France - United States

French rail company can bid for Maryland contract after Holocaust bill falls

France's state-owned rail company, the SNCF, is free to bid for a contract three-billion-dollar contract in the US state of Maryland after a bill aiming to block it because of its role in the Holocaust missed a vote deadline in the local legislature. 

Jews being transported to the concentration camps in 1942
Jews being transported to the concentration camps in 1942 AFP

Maryland Senator Joan Carter Conway sponsored a bill to prevent the SNCF's US arm, Keolis, from bidding for a public-private joint project, worth three billion dollars (217 billion euros), to build and run a 25-kilometre rail line in the state.

But the local legislature's 2014 session ended on Monday without a vote being taken on the proposal, leaving the company free to bid as part of a consortium that also includes French companies, Alstom and Vinci.

The bill was part of a campaign to force the SNCF, which was requisitioned during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II and deported 76,000 Jews to concentration camps, pay compensation to holocaust victims.

The company has recognised its role in the slaughter but says that compensation is a matter for the French state.

Keolis on Tuesday said it was happy to be able to bid and the state's negotiators welcomed the fact that negotiations could continue.

Federal finance worth 900 million dollars (650 million euros) might not have been forthcoming if Keolis was forced to drop out because it reduced competition for the contract.

The Coalition for Holocaust Rail Justice declared itself "disappointed" with the news but claimed that the bill had accelerated negotiations on compensation.

It is backing similar initiatives in New York state, California and Florida.

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