MANILA, Philippines - Commuters will have to wait until late 2015 or early 2016 before the Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT 3) trains could be decongested.
During Senate a hearing on Monday, officials of the Department of Transportation and Communications said the delivery of train coaches being procured will be completed by 2016 as it takes time to produce the train cars that would fit the specifications of the MRT system.
Senate finance committee chair Francis Escudero urged the DOTC to think further ahead and start acquiring more coaches to meet the expected increase in passenger traffic in the years to come.
“The problem with these trains is that they are not off-the-shelf. You cannot award it and then parang paper clip o lapis o bond paper, bili ka sa National Bookstore, ‘pag nabayaran mo na, ibibigay na sa’yo. You have to actually manufacture these trains,” Escudero said.
For now, a total of 48 new cars will be acquired, with the delivery to be done in a staggered basis: three cars per month starting February next year or a year after the awarding of the contract.
Metro Rail Transit General Manager Al Vitangcol said that the coaches are now being produced by Chinese firm Dalian Locomotive, the winning bidder for the capacity extension project.
“Mararamdaman ng mananakay ang kaginhawaan sa pagsakay sa MRT-3 kapag dumating na po ang lahat ng ating mga bagon. Ito po ay maaaring mangyari sa late 2015 or until 2016,” Metro Rail Transit General Manager Al Vitangcol told reporters.
From the current three-car system, every train would have four cars, increasing capacity by 33 percent.
The system could accommodate only four cars for each train. Adding more cars would necessitate modifying the train stations, Vitangcol said.
In explaining the long lines at the MRT-3 stations, Vitangcol told the committee that the MRT had a problem in its signaling and communication system in March 23 and had to reduce speed of trains for a week to “evaluate” the system.
He claimed that lines now have been reduced.
“During that one whole week period, we reduced drastically the speed of the trains in order for us to evaluate the whole system. And then, after that one week period, when we were able to establish that the system is good, that the system is reliable, the system is safe for the usual travel of the trains. Then we returned to the normal speed of the trains and increased the number of trains running,” Vitangcol said.
“Kung makikita po natin ngayon ang ating mga istasyon, wala po tayong ganoong kalaking pila at ngayon po minimal na po ang pumipila sa atin.”
He wondered why the media would only report the long lines and not instances where there are no lines.
“Kami po ay nagtataka na kung bakit ‘pag nagkapila po sa MRT-3 bigla pong nababalita sa telebisyon, sa radio. Subalit ‘pag wala pong pila ay matahimik po ang media,” Vitangcol said, prompting Escudero to say, “Syempre, hindi balita ‘yun e.”
DOTC Undersecretary Rene Limcaoco said that aside from acquiring additional coaches, the automated fare collection system (AFCS) is also seen as a remedy to the long lines at ticketing stations of the MRT and LRT.
The automated and contactless single ticketing system for the MRT and LRT would allow commuters to reload their tickets outside train stations and just “tap and go,” similar to the system being implemented in Hong Kong.
The project has been awarded but would not be implemented until September 2015.
“Aray ko... So darating ang tren, magsisimula at three trains a month, February or March 2015, mai-implement ang AFCS September 2015. In the meantime, tent na muna tayo, tubig at portalet," Escudero said.
Limcaoco said, “What’s important is we do recognize that and as Usec. Lotilla has said these things should have been planned a long time ago. So we are playing catch up ho to the things that should have been done a long time ago.”
Officials blamed the previous MRT administration for not procuring coaches as early as 2004 or 2005 when ridership hit more than 400,000, breaching the design capacity of 320,000 riders a day.
“Way back when capacity was hit, I think the 350,000 was breached as early as 2004 or 2003, your honor, that should have been the step that was taken. Meaning, they should already have exercised the obligation to provide additional cars or additional trains to the system and upgraded the system to make it hit the required performance indicator stated in the contract,” DOTC Undersecretary Jose Perpetuo Lotilla said.
A longer-term solution being eyed by officials is to do an equity buyout and take control and ownership of the Metro Rail Transit Corporation to allow government to perform both operations and maintenance control of the MRT, with the end-goal of reprivatizing it.
Vitangcol challenges Czech envoy
Speaking to reporters, Vitangcol categorically denied the allegation of Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar that he purportedly tried to extort millions from Czech company Inekon in exchange for the contract to supply the train coaches.
Vitangcol said the bidding was transparent and open and that the allegations would not stop the plan to purchase the train coaches.
“Ito ay, again, entirely different issue, ito pong pagbili natin ng mga bagon ay na-order na natin sa Dalian Locomotive ng China at ito po ay tuloy-tuloy na. Wala na po itong pagtigil dahil nabigyan na po natin, ng departmento, ng notice to proceed. Right now, as we speak nagma-manufacture na po sila ng tren,” he said.
“Ito naman pong sinasabi ng Czech ambassador, ire-reiterate ko po sa lahat, ito po ay walang katotohanan, wala po ako doon sa bahay niya, hindi po ako nagpunta sa bahay niya kaya kung may sinasabi man siya na nagkaroon sila ng usapan doon at allegedly ako ay may pasimuno, ito ay tahasan kong sinasabi pawang kasinungalingan at walang katotohanan,” Vitangcol said.
Vitangcol instead challenged Rychtar to shed his diplomatic immunity, saying that he is ready to face the ambassador in court.
“Ang challenge ko lang kay Ambassador Rychtar, shed your immunity and I will face you in court at anytime,” Vitangcol said.
Vitangcol reiterated that Inekon’s bid for the project was way over-the-budget at, $3.3 million per train car.
Dalian’s price, Vitangcol said, is $1.8 million, allowing government to procure more train cars: 48 instead of only 26.
Meantime, Escudero told reporters he would support any resolution that would call on the Senate Blue Ribbon committee to investigate the extortion allegations.
If an investigation pushes through, Escudero would prefer Rychtar to attend the hearing but is not sure if protocol would allow diplomats to be invited to congressional inquiries.