A new operator to run Caltrain has been selected by rail officials, potentially ousting Amtrak after a 20-year relationship, Caltrain management announced.
A proposed contract has been negotiated with TransitAmerica Services Inc. of St. Joseph, Mo. Caltrain management will recommend the contract for approval to the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board at its Sept. 1 meeting, the rail's managers said.
Amtrak has operated the rail system since 1992, when the Joint Powers Board assumed responsibility for the iconic 148-year-old Peninsula commuter line.
If the contract is approved, the new operator will transition into its role during a five-month period. Amtrak would continue to operate the railroad during that time. Federal regulations provide job protections for current employees, according to Caltrain officials.
"The contribution of Amtrak to the Caltrain service can never be fully measured. The successes enjoyed by Caltrain are due in significant part to the partnership between Amtrak and the agency, and we are grateful for all Amtrak has done," Caltrain Executive Director Michael J. Scanlon said.
Peninsula Corridor Rail Services, Inc., a partnership between Amtrak and rail car manufacturer Bombardier, was one of four firms to make a final contract offer.
Scanlon said the choice was a business decision. Caltrain has faced operational and infrastructure deficits that have threatened the rail line with serious service reductions and potential closure in recent years.
"This decision is not about rejecting any of the proposers. It is about selecting a firm that provided the most effective plan for the best value," Scanlon said.
"This is a contractor with the experience, the know-how and the vision to assist Caltrain in operating a system that provides opportunities for improvements, expansion, cost and operational efficiencies and to continue and enhance the long-established Caltrain culture of safety first," he said.
TransitAmerica has a demonstrated track record of success operating other commuter rail systems across the country, including San Diego's Coaster, Dallas' Trinity Railway Express (TRE) and New Mexico's Rail Runner Express, Caltrain officials said.
TransitAmerica would receive $62.5 million for fiscal year 2013, the first year of a 5-year contract. Each additional year is based on subsequent contract amounts are subject to annual negotiations, according to Caltrain.
Officials said the selection process was competitive and took more than 15 months. It included detailed and expert evaluation of five proposals from top rail-management firms. Evaluations were in several key areas, including safety, finance, operations, maintenance and customer service.
"TransitAmerica simply provided the best solution for our railroad. TransitAmerica demonstrated that they were the most aligned with our vision for the operation of Caltrain. Their plans for Caltrain clearly are the best value offered by any of the proposers," he said.
The five-year contract, with five one-year options, includes the daily staffing and operations of trains, inspection and maintenance of tracks, the passenger-rail vehicle fleet, rights of way, structures, the signaling and communication network, stations, and other facilities.
"Amtrak is disappointed in the decision and believe we offered Caltrain a strong proposal as part of our Peninsula Corridor Rail Services joint venture with Bombardier. Amtrak appreciates the opportunity we have had to partner with Caltrain and serve its passengers for many years. We wish Caltrain a bright future and will work with them and the new contractor on a smooth transition," Amtrak officials said in a written request for comment.
Caltrain officials also announced Thursday it has been selected by the Federal Transit Administration to receive $750,000 to develop a comprehensive maintenance-management program. Caltrain was one of six in the country selected to participate in the $3 million pilot program.
The funds will be used to develop a program to track the condition and maintenance of the railroad's physical assets, which includes everything from railroad ties and signals to benches on station platforms. Caltrain has 55 miles of track, 31 stations and more than 50 crossings, officials said.