Senators convinced 'best' location achieved for MRT-LRT common station

MANILA, Philippines – Given a pending temporary restraining order (TRO), some senators are convinced that the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and private companies involved have come up with the "best" location for the P2.8-billion Metro Rail Transit (MRT)-Light Rail Transit (LRT) common station project.

Putting an end to an almost 8-year legal squabble between the public and private sectors, a memorandum of agreement was signed last month, setting the common station's location between SM North EDSA and TriNoma malls.

The DOTr said the agreement paves the way for the filing of a joint motion before the Supreme Court (SC) to lift the TRO obtained by SM Prime Holdings Incorporated (SMPHI) in August 2014.

"Within this month, we will file a joint manifestation that we can push through with the deal by lifting the TRO," Transportation Assistant Secretary for Legal Affairs Leah Quiambao said during a Senate hearing on Monday, February 13.

She added that the government can expect the TRO to be lifted by October.

It was in August 2014 when SMPHI obtained an SC order stopping the transportation department and the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) from transferring the location of the common station to TriNoma.

The basis of the order was a September 28, 2009 memorandum of agreement between SMPHI and the LRTA, agreeing that the common station should be beside SM North EDSA, after the mall developer paid the government P200 million for the naming rights to the proposed station.

But the Senate committee wants someone "to be held liable" for the P200-million naming rights contract of SMPHI, which was not even auctioned off.

"Naming rights were not bidded. Apparently, there was no basis for the P200-million naming rights and Senator Gatchalian pointed this out. So I would like you to continue your research on this. We hope that Bayan will file a case against those responsible," said Senator Grace Poe, chairperson of the Senate committee on public services.

'Best' location given the situation

PROPOSED DESIGN. Artist's sketch of the MRT-LRT common station. Image from Department of Transportation

PROPOSED DESIGN. Artist's sketch of the MRT-LRT common station.

Image from Department of Transportation

Despite the agreement, the government in 2014 insisted that putting up the proposed common station near TriNoma mall would result in "P1 billion in savings to the government" and benefit passengers as the Quezon City government is establishing the North Triangle area as a new business district.

Poe said she is convinced that "given the situation," the DOTr and private companies involved have agreed on the "best" location for commuter convenience.

"For now, I think, I have reason to believe that, perhaps, the improvements that they are adding in this station are more ideal, but then we still have to wait for the decision also of the NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority)," she told reporters on the sidelines of the hearing.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian echoed Poe's statements, saying that the new design has future expansion potential.

"For me, yes, I'm convinced. The area is big enough to accommodate multiple tracks. It has future expansion potential. But at the same time, I think the government could have earned more – rough estimate is P170 million a year. That could have subsidized the commuter fees," he told Rappler on the sidelines.

Asked if the increase in project cost has been justified by the parties involved, Gatchalian replied: "8 years delay plus inflation? Possible."

Doubling of cost justified?

BETWEEN MALLS. A look at the new location of the MRT-LRT common station, compared to its previously proposed spots. Image from Department of Transportation

BETWEEN MALLS. A look at the new location of the MRT-LRT common station, compared to its previously proposed spots.

Image from Department of Transportation

During the hearing, Poe asked the DOTr why the common station project cost doubled to P2.8 billlion from 2014's P1.4 billion at 2,500 square meters (sqm) and 2009's P2.4 billion at 7,200 sqm.

The transportation department, represented by lawyer Timothy Batan, said the current location's size is 13,700 sqm, so "it is a bigger station with almost double the capacity of the original 2009 design." 

For the chief of Light Rail Manila Corporation (LRMC), operator of LRT Line 1, this new location is the "best we could come up [with] now." (READ: LOOK: Proposed design of MRT-LRT common station)

Compared to the single tracks and narrower concourses in the previous plans, LRMC chief Rogelio Singson explained that the current project design is made for passenger convenience.

"People don't realize how important dual track is for operations. As far as we are concerned, we have a commitment to reduce headway to as close as 2.5 minutes. You can't achieve that without dual tracks," said Singson, a former chief of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

"We need at least 6 meters platform. The 3 meters [platform] from the previous plan is super narrow. Just a small push to the passenger and he will already fall down. The concourse we need is a wider one," he added. 

The new MRT-LRT common station will have 3 essential components:

Construction is expected to begin this December, while the target for commercial operations is April 2019. – Rappler.com