DOT: Amtrak’s history not a factor in selection of joint venture to operate CTtrail Hartford Line

DOT: Amtrak’s history not a factor in selection of joint venture to operate CTtrail Hartford Line


Amtrak’s history in Connecticut wasn’t a factor in the state’s decision to choose a joint venture of two smaller companies to operate the CTrail Hartford Line, the state Department of Transportation said Tuesday.

Amtrak, which owns the rail infrastructure linking New Haven, Hartford and Springfield, was among six bidders to operate the line, which is expected to begin service next May. Amtrak will continue to provide maintenance, dispatching and security for the line.

Rich Andreski, the DOT’s public transportation bureau chief, said the agency’s cost-benefit analysis instead considered factors such as the experience and qualifications of management teams, which led to the agreement with TransitAmerica Services and Alternative Concepts that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Monday in Wallingford.

“So much of running a railroad is the on-the-ground experience,” Andreski said, adding the two companies included in their proposal a management team experienced in working with start-up rail ventures.

Amtrak has received plenty of criticism over its operations in Connecticut, both from commuters and from public officials.

Malloy even wrote a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration in May 2015 saying Amtrak’s lack of maintenance on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line required so much work that service would be delayed from late 2016 to January 2018. The date was pushed out again until May 2018 to allow for double-tracking between Hartford and Windsor, Malloy announced Monday.

In the 2015 letter, Malloy also said the total cost of the project jumped by roughly $250 million to $623 million because of the additional work needed along the railroad, which Amtrak owns.

Andreski said DOT officials only focused on the information provided in the six applications. Other applicants were the U.S. operations for French company Keolis and Germany’s Bombardier, as well as First Transit, the FirstGroup subsidiary best known for its bus services.

“For the purposes of being objective, in terms of what’s being presented by each firm, we didn’t bring into the conversations of what experiences we had with each of the firms, to the extent that we had any,” Andreski said.

The Record-Journal on Monday requested, under the Freedom of Information Act, all six submissions and the service agreement with the joint venture. The DOT said an agency lawyer needs to review the documents for trade secrets exempt from public disclosure before they could be released.

Andreski said the joint-venture separated itself in the scores generated by the evaluations — 70 percent of the grade was based on the logistics of the proposal, with the remaining 30 percent based on cost — because of its experiences running new rail operations.

Among the 20 combined rail clients the two companies have operated for a total of 57 million riders nationally, 11 were startup services. Andreski said the management team in Amtrak’s proposal, meanwhile, didn’t have the type of experience Connecticut was looking for.

“Amtrak is a legacy railroad,” he said. “They’ve been doing it for lots of years, lots of great experience, but when you’re starting up a new service there’s a lengthy regulatory process,” including a 130-point checklist from the Federal Railroad Administration.

A spokesperson for Amtrak said in a statement Tuesday that the company is “looking forward to working with” the joint venture.

“We’re thankful for the partnership between CTDOT, Amtrak and the FRA that has allowed Amtrak forces to make great progress rebuilding and expanding this line in anticipation of a successful launch of this new service,” the spokesman, Mike Tolbert, said.

While DOT says Amtrak’s history wasn’t a factor, that didn’t stop Jim Gildea, chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, from saying the state made the right decision in opting for a different operator.

“I would say surprised, but not disappointed,” he said of his reaction to Monday’s announcement. He was highly critical of Amtrak’s performance on the Shoreline East line, which runs from New Haven to New London, saying the company has “a less than desirable customer service attitude.”

Andreski defended Amtrak’s Shoreline East performance, saying the company is an easy target for criticism but scores well in on-board customer satisfaction surveys. “I found the scores were above the norm of what you’d expect to see,” he said. 203-317-2266 Twitter: @reporter_savino

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