Cumberland Times-News

Local News

March 10, 2014

Holocaust bill jeopardizes federal rail funding, says state official

ANNAPOLIS — As a French rail company seeks to work on Maryland transit projects, some lawmakers want to force the company to pay reparations to Holocaust victims who were taken on its trains to Nazi concentration camps — but a state official says the effort could jeopardize federal funds for a key state rail line.

James Knighton, director of governmental affairs for the Maryland Transit Administration, told the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday that the state needs federal funds for its Purple Line light rail project. The proposed light rail line would connect Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

SNCF, a rail company owned by the French government, is on one of four teams vying for the project.

Legislators are considering bills that would block SNCF from bidding until it compensates Holocaust victims who were carried to concentration camps on SNCF trains during World War II. The company would also have to pay families of deceased victims.

But Knighton said this re-quirement would jeopardize federal contributions for the rail project.

The committee hearing Monday started on a somber note. Leo Bretholz, a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor living in Pikesville, was set to testify in favor of the legislation. But Bretholz died on Saturday. Del. Kirill Reznik, D-Montgomery, proposed renaming the bill in Bretholz’s honor.

Rosette Goldstein, a Holocaust survivor and friend of Bretholz’s, testified instead. She flew up from Florida after hearing of Bretholz’s death. She told lawmakers about an SNCF train that carried her father to Auschwitz.

The hearing alternated between harrowing Holocaust stories and arguments over legal complications and historical records. Knighton was the last person to testify.

Holocaust survivors have pushed for legislation in Maryland and other states to call SNCF to account for its World War II activities.

In 2010, the state passed a bill requiring SNCF to disclose its role in transporting Holocaust victims before SNCF could bid on Maryland projects. However, Knighton said the bill apparently violated federal competitive bidding requirements.

The MTA segregated its funding to avoid using federal dollars on a certain Maryland Area Regional Commuter contract, Knighton said.

The Purple Line’s $2.2 billion price tag renders this impossible, Knighton said.

 

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