Abaya admits MRT-3 upgrade overdue

MANILA, Philippines – A day after a Metro Rail Transit-3 (MRT-3) train bulldozed safety barriers and overshot the Taft station in Pasay City, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya admitted the line is overdue for an upgrade.

“What it tells me is the system is old and the government has to move to upgrade. What it tells me, probably there are a lot of things that should have been done years ago,” the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) chief said on Thursday, August 14.

But Abaya insisted the line was still safe: “My conscience is clear, government is acting and doing the right thing. At the end of the day, to be safe, we won't run it if it's not safe.”

On Wednesday, at least 36 MRT-3 passengers were rushed to hospitals due to injuries sustained from the incident. One of the line’s trains derailed at the terminal Taft station after a failed “coupling” move done to push forward a stalled train.

The line went back into full operations after the incident, although MRT-3 management said the train would slow down once it approaches the Taft station.

MRT-3 officer-in-charge Honorito Chaneco admitted the line was showing signs of aging. “What we found out when I took over, there has never been an upgrade in all systems,” he said.

Lawmakers have since called on government to hold an investigation into the matter, even as the MRT-3 launched its own investigation, supervised by the DOTC. The Philippine National Police (PNP) has also launched a parallel probe into the incident.

Accident waiting to happen?

In a previous interview with Rappler, Abaya admitted the department was playing “catch up” – many of its projects, the MRT-3 line in particular, languished under previous administrations.

Immediately after the Wednesday MRT-3 mishap, social media users pointed out that it was an “accident waiting to happen.” It’s a claim Abaya denied.

Hindi naman. (No, it’s not.) Given the procedures, there’s no lapse in our maintenance. As again, the little that I know so far, there might be a lapse in the procedure rather in a failure of facts,” he said on Wednesday, hours after the incident. 

Abaya reminded reporters that the MRT-3 is set for an upgrade with the acquisition of 48 new trains. But the first set of trains under the P3.8-billion deal isn’t due to arrive until 2015.

Waiting to happen or not, the train system is being used – or pushed – to its full capacity. Close to 600,000 passengers ride the line daily, a far cry from its "crush capacity" of 500,000 and its designed capacity of only 360,000 a day.

New maintenance contract

The MRT-3, in the past months, has been witness to various technical glitches. Former MRT-3 General Manager Al Vitangcol resigned in May over accusations that he was involved in an attempt to extort money from Czech firm Inekon Group that wanted to bid for the supply of trains.

Chaneco has since taken over as MRT-3 officer-in-charge.

Abaya said the DOTC will be bidding out the 3-year maintenance contract for the MRT-3 within the month. Currently the MRT-3 is maintained by Autre Porte Technique Global Incorporated (APT). Prior to that, the system was maintained by PH Trams CB & T joint venture, MRTC and Japanese firm Sumitomo Corporation.

The DOTC secretary said crafting longer management contracts was the department’s way to attract more foreign groups.

“What we want are new players here to bring in competition, bring in expertise, better and cheaper contracts,” he said.

Abaya and Chaneco said they were focused on completing the government’s takeover of the Metro Rail Transit Corp (MRTC) through a P56 billion equity value buy-out. The DOTC-MRT is currently the operator of the line but ownership is with MRTC, a private consortium. – Rappler.com