UTA changed bidding process to make room for Swiss rail company

UTA changed bidding process to make room for Swiss rail company

(Scott Winterton/Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Transit Authority obtained federal permission to bypass a competitive bidding process to lease space in its commuter train maintenance facility only to later change course to make room for a second bidder.

That bidder turned out to be Stadler Rail, a company based in Switzerland that legislative leaders, lobbyists and two UTA board members visited in a controversial trip in September.

State economic officials are courting the Swiss rail manufacturer, which is looking to build a manufacturing plant in the United States.

Newly released documents show UTA was negotiating with Wabtec Global Services to lease space in its Warm Springs facility for maintenance of non UTA-owned locomotives in November 2014. UTA needed Federal Transit Authority approval for a lease to an outside company because federal money was used to remodel the facility.

UTA chief capital development director Steve Meyer told the FTA then that Wabtec was the only company UTA considered feasible to lease the space.

"While negotiations were ongoing, UTA was made aware of another entity — Stadler Rail — that had an interest in possibly using some of the Warm Springs space," interim UTA president and CEO Jerry Benson wrote in an Oct. 9, 2015 letter to regional FTA administrator Linda Gehrke.

"Because two entities have expressed interest, UTA has decided to use a competitive procurement process to select a tenant or tenants."

Benson does not say when UTA became aware of Stadler Rail.

In the same letter, Benson informs Gehrke that UTA had to cancel the request for proposals Sept. 30 — before any bids were submitted — after learning that two UTA board members and Utah legislators "repeatedly" met with Stadler Rail representatives in Switzerland.


One of those board members, Chris Bleak, resigned last month, citing a work conflict unrelated to the trip. The other member, Sheldon Killpack, remains on the board. Neither told the board about the trip and have said they did not go representing UTA.

Benson assures Gehrke in the letter that the two board members met with Chairman H. David Burton about the "inappropriate" contact with Stadler during the open bidding process. He assured her that neither would be involved in discussions or decisions over the Warm Springs lease.

"I would like to re-advertise the RFP and have instructed my staff that proposals are to be reviewed fairly and in good faith," Benson wrote.

UTA re-opened the bidding process Oct. 12.

The transit authority declined to comment on the matter.

"By law, UTA cannot discuss the details of an open procurement. For this reason, we can't discuss details of the possible leasing of part of the Warm Springs facility," said UTA spokesman Remi Barron.

On Thursday, the Governor's Office of Economic Development is expected to discuss possible incentives to bring Stadler Rail to Utah.

Stadler Rail has 6,000 employees at 12 sites and does about $2.6 billion in sales annually. It has built rail cars to for transit systems throughout Europe and in Brazil. It signed a deal in June to supply commuter trains to TEX Rail in Fort Worth, Texas.

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Dennis Romboy


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