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All aboard!

DON’T ask if DoTr and its MRT-3 maintenance provider are about to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Just don’t let it be the headlight of an oncoming train!

DoTr Undersecretary Cesar Chavez has given Busan Universal Rail Inc., no relation to the owners of the “Train to Busan,” an ultimatum: Explain the glitches or you lose the contract. Last Tuesday, it was Busan’s turn to blow its horn.

First, a backgrounder. Busan won the bid at R3.8B in 2016 (the highest bid was R4.5B). MRT-3 from North Ave. to Taft Ave. has been operating since 1999, traveling 16.9 km, serving an average of 350,000 passengers a day, still slightly above optimal capacity. They’re paid R54M monthly to keep 72 trains running efficiently, safely. Public attention has been keen on this line as it serves the most passengers and “it’s EDSA.” Of those trains (no. 73 jumped the tracks), 42 need to be overhauled to be useful.

As it’s an aging system, certain spare parts are no longer available, the Czech suppliers having gone out of business, but with the legendary ingenuity of our mechanics, new things have come out of practically nothing. Still, retooling takes time.

MRT-3’s coaches are Czech-designed, with Korean components, maintained by Filipinos. Busan is 95 percent PH-owned, five percent Korean, and employs 500 people, including three Korean engineers and a track specialist. The hair raising glitches – one derailment (seven others under previous managements), doors opening or refusing to open, power outages, train removals (532 ten years ago, 544 last year), etc. – are par for the course, as train systems go.
Charles P. Mercado, corporate secretary, said, “A maintenance provider is hired to fix glitches,” implying
that shortening the long queues is beyond their ken and the terms of the contract.

On their journey to year two (the contract ends in 2019), Mr. Mercado told “Bulong Pulungan”: “We’ve overperformed our contract.” Such as hiring more foot-patrol teams, loosening the pebbles under the train for a smoother ride four times a night instead of only once, ordering a more expensive grease to prevent spillage and excessive vibration that causes smoking wheels, and facing other problems “beyond our control,” all of which cost money. The contract gives Busan 36 months to fulfill its obligations. It’s been 15 months. (Jullie Y. Daza)