‘Runaway’ costs on rail & T

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The state’s taxpayer-funded commuter rail service is lavishing extravagant raises, “signing” bonuses and other plum perks on its engineers and conductors, according to a scathing new report that also slams the debt-ridden MBTA for its own “excessive” labor costs that far outpace other state agencies.

The report — compiled by the Pioneer Institute, a conservative fiscal watchdog, and obtained by the Herald — called on Gov. Deval Patrick and Beacon Hill Democrats to rein in Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail and MBTA salaries and benefits before raising taxes to bail out the cash-strapped transit agency.

Among the report’s eye-popping highlights:

• 13.7 percent boost in salaries doled out by the MBCR to commuter rail engineers and trainmen in the current contract (from 2009 to June);

• $1,000 lump-sum signing bonus to each engineer and conductor when the latest contract was ratified in 2011;

• $100 monthly fee for full-scale family health insurance coverage; and

• MBTA pay disparity when compared to state workers — including T painters who earn an average annual salary of $79,279 vs. $46,742 for state painters and T customer service reps who top out at $61,110, while their counterparts for the state earn no more than $45,117 at the RMV.

“While everybody is struggling to find the money to fund the huge transportation deficit, very little attention is being paid to what is causing it,” said former state Inspector General Greg Sullivan, now the Pioneer Institute’s research director and author of the brief. “Salaries, overtime and benefits to MBTA and commuter rail employees far outstrip what people in state government are making.”

The report, titled “Runaway Transportation Costs,” comes as the operating costs of the commuter rail service continue to rise, from $208 million in 2003 to a budgeted $287.3 million for this fiscal year — a 38 percent jump, according to T and MBCR officials.

Scott Farmelant, an MBCR spokesman, said the increases in commuter rail pay were negotiated “based on rail industry standards.” In regard to health care costs, he said it marked the first time it was based on cost-sharing, as “previously health care costs were borne by the operator.

“Going back to at least 2005, MBCR has consistently reported one of the lowest, if not the lowest, operating costs of any of the large commuter rail systems in the country,” Farmelant said.

T spokesman Joe Pesaturo defended T employee wages as “consistent with those of other major U.S. transit systems.”

The Pioneer report also decries the lack of competition for the MBTA’s $1 billion commuter rail contract, which only has two bidders: MBCR and Keolis America Inc., which last week threatened to bow out after it complained it wasn’t receiving important information on labor costs that make up 70 percent of the contract.

Alan Eisner, spokesman for Keolis, said the company has since backed off its ultimatum after the MBTA “stepped up its demands requiring the current contract holder (MBCR) to provide us with more useful information,” much of which it received last week.

Pesaturo said yesterday that the MBTA “is strongly committed to ensuring a fair and robust competition.” Final bids are due July 10.

Seen in the Boston Herald, CBS Boston and Fox News Boston.

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