The Maryland Transit Administration, which operates three of its core services from centers scattered around Baltimore, plans to consolidate those operations in a downtown hub under a $15.4 million contract scheduled to come before the Board of Public Works on Wednesday.

The new Central Control Center is a key part of the MTA's plan to integrate and modernize operations to improve customer service and control costs.

The contract would combine the electronic control systems for local buses, the Metro subway and the light rail system in a single downtown center, said MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells. Within the next decade, the MTA hopes the center will also control operations of the proposed east-west Red Line light rail line.

Wells said the contract award is a big step toward reaching a goal the MTA set about a decade ago.

"This is very significant. This is basically going to be the heartbeat of our agency," he said. "All of our technology is going to run back to this location."

Wells said the MTA will study whether to include the Mobility cab and van service for the disabled in the facility. It will be located on the second floor of the building at Eutaw and West Fayette streets that now houses the Metro control center.

The agency will also consider locating a monitoring station for the MARC commuter train system at the center, though actual operations are controlled by the railroads that provide Penn, Camden and Brunswick line services, he said.

Metro operations are now run from downtown, the light rail from North Avenue and the bus system from Washington Boulevard.

In addition to consolidating control centers, the MTA plans to improve its closed-circuit television and Metro station fire management systems under the same contract, which was awarded to ARINC Inc. of Annapolis.

Wells said the consolidation will put the people who run the transit systems together in a single room with those who monitor service quality to design future improvements. Also on hand will be MTA officials whose only job will be to keep riders informed of developments — through email, public-address announcements, electronic signs and other means.

The MTA chief said the division of labor will ensure that riders are not forgotten as operations people struggle to restore service interruptions. "Controllers tend to get myopic and their goal is to get that train running," he said.

Developments in technology have made it feasible to combine operations centers that once required much more space, Wells said. "You can put more equipment in one location. The timing is right," he said. "It's definitely going to hold down costs."

Wells said the new center will let the MTA unify its maintenance control function under a single staff, though the actual work will be done in separate shops for the Metro, light rail and bus systems. Electronic vehicle monitoring systems will send signals to the center, notifying officials that a piece of equipment is on the verge of failing.

"We can actually pull buses off the street before they get completely sick and fail," he said.

Wells said the MTA hopes to have the Metro operations center, now in need of renovation, running in the downtown location by the first quarter of 2013. The agency would like to have bus and light rail operations consolidated at the site by the end of that year.

The consolidation of control centers follows an earlier move to combine the staffs of the various transit modes into a single Service Quality Division.

The MTA said it awarded the contract to ARINC without a competitive bidding process because it needed a vendor that could supply future software compatible with its existing programs. State procurement law allows such sole-source contracts to be negotiated when certain conditions are met.

ARINC is currently upgrading the Metro system's train control technology. MTA officials say they want to use compatible technology for the light rail system as well.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com