There have been rumors flowing around about a possible back-door attempt by SEPTA to award the Silverliner V contract to a group led by a Korean firm with minimal experience in rail car building in North America. A group called United Transit Systems LLC, which includes the Korean firm Rotem, will be awarded the Silverliner V contract at the next SEPTA Board rubber-stamp meeting. Some of the circumstances appear to be ethically questionable at best.
To wit, despite having the lowest technical rating of the four bidders (the others were Kawasaki, Sumitomo, and Bombardier), United Transit Systems submitted the lowest bid - $236,530,347 - for 104 rail cars (35 EMU sets and 34 single cars) to be delievered starting in August 2006. There are allegations of political manipulation surrounding the deal, as many of the state's biggest players on both sides of the political aisle are reportedly involved. To wit:
- UTS/Rotem hired Pennsylvania State Republican Committee Chairman Alan Paul Novak for an undisclosed position. One of Novak's partners at Conrad O'Brien Gellman & Rohn, LLC, Philadelphia, is James J. Rohn, is a SEPTA Board member from Chester County. [The apparent theory, according to some insiders, is that Novak will use his friendship with Republican National Committeeman (and convicted felon) Robert B. Asher to influence Montgomery County's two board members and two legislative representatives who also live in Montgomery County; Asher is also close to SEPTA Board member and Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission boss Frank McCartney]
- UTS/Rotem retained the powerful Ballard Sphar Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP law firm; one of the attorneys listed as working at that firm is recently elected Montgomery County Commissioner - and SEPTA Board member - Thomas Jay Ellis. Here's an excerpt from Ellis' biography posted at the Ballard Sphar web site:
- Thomas Jay Ellis is a partner in the Public Finance Department. Mr. Ellis has worked on a variety of tax‑exempt financings since joining Ballard Spahr, primarily with Pennsylvania local government and authority issuers. Mr. Ellis also handles government relations matters within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
- Another lobbyist with deep political ties who was hired by UTS/Rotem is Al Mezaroba, a former aide to City Council President Anna Verna and close ally of State Sen. Vince Fumo (D-1/Peco Energy). One of Mezaroba's close friends is none other than the Chairman of the SEPTA Board, one Pasquale T. Deon, Sr. Both "Don Pasquale" and Mezaroba served on the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority Board of Directors before its recent restructuring. "Don Pasquale's" political mentor, Bucks County GOP boss Harry Fawkes, is also an ally of Mezaroba; the three often spend time in the summer fishing in Alaska (where "Don Pasquale" will be disappointed to learn that there are no toll roads)
- UTS/Rotem recently hired former SEPTA GM John K. Leary, Jr. - who was previously affiliated with the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail consortium that is currently making the MBTA's commuter rail system even more of a laughing stock than SEPTA - if that's possible - to work with SEPTA staff on the Silverliner V project
- Both Rotem, and Incheon, a Korean Trading Company with offices in Philadelphia, have made political contributions to Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D-Pa./Comcast SportsNet); officials from both companies attended Rendell's inauguration
But wait, there's more, some of which is believed to have occured as a result of many of the links above:
- UTS/Rotem has already purchased property at the former Navy Yard site in South Philadelphia, from which they plan to build the Silverliner V cars
- As noted in the opening, UTS/Rotem was rated lowest among the four manufacturers who had submitted bids on the Silverliner V
- The initial technical specs would have disqualified UTS/Rotem from even submitting a bid. There was a requirement that the carbuilder have previous experience in constructing stainless steel carbodies which comply with FRA regulations; however, that was changed with the release of the revised specs last May. [The official excuse from Assistant GM for Operations/Excuses Pat Nowakowski was that FRA regulations regarding rail car construction had changed from the time the initial RFP was issued until the time the revised RFP was issued.] While Rotem has never built rail cars for North American properties, one of the partners in UTS - NIAC - was the project manager for the Kawasaki Broad Street Line and LRV contracts in 1980.
