Trains figure prominently in the plans of the Duterte administration for the country. The Metro Manila traffic crisis will never be resolved unless the established train systems serving Metro residents – the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) along Epifanio delos Santos Ave. (EDSA) and the Light Rail Transit along Rizal Ave. and Taft Ave. are raised to their top capacities.
Hundreds of thousands of office and factory workers depend on the two train systems every day. When one breaks down, such as last Wednesday when MRT train service was interrupted due to another malfunction, thousands of commuters are forced to line up at train stations. It had been hoped that with the new administration, there would be no more frequent train breakdowns as in the past. But this problem, it seems, has not been solved.
Thus, a hundred days into the new dispensation, the Metro traffic problem remains as tangled as ever. In the House of Representatives, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez lamented that the traffic is being counted by many as a bad mark on the President’s otherwise excellent 100-day performance. In the Senate, Sen. Grace Poe, chairwoman of the Senate committee studying the emergency powers sought by the Department of Transportation (DoTr), said the department should have taken what steps it could to ease the situation, while waiting for Congress to approve the emergency powers.
Train systems are among the major long-range projects of the government for the entire country. For 2017, the administration has earmarked P25 billion to upgrade and expand Luzon’s trains, including P9.4 billion for the North-South Rail Project from Manila to Sorsogon, and P4.8 billion for the MRT.
Cebu Rep. Gerald Gullas Jr., House deputy majority leader, has filed a bill for the construction of a 71-kilometer Cebu light rail transit and a 2,000-kilometer Mindanao train system connecting the island’s major cities. These two train systems will serve as great equalizers to balance the billions spent every year on Luzon’s trains, he said.
The Mindanao and Cebu projects are of such magnitude that they will need assistance such as loans from the Japanese government. Congressman Gullas expressed hope that these will take off in the next three to four years.
Meanwhile, we await action on the more immediate program to improve train services in Metro Manila. There will be other steps to be taken by the DoTr to solve this worsening problem but the biggest one will be running Metro Manila’s trains at top capacity to absorb the hundreds of thousands who must travel each day to keep the capital region’s offices, factories, schools, and other institutions working.