Friday, 11 August 2017

The problem that is the MRT-3

 Veteran Journalist Boo Chanco of the Philippine Star gave a very good explanation what is the current status of the MRT-3. The Metrostar Express is the rapid transit system that runs along the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) is the second rapid transit line to be built in Metro Manila. Since the last administration’s lack of foresight and possible corruption,  different problems have hounded the MRT-3 all of which to the detriment of the riding public.

Read his full article below:

Back in Manila, it is back to reality. Is the MRT-3 hopeless? A recent column of my colleague Jarius Bondoc, seems to indicate it is. Our last hope, the new Chinese-made trains, is a no-go.

The MetroStar Express or more popularly known as MRT-3  was constructed in the year 1997 and opened on 1999. Its operation signaled a big blessing for the common Filipino commuter. Now more than 10 years has passed the MRT-3 is hounded by maintenance issues aggravated by alleged graft and corruption of those public officials appointed by then President Benigno S. Aquino III. (photo credit to Philstar)
The 48 coaches from China bought by former DOTC Sec Jun Abaya at the cost of P3.8-billion in 2013 is a total waste. Jarius reported that the coaches are 3,300 tons too heavy. Specifications were for a weight of 46,300 tons for the 48 coaches. What the Chinese manufacturer delivered totaled 49,600 tons.

“The tonnage had been carefully calculated for the tracks to carry daily not only the 48 new coaches, but the 72 existing units as well. The overweight (900 tons would have been tolerable) will wear out the tracks faster and consequently all the coaches’ wheels. Rides will be bumpy, maintenance costlier, and track replacement more often.

“The under-chassis are unfit for the existing giant pit jack at the MRT-3 repair yard.Dalian deviated from the specified dimensions and features to be copied from the 72 older Czech-made coaches.

 “The new units cannot be driven up the hundred-million-peso jack for periodic inspection and upkeep of the bogey frames, wheels, and brakes. There is no space at the depot to install a new jack just for the faulty trains. Mechanics have no elbowroom to repair or replace crucial under-chassis parts.”

I suppose this means they are back to square one. Maybe the Chinese trains can be used in some other China-funded project elsewhere in the country. They can design a system that works around the wrong specifications. But in the meantime, MRT-3 is still a big problem.

The Chinese trains aside, the MRT-3 system is really up for a major upgrade. It has not been maintained properly for years. The rails have to be changed. The power supply system needs upgrading. And a new communication system is called for too.

The only thing still useful is the concrete carriageway. In other words, what must be done to make MRT-3 function properly is almost like building a new system minus the carriageway. It is like starting from scratch since almost everything has to be changed.

DOTr must think fresh… no longer in terms of rehabilitating an impossibly rotten existing system, but building a new one. All options must be on the table. The prime considerations are cost and how soon the improvement can be delivered. 

Indeed, there is nothing that should compel Sec Art Tugade to save MRT-3 as it is today. My transport expert friends will not agree with me on this, but I think it is time to think out of the box and do the unthinkable... maybe we should remove the rails and run BRT buses on the elevated carriageway.

I know… rails are superior to a bus system, but we have a problem here that needs a quick and cost effective interim solution. The assumption is we are building a subway anyway.

I have been writing about this approach since I got back from a visit to Xiamen some years ago. The folks in Xiamen were eager to have an MRT system like ours so they started building the elevated carriageway without waiting for clearance from Beijing.

The clearance never came and they were stuck with the empty carriageway pretty much like the four kilometers we now have at the LRT2 Masinag extension. Since they have it, they figured they might as well run buses on it… removing the buses at street level and freeing up road space for smoother traffic flow.

In my column last May 9, 2014, I proposed “converting the rail-based system to BRT. Make the buses in a BRT configuration run on the present MRT superstructure… I asked the group of Francis Yuseco Jr to crunch some numbers and it seems promising.

“Francis says replacement of the existing MRT/LRT lines is doable, cheaper and easier to do than even waiting for the new Chinese rail cars to be delivered. Francis said his engineers estimate the dismantling, reconstruction and rehabilitation will cost P20 million per kilometer for both lanes totaling 3.5 meters per lane.

“Thus, for a 22 kilometer elevated carriageway as in the EDSA MRT, the total rehabilitation and reconstruction costs for the elevated carriageway will be a very manageable P440 million.

“The coaches carrying 200 passengers each will cost P12 million each. Say, we start with 100 coaches or 50 coaches per direction, plus your command center of P50 million incorporating your pre-board contact less system, plus miscellaneous and contingent costs of another P50 million, we’re looking at a total replacement cost of roughly P1.8 billion.

“Best of all, Francis claims they can make the BRT operational in eight months. ‘Using the numbers made by the UPTTC in 1989, using only 92 coaches, we can transport 1,056,000 passengers a day, about double the current load.’”

I followed that column with another one on Oct. 20, 2014. There is nothing fancy about an elevated BRT network. It is simply bus lanes with no traffic lights and travel speed is limited by design to 60 kilometers per hour.

“Xiamen’s BRT is now 115 kilometers long. There are now five BRT routes in service. A commuter can expect a BRT bus every five minutes...  Xiamen eventually received approval from Beijing to build a subway system too...

“Imagine that they are making all that infrastructure investment for a city with a population of just 3.5 million according to the 2010 Census. But even if the population of Greater Xiamen is now close to five million, that’s just Quezon City and city of Manila with Mandaluyong and Makati thrown in. We are a metropolis of over 10 million…”

We need a good interim solution while we build our own subway system. Rehabilitating MRT-3 as it is will take too much time and resources and still be inadequate. The proposal to put a BRT system at ground level along EDSA may not be feasible because there is no more space.

Then again, the legal problems of MRT-3 may prevent government from doing anything at all. Government will have to negotiate with the Sobrepena group no matter how distasteful that is. It is after all, government’s fault to have signed a bad contract with the Sobrepena group.

Or maybe the MPIC group can revive their proposal to rehabilitate MRT-3, deal with Sobrepena and charge a fare not that much different from at-grade buses. But even this, a common sense solution offered during the Mar Roxas and Jun Abaya days, may be too difficult a step to take for reasons hard to understand.

MPIC may have to consider other options than MRT because of the urgency and we have lost so much time. Indeed, Ramon Ang once told me he plans to run BRT units on the NLEX-SLEX connector road from Balintawak to Susana Heights.

In the meantime, we are all suffering. It is time for change, a bold action… just so we can move forward. That is the challenge for Sec Tugade and the Duterte administration.

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