Following the meeting of the "Committee of the Whole" (whatever that means) in which SEPTA staff gave a presentation on the Silverliner V project, "Don Pasquale" wasn't "took exception" when asked by reporters about some of the above links between Rotem and SEPTA Board members. "Where would the political payoff be?" he responded.
Okay, let's see, how about the creation of 200 jobs that Rendell and Emperor Street (assuming they restore diplomatic relations sometime this decade) can take credit for. Considering the state of the economy today, Rendell and Street need to see as many job created in the commonwealth as possible. That sounds like a pretty good political payoff. Never mind the fact that these jobs won't come to fruition until 2006, but hey, what's a couple years among friends...
As for Jack Leary's involvement with UTS/Rotem?
"He's not one of my favorites," "Don Pasquale" responded. "Why would I want to bring him back?"
Remember that Leary was hired when Tom Heyward was chairman of the SEPTA Board, and that Leary was brought in after that board, led by former Delaware County Councilman Wally Nunn, forced out Lou Gambaccini.
There's already talk of either legal action or possibly protests to the FRA and/or FTA regarding the questionable dealings behind the Silverliner V project. Federal rules prohibit "political intervention", though with the way SEPTA covers its tracks, that could be hard to prove.
Somehow, I get the feeling things are only starting to heat up at 1234 Market...
WHAT'S WRONG WITH THESE KIDS?
The Daily News reports that several incidents along the Broad Street Line and the El in recent weeks have raised concerns about groups of students who attend schools for troubled youths. Both SEPTA officials, school officials, and the Philadelphia Police deny that there's a pattern of assaults on the El, but you have to take those denials at face value.
On Tuesday, a 13-year-old student allegedly assaulted a videographer from Fox 29 at the 5 St El station during the PM peak period. A second suspect was also arrested, according to CBS 3's Walt Hunter. Hunter also reported that both suspects were students at the Community Education Partner School, Front St/Hunting Park Av, which caters to students with disciplinary problems. School District of Philadelphia officials downplayed the connection:
"...[V]iolence is not tolerated but added that often times CEP students are falsely blamed." CBS 3 report
(At least CBS 3 didn't have far to travel for this story, as their studios are right at 5 St/Market St.)
The operators of the school in question went into full Richard Maloney mode to the Daily News:
The 13-year-old was identified as a student at the Hunting Park CEP school by Kevin Feeley, spokesman for Community Education Partners, a contractor that operates the schools.
"There's no evidence that there's a pattern of assaults involving CEP students, at least that we've been told," Feeley said.
As for SEPTA's Minsitry of Mis-Information?
"In the past few months we've gotten reports of kids fooling around, but there have not been any serious assaults and there have not been any serious injuries," said SEPTA spokesman Jim Whitaker.
This might explain why police have started to maintain a stronger presence at some Center City stations, including the deployment of a bike officer normally assigned to the Zone 1 station at 69 St Terminal.
Apparently, that was only the most recent incident involving CEP students:
Veronica Joyner, founder and chief administrative officer of the Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School, at Broad and Buttonwood streets, said yesterday that about 30 students from another CEP school at 12th Street and Allegheny Avenue attacked three girls from the charter school last week on the Broad Street Subway.
She said others had attempted to attack kids on a class trip recently until teachers and parents stopped them. Daily News report
Okay, maybe two incidents don't neccesarily constitute a pattern, but it should at least send up a few red flags along the way. Then again, there are times when kids tend to get violent anyway, regardless of where they go to school. There have been a few scirmishes between students from Bonner/Prendegast high schools in Drexel Hill and from West Catholic that took place in 69 St Terminal over the past few years (I personally observed one such incident two years ago). Yet, if this is a sign of things to come, people better be very careful when riding SEPTA.
Former SEPTA Board Vice Chairman Richard Voith authored yet another interesting piece on the state of SEPTA's finances in today's Daily News. His experiences in dealing with the 9 bus probably hits home to some of our regular contributers to the site.