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Boston MBTA extends operator contract

 

BOSTON -- The private company that runs the MBTA’s commuter rail system has won a second two-year contract extension, with promises that company officials would build on service improvements they have made in the past year, reports the Boston Globe.

The company, the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., has had a rocky run at times. Trains had significant delay problems in fall 2007 that followed constant air conditioning failures over a long hot summer in 2006.

The MBTA’s board approved the contract without any prior notice to the public, which at times has complained bitterly about the rail service. Officials said they brought the contract to the board for approval without putting it on the public agenda because they were negotiating until the final hours leading up to the meeting.

 

 The MBTA's commuter rail serves about 70,000 commuters a day.

 

Commuter rail air conditioners have been working very well in recent summers, with few complaints. And on-time performance, though it still has not met the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's 95 percent goal, was just under 90 percent for 2009, meaning about one in 10 trains was at least five minutes late. During some months in 2007, more than one in four trains were counted late.

After adjustments made by the T to account for delays considered outside the company’s control, the on-time performance for 2009 was counted as 95 percent for the year.

Jeffrey Mullan, the state transportation secretary, said service has improved, but the rail company knows it has to get better. “I don’t think anybody would say it’s good enough,” Mullan said.

The newest contract extension, the second since the company took over service, allows the contractor to run commuter rail until July 2013, at a combined cost of $559.7 million for the final two years. In the meantime, the T plans to solicit new bids for the service, the largest private commuter rail contract in the country, in time for a new company to take over service in the event that MBCR loses out.

Richard Davey, general manager for MBCR, said the company has worked hard over the last 18 months to improve service, and will continue to work with the T to improve it further. “You’re only as good as your last rush hour,” Davey said.

John D. Ray, the T’s chief of rail operations who oversees the contract, said the rail contractor has been saddled with old trains and equipment, which affects its ability to run without delays. But the two parties have put an emphasis on spending money to address problems that affect reliability, and the contract extension calls for more of those improvements.

 

(The preceding article was published by the Boston Globe.)

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