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M-1 Rail selects vendor to run QLine light rail

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

M-1 Rail has selected a vendor for operations and maintenance of its QLine rail service in Detroit’s downtown.

Transdev Services “will be responsible for all aspects of operations and maintenance, including hiring staff, training and managing streetcar operators, service operations, dispatch, vehicle and track maintenance and fare enforcement,” according to M-1 officials Thursday.

Transdev operates service with 200 contracts in the U.S. and Canada, according to its website, and has recently begun operating streetcars in Atlanta. It also has been running the system in New Orleans for the past seven years and this September will start operating the streetcars in Cincinnati.

In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Paul Childs, the chief operating officer for M-1, said Transdev won out because of its experience around the world.

“They brought an immense among of experience with them and credibility,” Childs said. “It’s important for us to have that kind of credibility because we’re going to working with our friends at the FTA (Federal Transit Administration), and the FTA looks very, very hard in terms of our capability to operate this in a safe and a reasonable environment. So obviously somebody with the experience that Transdev has, it’s very important to us.”

Officials said Transdev’s $15.5 million contract is for five years and is renewable for up to five additional years. The company said it plans to hire 25 people including operators for the streetcars, three to four technicians and a handful of supervisors.

Ken Westbrook, president of Transdev’s rail division, said one thing his company has learned is making sure the rail cars are safe to the public.

“That’s paramount in any streetcar operations,” Westbrook said. “You’re running streetcars in mixed traffic. So safety is paramount. That’s one of the key aspects that the Federal Transit Administration is looking at to make sure you have the capabilities to operate safely.”

Westbrook said it will take six to eight weeks to train the streetcar operators and that helps them become familiarized with the cars.

The Lombard, Illinois-based company claims it’s the largest private sector operator of multiple modes of transit in North America, which includes bus, shuttle, rail, paratransit and sedan and taxi services. They also have experience in fare collection to helping policies and procedures for the operators and maintenance for the streetcars.

Detroit’s 3.3-mile modern streetcar line on Woodward is slated to formally open in 2017. The rail cars will only travel 35 mph and run from downtown Detroit to New Center.

M-1 officials announced in March the formal name of the rail service would be QLine after businessman Dan Gilbert’s Quicken Loans came up with the moniker.

Gilbert has been a large financial contributor to the $137 million line and his company acquired the naming rights for $5 million.

M-1 Rail officials hired Brookville Equipment Corp. to design and build six streetcars for $32 million.

Officials expect construction of the streetcars to be finished by the fall. They should be operational after a series of tests by spring 2017.

lfleming@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2620

Twitter: @leonardnfleming