzog), San Diego COASTER (#15, TransitAmerica), New Mexico RailRunner (#17, Herzog), and San Jose ACE (#18, TransitAmerica). Veolia is one-third of the MBCR partnership and holds thousands of route miles of bus and rail operator contracts worldwide, but this is the only one they hold in this country as a third wheel instead of as a primary controlling party. Alternative Concepts (a.k.a. Paul Revere Transit) are the local partners calling the shots for MBCR. Veolia teamed with Connex RR to win the L.A. Metrolink contract from Amtrak in 2005 then infamously lost it back to Amtrak in the ugly fallout of the fatal 2008 Chatsworth wreck.

Those 7 total 3rd-party (non-Amtrak, non-Class I) operators in the Top 20 have fewer riders combined than the T. We have 3 times as much as Caltrain, and they don't even complete their transition out of lame-duck Amtrak for a couple more months. We've got over 7x VRE's ridership. And the only Frankenstein partnership to win one by the same shotgun-marriage setup was the Metrolink deal, which is not a comparison anyone in railroading wants to invite. And no private operator whatsoever has the extra conflict of interest of holding equipment contracts for the RR it's contracted to run like MBCR with Bombardier.



Why are they news-dumping this on the Friday of the same week of the Doomsday Cuts? The CR contract was supposed to be one of the primary lines of questioning for the Legislative hearings about the T's finances, if our car-crashing Lt. Governor is to be believed. So now they're yanking this off the table in the very same 1-2 designed to force the Legislative hearings in the first place? Whose interest does that serve to shove under the carpet the obvious questions about just how weird this operator setup truly is. I expect we'll hear a lot of blather about how "open bidding" will cure all. But if Veolia's already got its fingers in there as the third wheel, and the instant case against a TransitAmerica, Herzog, etc. is that they don't know the system like "the locals" do. Amtrak will not make a competitive bid, not just because of hard feelings over last time but also because the national passenger railroad won't risk its service reputation running somebody else's broken equipment without toothy capital guarantees the T is in no position to legally commit to. So...MBCR. Probably an incentive/penalty-laden deal that looks all nice but doesn't truly have any harder metrics for enforcing the penalties or withholding the incentives. For 10 years.

This is what open bidding looks like.

Blow it up. This was the status quo now, status quo forever salvo signaling that nobody in a cushy position feels overly threatened by the financial crisis. Blow every little compromised bit of it up, and gut this rotting fish from the head down. It's the only way.
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Re: MBTA nixes takeover, ponders next rail contract

Postby M&Eman » Sat Jan 07, 2012 11:48 pm

The T should either go in-house or go Amtrak. There is no Class-1 involved (we own all the track except S. Attleboro-Wickford). Amtrak already has an operational presence in Boston. Third-parties are bad news. As mentioned before, the T is large enough for an in-house operation to be economical. If need be for legal/labor purposes, spin off the RR from the transit operations along the lines of the MTA in New York.
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Re: MBTA nixes takeover, ponders next rail contract

Postby octr202 » Mon Jan 09, 2012 10:15 am

The powers-that-be are looking at the long term contracting arrangement. In a nutshell, they're looking for an arrangement where the contractor (think concessionaire) buys the equipment and charges it back to the T over the life of a 25-40 year contract. The theory being that the private company has better and freer access to capital funding than the state does. I'm not sure I buy it - sounds to me like another case of upping the level of outsourcing, setting the state up to get fleeced in the long run. It's nothing like the Big Dig arrangements, but I can't help the feeling that we're getting into something similar, where the unintended consequences aren't fully know and won't hit until years down the road.

The only example of such a contract (to my knowledge) is Denver's Eagle P3 project: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eagle_P3

Note who some of the firms are that are part of Denver's consortium.
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Re: MBTA nixes takeover, ponders next rail contract

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Mon Jan 09, 2012 1:05 pm

octr202 wrote:Note who some of the firms are that are part of Denver's consortium.


"Open bidding." Image

If they're going to plant MBCR a big wet kiss the same week of the opening salvo of winter service f'ups, it would be a little less insulting if they didn't go full-tongue with it in full view of their beleaguered customers.
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Re: MBTA nixes takeover, ponders next rail contract

Postby MACTRAXX » Tue Jan 10, 2012 9:58 pm

Everyone: I agree with the mention of Amtrak operating the MBTA Commuter Rail services under contract again...
To me the only other option is having the MBTA assume direct control of the CR system...

I wonder if anyone here thinks that replacing Amtrak as the Commuter Rail contractor was
a mistake by the MBTA...Thoughts anyone?

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Re: MBTA to Continue to Contract Commuter Rail in the Future

Postby agarturbo » Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:30 pm

As I recall, AMTRAK wasn't "replaced". Their contract expired and they declined to bid on the new one. Others will know more about this, but I believe that their relationship with the MBTA was a stormy one. FWIW - I rode the Fitchburg line while AMTRAK was the contractor and I have to say that the only difference that I noticed between service then and now is that jewelry worn on the conductor's uniform is different.
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Re: MBTA nixes takeover, ponders next rail contract

Postby Matthew Mitchell » Wed Jan 11, 2012 8:09 pm

octr202 wrote:The powers-that-be are looking at the long term contracting arrangement. In a nutshell, they're looking for an arrangement where the contractor (think concessionaire) buys the equipment and charges it back to the T over the life of a 25-40 year contract. The theory being that the private company has better and freer access to capital funding than the state does.

I can't speak to this specific deal, but it is sometimes the case that the private sector can make deals the public sector can't. Depreciation, taxes, and other stuff. So it's not out of the realm of possibility.
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