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Losing rail bidders might file protests

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One of the losing bidders in the city’s rail transit project expects to file a protest by tomorrow, while the second company has until Tuesday to decide.

The city emerged last week from meetings with the losing bidders of the design and operations contract for the rail cars, maintaining it did its due diligence and that all procurement rules were followed.

Mayor Peter Carlisle said the city was careful to follow state-mandated procedures.

"It doesn’t have to be the lowest bidder. It doesn’t have to be the one who’s most technically proficient," Carlisle said Wednesday. "It has to be essentially that combination of experience, successes, lack of successes, concerns, and then we make a decision that’s in the best interest of the project."

Ansaldo Honolulu, based in Italy, was announced as the winner of the design, construction, operations and maintenance contract, valued at about $1.4 billion.

Losing bidders Bombardier Transportation and Sumitomo Corp. of America met with city officials Monday and Tuesday to find out why they lost.

"From what we learned, which wasn’t much, a bid protest is unavoidable," said Gino Antoniello, Sumitomo’s vice president of transportation systems. "We tried to extract from them how they evaluated this process, and it was pretty clear they didn’t have an answer."

Sumitomo expects to file a protest by tomorrow, the last day the company is able to. Bombardier Transportation Vice President Andy Robbins said his company has not yet decided whether to file a protest.

"There’s always a reluctance to," Robbins said. "We have in the past and we try to be very selective about it. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."

Robbins has said the city disqualified his company when it submitted its final offer in January, based on a clause the firm inserted into the proposal to clarify liability issues.

"They made an open and honest attempt to answer our questions," Robbins said of the city. "Their professionalism was very much appreciated. We just feel that a mistake was made."

Carlisle declined to discuss the issue because of the anticipated protest.

"(Disqualification) was required to be done because of what they added to the contract," Carlisle said. "That’s our position. We followed state law."

Antoniello also has pointed out the design and construction portion was given weight over other aspects of the contract. Ansaldo had the cheapest design-build price.

Robbins has speculated that a lower design-and-construction price would look better for the federal government, because the it might fund only the capital costs of the project.

"That’s just speculation and wrong," countered Toru Hamayasu, Rapid Transit Division chief and one of the six members of the contract’s evaluation team. He said the team weighed criteria before the request for proposals went out.

City officials have said they focused on the $574 million design-build portion of Ansaldo’s bid because it is part of the project’s $5.5 billion in capital costs.

"We were showing (the federal government) we are in fact, at this point, under budget," Carlisle said of the capital costs. "Do I apologize in any way for trying to impress the feds that we’re doing what they require of us? No. Should we do that every chance we get? Yes."

The city did speak with officials in other jurisdictions where Ansaldo has held contracts, Carlisle said, hearing about both positive and negative experiences. Much of the negatives came from Los Angeles officials, who said their rail cars were late and overweight.

As for positives, Carlisle pointed to the award-winning Copenhagen system, as Ansaldo executives have. Hamayasu said Washington, D.C., officials gave favorable reviews.

"You’ve got a public relations effort by the people who didn’t win the contracts to make them look bad," Carlisle said. "It’s not at all unexpected, and it’s not part of the procurement process."

Hamayasu added, "And there are bad things written up a lot, but good things don’t usually hit the news."

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