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WASHINGTON (RNS) A commuter rail line in suburban Washington is defending its decision to award a contract to a company partially owned by a French railway that was used by Nazi Germany to transport people to death camps.
Mark Roeber, a spokesman for Virginia Railway Express (VRE), said complaints raised by Holocaust survivors in a recent Washington Post article had never been filed with VRE officials.
“(Holocaust survivors) have never formally contacted us or communicated with us about any of these concerns,” he said.
VRE, which ferries commuters from Washington to suburbs across northern Virginia, awarded an $85 million contract last October to Keolis Rail Services America, a large private-sector French transportation company. VRE is the first, and so far only, American rail system that Keolis operates.
Keolis, which operates several European tram and bus systems, is owned by several holdings, including majority owner French National Railway Corporation (SNCF), the French state rail operator.
During World War II, SNCF transported more than 70,000 Jews and other victims to Nazi concentration camps, according to The Washington Post. Holocaust survivors have filed reparations claims against SNCF.
The connection between the war-era actions of SNCF and Keolis, however, is negligible, Roeber said.
“It would be a stretch to say that Keolis is somehow connected to the actions taken by the French railroad in the war,” he said. “Keolis is only 10 years old. And when they started in this business, their first operation wasn’t trains, it was buses.”
VRE officials said they followed all state and federal regulations in awarding the contract, and that acted in the best interest of customers, employees and taxpayers.
“We have sympathy for the survivors of the Holocaust,” said Roeber.
“But in our minds, that entanglement still lies with the survivors of the Holocaust and the French government.”
“To take it out on (Keolis) doesn’t hurt the French at all, it hurts American citizens, families, and parents who are trying to get a job and put kids through school.”
— Alfredo Garcia
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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