Thursday, November 05, 2009

VRE spurns Amtrak challenge on operator choice

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Virginia Railway Express officials have denied Amtrak's challenge to a plan to have an international company operate the commuter rail service's trains. Amtrak is contesting VRE's plan to award a five-year, $85 million contract to Keolis Rail Services America to operate VRE trains, succeeding Amtrak, which held the operations contract for 17 years. Keolis would assume operations next July.

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Amtrak says some "improper scoring" may have occurred when VRE reviewed the four applications for the operation and maintenance contract that the regional rail agency put out to bid in May. VRE Chief Executive Dale Zehner reviewed the procurement process and found Amtrak's challenge to have no merit, VRE spokesman Mark Roeber said. 

Amtrak also failed to challenge the Oct. 16 decision within the 10 days allotted in VRE's request for bids, according to a letter Zehner sent to Amtrak on Nov. 2.

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In a letter to commission members and other Virginia officials, the Federal Railroad Administration’s chief counsel said that, although the agency has no opinion on the suitability of Keolis, it is concerned about maintaining safety .It said the company selected for the contract must be able to communicate not only with Amtrak, which dispatches trains in and out of Amtrak’s Union Stationin Washington, D.C., but also with Norfolk Southern and CSX, landlords of the rail lines used by VRE.

Amtrak also has filed a Freedom of Information Act request last month asking VRE to turn over copies of Keolis's proposal and evaluators' notes and score sheets. Zehner said in his letter that the request would be met once the two commissions vote on the contract.