After a two-week delay, the state Board of Public Works approved a $205 million contract Wednesday under which an arm of Montreal-based Bombardier Inc. will operate the Camden and Brunswick lines of the MARC commuter train system.
The board's unanimous approval came after concerns over the level of minority business participation in the contract and Bombardier's links with Iran were resolved.
The contract was removed from the board's agenda two weeks ago after the Maryland Minority Contractors Association raised concerns that the roughly 8 percent share of the work earmarked for minority contractors was insufficient. The contract was viewed as especially important to minority businesses because of its dollar value — $205 million for the first five years and eight months, and the same amount if the Maryland Transit Administration renews it for another five years.
Under the contract. Bombardier will take over the passenger train operations of the two MARC lines from CSX Transportation, which has long wanted to get out of that business. CSX will continue to own the tracks and switching system.
Carmina Perez-Fowler, assistant secretary at the Governor's Office of Minority Affairs, said her office investigated the concerns and found that the bulk of the work under the contract — 92 percent — was not suitable for subcontracting.
"We are confident that the vendor did maximize the opportunities" for minorities, Perez-Fowler said. She added that most of the work that could be subcontracted would go to minority firms.
Advocates for the contract also faced questions from state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp about Bombardier's business activities in Iran.
Thomas J. Martin, president of Bombardier Transportation Services USA, said the company is no longer pursuing any work in Iran. He said the company has five small "legacy" contracts — signed before the decision to stop doing business with Iran — under which it is supplying parts for public transit systems.
Martin said none of the contracts violates national or international sanctions against Iran that seek to thwart its suspected development of nuclear weapons. Nor would it conflict with a Maryland law adopted this year that prohibits the state from doing business with companies involved with Iran's energy sector. He assured the board that none of the work involves that sector.
In the end, the board accepted the explanation and voted to approve the contract, putting an end to a years-long effort to find a new operator to replace CSX.
Kopp said her concerns about the pact's compliance with state law had been satisfied.