Florida is laying the groundwork for the nation’s first bullet train. Building the two-and-a-half billion dollar rail line between Tampa and Orlando requires help from high-speed experts overseas. But the company with the most expertise also has a questionable past that includes involvement in the Holocaust.
Train tavel’s come a long way over the past six decades.
The French National Railway has helped revolutionize high-speed technology, but ethically critics say it remains stuck in the past.
During the Holocaust, 3,000 of the company’s cattle wagons were used to transport Jews to Nazi death camps. Today, the railway’s a top contender for the contract to build Florida’s high-speed line, and many are calling for the company to be disqualified because of its history.
It’ll be up to Kevin Thibault with the State Department of Transportation to decide if the railway will even be given a shot at competing for the job.
“It's only going to be those that we consider qualified, and qualifications are going to range from their bonding financial capabilities to their technical capabilities to their ability even to work in the state,” Thibaullt said.
The controversy is shedding new light on just how state government handles billions of dollars worth of contracts. In a town ripe with a history of backroom deals and lax oversight, it’s a legitimate concern.
Publicly, DOT officials say they’ll award the rail contract based on a long list of criteria, including company ethics. But Democratic Representative Alan Williams has his doubts.
The legislature has already passed a law to ban state business with companies linked to terror groups, and he says more action may be needed.
“In order to do business in this marketplace, they have to be good corporate citizens, whether it's being the sponsor of a little league baseball team or it's having sound business practices and not having ties to terrorist organizations or having checkered pasts,” Williams said.
But some say having a checkered past doesn’t necessarily make a company unfit for business today.
In an attempt to move beyond the past, the French National Railway is giving Thibault and his team full access to its Holocaust-era records.
“What we're looking for is to see what that information is and then evaluate what they've got from that,” said Thibault.
That evaluation has yet to leave the station. All the while, the opposition is picking up speed.
Currently, state transportation officials are focusing on getting full funding from Washington, and they don’t expect the project to be open for bids until sometime next year.