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10 facts about the proposed Maryland Purple Line deal

We’re guessing you don’t want to wade through thousands of pages to get the details of Maryland’s proposed $5.6-billion contract with the team of private companies that wants to build and operate the Purple Line. So, we’ve done it for you and we’ve got the juicy details. (Or, at least, as juicy as a public-private partnership contract gets.)

We’re still poring over it — did we mention it’s thousands of pages? — and have been asking the Maryland Department of Transportation lots of questions. The state’s Board of Public Works is expected to approve the deal April 6.

Here are 10 things we thought you’d want to know — and the answers we’ve learned so far:

1)  How much will it cost to ride the Purple Line?

Fares would be $2 in the opening year – or, at least, that’s what the state’s revenue projections are based on. They will increase over time with inflation.

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2) How often will trains run?

Trains would run every 7.5 minutes on weekdays during a 90-minute morning peak and a two-hour evening rush. They would run every 10 minutes during mid-day and early evenings and every 15 minutes in early mornings and later at night. The line, which would run trains between Bethesda and New Carrollton, would operate between 5 a.m. and midnight. The companies would face financial penalties if trains didn’t stay on schedule.

3) Where, exactly, will construction on the light-rail line start, and would the entire 16.2-mile route ever be dug up all at once over the six years?

Construction would begin in Prince George’s County, per assurances that County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said he received in August before he agreed to the county contributing an additional $20 million to construction. The exact start location would be revealed after the public-private partnership deal reached financial close, which is expected in June. MDOT officials say they don’t anticipate construction to occur along all 16.2 miles at any one time. Building would be done in phases to minimize impacts and disruptions “to the extent possible,” MDOT says.

4) Will the Georgetown Branch recreational trail between downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring remain open during construction? 

Because the Purple Line would be built adjacent to a new trail, sections of the trail would be detoured in stages, MDOT says. When parts of the trail need to be closed, alternate detour routes will be provided.

5) Where are most of the details showing what the Purple Line stations would look like?

The bid proposal includes “preliminary design concept drawings” in the form of big blue prints. Because the contract covers final design, MDOT says, some of the details would be finalized over the next one to two years.

6) What will the Purple Line’s light-rail trains look like?

We’d like to show you, but the winning bid team, a group of companies calling themselves Purple Line Transit Partners, wouldn’t grant the Post copyright permission to publish the images contained in the contract. Publishable images will be available in the next few weeks, a team spokeswoman says. You can find renderings on page 432 of the “P3 Agreement” at this link. Light-rail vehicles would have 80 seats. The initial order calls for 25 of them.

7) Who pays for cost overruns?

MDOT says a key benefit of a public-private partnership would be that the concessionaire would have “the majority of the cost risk” for anything over budget, both for the line’s $1.99 billion construction and during the following 30 years of operations and long-term maintenance. The state’s payments to the concessionaire, averaging $150 million annually, would be fixed, MDOT officials say. The “few exceptions” of cost overruns that could be billed to the state include instances in which the state didn’t respond to proposed design changes “on a timely basis” or a new state law that required a change at additional expense.

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8) Can you give me more details about who pays for what?

Building the line over six years is estimated to cost $1.99 billion. The team of companies would finance about half of that via a low-interest federal loan of $875 million and $330 million worth of tax-exempt Private Activity Bonds. The team’s three leading companies also would contribute about $140 million in equity, an arrangement that supporters of public-private partnerships say ensures that the private sector shares in the financial risks. Of that, the French investment firm Meridiam would contribute 70 percent, while Fluor Corporation and Star America would each contribute 15 percent. The companies wouldn’t borrow any of that equity, MDOT says. Much of it includes money from pension funds and insurance companies seeking long-term investments.

9) What costs, exactly, will MDOT’s monthly payments — the ones that would average $150 million annually over 30 years — cover?

MDOT says the payments would break down this way annually:

— $27 million to operate the line

— $29 million to maintain it

— $55 million to pay off the private sector’s construction financing

— $9 million for insurance

— $10 million to replace rail cars, escalators and system fixtures

— $19 million for the companies’ administrative overhead, warranties and return on investment

10) So, where do the private companies make a profit in all this?

The amount of private profit wasn’t separated out in the numbers given to us. MDOT says the profit is included in the $19 million for overhead, warranties and “return on investment.”