Commuter rail firm gets contract extension

Company to run service until 2013

By Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / January 7, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

  • E-mail|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

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

The firm, Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., has had a rocky run at times, with significant delays in fall 2007 that followed constant air- conditioning failures over a long hot summer in 2006.

The MBTA’s board approved the contract by a 3-to-0 vote yesterday without any prior notice to the public, which at times has complained bitterly about the rail service. State officials said they brought the contract to the board for approval without putting it on the public agenda, and as yesterday’s monthly meeting was about to end, because they were negotiating until the final hours. The MBTA’s commuter rail serves about 70,000 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 was late.

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

Jeffrey Mullan, 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 the commuter rail until July 2013, at a combined cost of $559.7 million for the final two years.

The T plans to solicit new bids for the service, the largest private commuter rail contract in the country, in time for when the extension expires in 2013. A new company may take over service if Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. has a losing bid

Richard Davey, general manager for Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., said the company has worked hard over the past 18 months to improve service and will continue to work with the T.

The T also announced new service improvements. Beginning today on the Greenbush, Kingston/Plymouth, and Middleborough/Lakeville lines, commuters will see a countdown clock on the platforms that will tell them exactly when their trains will arrive. All 13 lines are expected to have the technology by the middle of next month.

In addition, the T plans to launch a low-frequency AM radio broadcast at some stations that will let commuters hear when the trains are arriving without getting out of their cars, allowing them to stay warm and dry during bad weather.

That plan will be rolled out at Anderson Regional Transportation Center in Woburn later this month and at other stations with at least 50 parking spots soon after, the MBTA announced.

Noah Bierman can be reached at