Category Archives: Local News

Congress members call on Maryland to ‘reevaluate’ Purple Line bidder


Two members of Congress have asked Maryland transportation officials to “reevaluate” a firm bidding on a contract to build and operate the light-rail Purple Line because its majority owner once transported prisoners to Nazi death camps during the Holocaust.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) wrote to Maryland Transportation Secretary James T. Smith Jr. on Jan. 27, asking for the review.

The company in question, Keolis, is a member of one of four consortiums recently chosen by Maryland transportation officials to bid on a public-private partnership to design, build, operate, maintain and help finance a 16-mile Purple Line between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF), which owns 70 percent of Keolis, was paid to transport 76,000 prisoners to Nazi death camps in World War II, according to historians.

State officials have said they expect to choose a private partner on the $2.2-billion transit proposal by early 2015. The partnership likely would be a 35-year contract that could be valued at more than $6-billion, one of the largest contracts ever in Maryland. State officials also are seeking $900-million in federal grants and a low-interest federal loan as part of the public-private plan.

“If awarded, the State of Maryland’s contract with SNCF for the Purple Line may be paid out of the very pockets of taxpayers who the company once willingly transported to the death camps,” the letter said. “While we look forward to the innovative Purple Line, we do not believe that it should be done through the partnership of Keolis as an entity of SNCF until its victims are awarded their long overdue justice.”

The letter asks Smith “to take into consideration the relationship between Keolis and SNCF as it reviews finalists for the Purple Line.”

Keolis officials have said the company, which was founded in the late 1990s, had nothing to do with the Holocaust. SNCF officials have said the French government has paid billions in reparations to Holocaust victims and their families for deportations that occurred under the Nazi-backed Vichy government during World War II.

SNCF’s chairman issued a formal apology to Holocaust victims in 2011.

“I understand their feelings, and I respect their feelings,” ­Alain Leray, president of SNCF America in Rockville, has said of Holocaust survivors. “It’s a highly emotional issue. . . . If it’s a historical issue, let’s deal with it. If it’s a commercial issue, let’s deal with it. But mixing one with the other doesn’t seem like a good idea.”

Keolis first drew scrutiny in the Washington region in 2010, when a Holocaust survivors group protested its winning of an $85 million contract to operate Virginia Railway Express trains, its first U.S. rail contract. Earlier this month, Keolis won a $2.68 billion contract to operate its second U.S. system, Boston’s commuter rail. SNCF has no U.S. rail contracts, Leray said.

2011 Maryland law that requires companies bidding on state commuter rail (MARC) contracts to disclose any ties to the Holocaust targeted a Keolis bid to operate two MARC lines. That contract went to a lower bidder.

Last year, Maloney and Ros-Lehtinen introduced legislation that would allow Holocaust victims and their families to seek damages against SNCF in U.S. courts.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles

Many long-anticipated changes are coming to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Streetcars are expected to begin service on H Street NE and the Silver Line is slated to start running to Reston and Tyson’s Corner. New fare cards and rail cars are also in the works systemwide. But many old problems and concerns about on-time performance, maintenance and safety remain. Kojo and WAMU 88.5 reporter Martin DiCaro talk with Metro General Manager Richard Sarles about where the system is headed.


Richard Sarles

General Manager and Chief Executive Officer, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)

Martin Di Caro

Transportation Reporter, WAMU

Related Links

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles explains why WMATA doesn’t use the transportation industry’s standard for measuring on-time performance. Sarles said WMATA compares measurements against their own internal numbers, rather than industry numbers, to check improvement. “The standard we use was here before I got here,” Sarles said.

Park service planning to charge for parking around Mall

The National Park Service has scheduled a public meeting for Feb. 11 to discuss its plan to install parking meters at various points around the National Mall later this year.

Multi-space meter
The meters would be the multi-space style, similar to those near
Nationals Park. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

The meters would require drivers to pay for what is now free parking on Madison and Jefferson drives near the Smithsonian museums, on Constitution Avenue north of the Lincoln and Vietnam memorials, around the Tidal Basin, on Ohio Drive and on a short stretch of parkway along the Potomac River northwest of the Lincoln Memorial.

The park service lists three goals for this program: Manage the parking turnover so more visitors can use the spaces, encourage people to take transit, rather than drive, and raise money to improve transportation services around the Mall.

The District government and the park service also are working on a plan to recreate a National Mall route for the D.C. Circulator buses in 2015. When the Circulator buses first began operating a few years ago, there was such a route, but the District Department of Transportation eventually shut it down because it wasn’t attracting enough riders.

Like almost all public transit, this bus route probably would operate at a loss, but the parking meter revenue could help subsidize it.

The parking meters would be the multi-space kind, with a single kiosk dispensing receipts that drivers can place on their dashboards.

Like the meter style, the rates, hours and days would be similar to those in the rest of downtown Washington, but they have not yet been set, according to the park service. The park police would be responsible for enforcement.

The park service has been working for years on plans to better manage the crowded streets around the national memorials, museums and open space.
According to a 2006 transportation study, the park service manages 14 miles of roads within the National Mall and memorials area, which includes 1,900 now-free parking spaces, about 400 of them on the Mall near the museums.

In this area, the park service has long faced some of the same traffic problems as in the Acadia, Zion and Grand Canyon national parks: At popular tourist times, people can’t easily get around in vehicles. In other settings, the park service has banned traffic and required visitors to board shuttle buses. The plan for the National Mall would offer new access to transit — the Circulator buses — while discouraging long-term parking through the use of meters.

The Feb. 11 meeting to discuss the plan is scheduled for 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the cafeteria at the park service’s National Capital Region headquarters, 1100 Ohio Dr. SW.

Weather causes road problems, school and flight delays

Light snowfall in the D.C. region overnight created challenges for commuters Wednesday morning, as some schools closed and others announced delayed openings, airlines canceled flights and police closed a usually busy ramp onto the southbound lanes of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway because of downed wires in the roadway.

U.S. Park Police said the wires toppled overnight onto the ramp that leads to the parkway from Route 193 in Greenbelt. They are not sure when the ramp will re-open, as they are waiting on a repair crew.

Police warned drivers throughout the region to use caution because some roads are slick and icy.

Metro had troubles on four of its five lines Wednesday morning due to the extreme cold weather.

VRE sent an email alert Wednesday morning to its passengers warning that power is out at its stop at the L’Enfant Station at 6th and C streets SW. VRE officials said riders should use caution when getting on and off trains because the platforms are dark.

Schools are closed in Prince William, Stafford and Culpeper counties. Schools in Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Howard, Frederick and Arlington counties, and in Alexandria, are opening two hours late.

Air travel has been affected by the latest round of snowfall. About 250 flights across the country were delayed and another 950 were canceled as a result of the winter weather, according to FlightAware.

Eighteen flights were canceled at Ronald Reagan National Airport. Another 15 were canceled at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and four were canceled at Washington Dulles International.

For more transportation-related stories, click here. For updates on the Washington weather forecast, go to the Washington post’s Capital Weather Gang.