Abaya: MRT safe, but needs upgrade

Posted at 08/14/14 7:30 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Transportation Secretary Jun Abaya maintained that the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) is safe but admitted that a system upgrade is badly needed for the 15-year-old mass transit system.

He said the MRT is not “an accident waiting to happen” following Wednesday’s incident that led to the injuries of more than 30 people.

“If I believe that, I will shut it down. Safety is our priority so why would I even entertain a 100 percent accident scenario,” Abaya said. “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 age."

Abaya said the government is now pursuing the acquisition of 48 brand new trains to expand MRT’s capacity.

“Unfortunately, no one has taken it seriously to get it done. 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,” he said.

MRT-3 officer-in-charge Honorito Chaneco also stressed the need to upgrade the MRT, which he said has been showing signs of aging over the past few years.

“We have a system that has been operating for 15 years, just like any system, it is not perfect,” said Chaneco, who is also administrator of the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA).

“What we found out when I took over, there has never been an upgrade in all systems,” he added.

Both Abaya and Chaneco also stressed the need for the government takeover of the Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRTC) through an equity value buy out worth P56 billion.

“There are legal hindrances right now. We have to be reminded DOTC-MRT is the operator of the train system but we are not actually the legal owner,” Chaneco said.

Once the takeover is completed, Abaya said the government will bid out the operation and maintenance of the MRT.

MRT maintenance

Meanwhile, the Metro Rail Transit Holdings (MRTH) distanced itself from the safety issues linked to the recent MRT-3 accident that resulted to the injuries of more than 30 people.

MRTH, which owns MRTC, said the maintenance of the MRT is not under MRTH or MRTC but, since November 2012, has been under interim maintenance provider PHTrams-ComBuilders, and Autre Porte Technique Global Inc.

MRTH said the contract was awarded to PH Trams through a negotiated bid under former MRT general manager Al Vitangol, replacing the original maintenance provider Sumitomo Corporation/Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

“It must be noted that PH Trams became the interim provider without the required approval of MRTC,” said Atty. David Narvasa, MRTH spokesperson.

“Despite repeated requests to DOTC since the early part of 2013, MRTC and its representatives have not been allowed to conduct a thorough technical inspection of the MRT-3 Depot and the entire train system to determine its true condition,” he added.

Vitangcol resigned after he was accused of favoring his uncle, PHTrams co-director Arturo Soriano, in awarding the P517 million MRT maintenance contract.

Vitangcol admitted that Soriano is his uncle, but explained that Soriano divested from PH Trams before the awarding of the contract.

MRTH said the MRT-3 system “has been subject to rapid deterioration in the last two years” after Sumitomo Corporation/Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was replaced by PHTrams.

“In view of the concern of MRTH to the riding public, MRTH would like to issue this notice for the public to be aware that MRTC cannot assure the riding public that the present condition of the MRT-3 System is in full compliance with safety and maintenance standards needed for the system,” Narvasa said.

He urged the DOTC to act immediately to restore the MRT-3 System to full capacity and maximum reliability “by ensuring that the selection of the maintenance provider and the supply of the much needed additional trains are handled in a transparent manner and awarded only to reputable companies with good track records and capability, taking into account the provisions of the existing BLT Agreement.”

On Wednesday, issues on the train system’s safety were again raised after one of its trains crashed into a station barrier in EDSA-Taft, resulting to the injuries of at least 36 people.