Bidding on contract to operate 2 MARC lines canceled for lack of competition

By Michael Dresser
Baltimore Sun
Monday, November 15, 2010; 8:47 PM

Maryland has canceled the bidding on a contract to take over the operations of the MARC Camden and Brunswick lines from CSX, saying its bid solicitation had failed to generate sufficient competition for the work.

"We were not happy with the competition or lack of competition," said state Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley.

Swaim-Staley said the Maryland Transit Administration would revise its request for proposals in an effort to make it more attractive for bidders. She said it would take "a couple of months" to put the contract back on the market. In all, the decision to rebid the contract could extend CSX's role by a year over previous plans, she said.

For riders, the cancellation could delay the transition to a new operator that presumably would be motivated to improve the service offered by CSX, a freight rail company for which the MARC passenger lines are a vestige of its past.

Swaim-Staley said the state still hopes to improve service on the two lines, which have struggled to maintain acceptable on-time performance numbers.

"That would be the long-term goal," she said. But she noted that whoever eventually takes over as operator will have to deal with the same issues, including track problems, signal malfunctions and competition with freight traffic, that CSX struggles with now.

Rafi Guroian, chairman of the MARC Riders Advisory Council, said he understands that one bidder remained - Keolis Rail Services America-after Amtrak dropped out of the competition.

"It's good they're making sure they have a competitive bidding situation, but I feel this should have been taken care of years ago," he said.

Steve Townsend, president of Keolis Rail, said his company was "disappointed" by the decision to cancel the bidding. "We put a lot of effort. We felt we had a very good proposal," he said.

But Townsend said his company would not be discouraged. "We'll always be in the competition," he said.

The MARC Camden and Brunswick lines are now owned and operated by CSX, which has expressed an intent to get out of the passenger operations side of the business. The Camden Line runs between Baltimore and Washington, while the Brunswick Line extends from Washington to Martinsburg, W.Va.

A third MARC route, the Perryville-to-Washington Penn Line, is operated by Amtrak and was not involved in the solicitation.

CSX is under contract until 2012, but the state has an option for a series of extensions, Swaim-Staley said.

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