bart_generic.jpgAfter a lengthy and testy hearing, BART directors voted unanimously today to award a contract to build a fleet of new rail cars to Bombardier, a Canadian rail car manufacturer.
The cost of the contract is $896 million plus taxes and escalation contingencies.

The contract calls for building 410 train cars and having them in service in 2017. They will replace BART’s existing fleet of 40-year-old cars, which the transit agency says are the oldest in the nation by 10 years.

BART also wants to buy an additional 366 cars that would go into service in 2023. The contract for those cars hasn’t yet been awarded.

BART’s projected total cost for buying 776 cars is $2.5 billion.

At issue today was an appeal by some board members and many speakers for BART to reject Bombardier’s bid because its cars will only have 66 percent of their components made domestically and accept the bid from the French firm Alstom, which promises to supply cars that would be 95 percent American.

BART staff members said they recommended Bombardier because its bid was $184 million lower than Alstom’s and it had the highest score in a rating system that considered eight factors, including price, experience and past performance and design details.

They said Bombardier is complying with “Buy America” regulations, which require that 60 percent of the components be made domestically and 100 percent of the assembly to take place in the U.S.

Three directors–James Fang, Lynette Sweet and John McPartland said BART should extend its bidding process because Alstom has said it will improve its bid so it costs less.

But BART staff members said extending the bidding process would violate the agency’s bidding rules and the only legal way to extend the process would be to throw out all the bids and start a new process that would take another two years.

Director Thomas Blalock said, “We need new cars sooner rather than later and we can’t afford to delay the process.”

Director Joel Keller agreed, saying, “We owe it to our riders to get new cars soon because our fleet is aging and any delay will impact our on-time performance.”

Director James Fang proposed extending the bidding process for 11 weeks to give Bombardier, Alstom and Hyundai Rotem, a South Korean company, time to make a final offer that might lower the price for BART.

But the board voted 6-2, with Sweet abstaining, to reject that proposal after BART legal counsel Matthew Burrows said the bidding process was already over and it would be a violation of procedures to accept new bids after the fact.

After the meeting, Director Gail Murray said she didn’t want to follow the example of a transit agency in the Miami area that changed its bidding rules in the middle of the process and lost federal funds because federal transit officials ruled they had violated procedures.

“I’m not willing to risk $871 million,” Murray said, referring to the federal funds that BART hopes to receive to help pay for the rail cars.

But McPartland, the board’s president, said he was willing to risk a legal battle over extending the bidding process if it meant that BART could get a lower bid.

He said he thinks BART could have legally extended the process for another 11 weeks, saying, “I wish we would have been able to do that.”

Alliance for American Manufacturing Executive Director Scott Paul said in a statement after the meeting, “The fact that BART elected to go with a new rail car that includes a substantial amount of outsourced parts and production shows just how weak our Buy America laws are. We’re very disappointed.”

Sweet pointed out that both Alstom and Bombardier said they would assemble the new train cars in upstate New York.

“The jobs are not local,” she said.

Director Robert Raburn said he had suggested assembling the cars at the former NUMMI auto plant in Fremont but he learned that federal rules bar transit agencies from dictating where rail cars are built.

Raburn said, “You have to abide by the process and we cannot play fast and loose with public monies.”

Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

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