MANILA - Human error caused a defective Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3) train to overshoot its track last week, leaving 36 people injured, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said Tuesday.
In a press conference, Abaya said the drivers of the distressed train and the assisting train, and two more from the control center are facing administrative charges for "poor coordination and reporting procedures" in the operation of the system.
"We checked on the material failure [there was none]. Those trains – if you conduct the proper procedures – they will couple [lock]," he said.
The accident happened after an MRT train lost power after it had just left EDSA Magallanes station. Another train then linked up with the defective train and pushed the latter to the Pasay Taft station. Instead of stopping, the first train was detached from the second train and crashed through the barrier because it had no brakes.
Abaya said standard operating procedures in the coupling or locking process should have been followed by the drivers to the letter.
The locking process will allow the assisting train to push or pull the distressed and de-energized train.
What happened on Wednesday afternoon, however, was that the assisting driver “bumped” his train into the distressed train that made it appear that the two were already locked.
"It was only the assisting train driver who performed the coupling… and the process was not followed to the letter. There is poor assumption versus actual testing [that the trains were properly locked]," Abaya said.
Proper procedures provide that both train drivers should check and recheck if the levers in the coupling mechanism are aligned before they are locked, he said.
Abaya said the assisting driver was also driving the train above the maximum speed of 15 kilometers per hour.
"It was at the highest part of the slope of the Magallanes station that he noticed the two trains got unlocked.”
The speed and the slope of the railway forced the distressed train, which had already lost its braking system, to overshoot even the retarding buffer at the end of the Taft station, Abaya said.
"On hindsight, what could have been done was to pull the distressed train back to the Magallanes station. The same was asked of the driver, but he said the assisting train had already disembarked a lot of people before coming to his aid and doing so would mean more complaints from the passengers," Abaya said.
He said the department is now revisiting protocol manuals that will have to be institutionalized.
"The procedures] should be institutionalized by habit, by policy, by rules."
He said the drivers will also undergo retraining twice a year. The two drivers, both contractual workers but have been on the job for six years, have undergone training on the procedures but never faced an actual coupling mechanism before.
Abaya said passengers of both distressed and assisting trains will need to disembark before the locking process could begin.
"If one train stops in between stations, maybe they can now walk a little to the near station. That’s one policy we will have to adopt."
He said they will also ask the maintenance operators to deploy employees in every station so that technical problems will be resolved immediately.
He added the government is doing all it can to provide service to the commuting public.
“The budget is available in 2015 for the overhauling of the trains. We are already at the tail-end of the overhauling schedule,” he said.