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May 26, 2012

MBTA puts commuter rail out to bid

BOSTON — The MBTA has set in motion a process that could lead to a change in the private company that provides commuter rail service by sometime next summer.

Yesterday, the state sent out a request for qualified bidders, hoping to attract the interest of the national and international railway companies capable of operating one of the largest commuter rail operations in the country.

The system carries 144,000 passengers per day, with service based at two downtown Boston hubs and running on 14 rail lines to 175 Massachusetts cities and towns, including Newburyport's commuter rail line.

Since 2003, the rail system has been run by a Boston-based private consortium that came together specifically to run the suburban lines, called the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company. MBCR's original contract with the T was due to expire in 2008 but was extended until 2013.

"MBCR has always been a reliable and responsive partner with the MBTA," MBCR spokesman Scott Farmelant told the News Service. "Every instance, MBCR has learned lessons and applied them."

In the summer of 2006, the MBTA heard from countless customers about the broken air conditioning in the cars, but by the following year, 98 to 99 percent of the cars had properly working systems, and the most common complaint about air conditioning was the chilliness in the cars, Farmelant said.

While MBCR has reacted to rider demands, other international railway companies have made strides, as well.

"I think it has been the plan for the last couple of years to go out to bid on the contract," said Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, who said there are more credible railway companies now than there were years earlier. "I'm hopeful that there will be a number of bidders."

In planning for its bidding process, the MBTA is considering a longer contract period of up to 15 years, instead of the more standard five- to eight-year contract length. That might attract more bidders, according to a presentation by MassDOT to the MBTA board of directors on Tuesday.

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