Danger to life and limb | Inquirer Opinion

Danger to life and limb

/ 12:36 AM March 01, 2015

At last, major repair work on the 15-year-old elevated railway that plies the length of Edsa.

Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT3) operations were ordered suspended starting at 9 p.m. last night until 12 noon today to allow for the replacement of rails between the Taft and Magallanes stations, covering a 150-meter length of track. The 15-hour weekend repair is aimed at addressing what a Hong Kong-based observer team has deemed a serious danger to life and limb: the system’s broken rails. At the same time, it is intended not to derail the weekday schedule of the metro workers who depend on MRT3 for their daily commute to their offices, factories and other workplaces.

But the riding public is called upon to be even more patient than usual: The replacement and/or repair work on an estimated six kilometers of track will be done until the yearend, MRT general manager Roman Buenafe said at a House transportation meeting on Wednesday. This is the first time that MRT management is seriously repairing the tracks after the release of the Hong Kong experts’ report, he said.


In that report—submitted by inspectors from MTR Corp., which operates Hong Kong’s excellent urban train system—the state of MRT3 was described as “most alarming” and “unsatisfactory.” Much emphasis was placed on the danger posed by the old rails breaking, which may lead to “substantial casualties.” Said the experts: “The cases of broken rail are expected to continue to increase, exacerbating the safety risk.”


While certainly inconvenient, the repair work is the first clear sign that MRT management is bestirring itself to fix the rail system’s many problems, which range from ownership and contractor issues to its operating above capacity. (The contractor managing the rail line, APT Global, was even reported as scoffing at the MTR Corp. experts’ findings, insisting that the tracks were fine.) MRT3’s official daily capacity is 350,000 passengers, but the reality is that some 600,000 are packed in those trains every day.

The year 2014 was an annus horribilis for MRT 3, with the train line suffering everything from a violent derailment leading to 38 injuries to its manager being removed due to accusations of corruption. Sen. Grace Poe once took an unannounced trip during rush hour and confirmed what the riding public had long been enduring: “From queuing to getting the ticket to entering the platform to getting in and out of the train, everything is beyond worst.”

This year has not seen any improvement, with both chronic and mysterious problems causing trip delays or suspended operations on a near-daily basis. Kilometric queues just to get into the stations, long waits for trains, coaches crammed to bursting, and sudden stops that cause passengers to “fall like dominoes”—these are routine horrors for the riding public.

On top of everything else a fare increase was imposed early in 2015, after being announced during the Christmas season when the public was in a holiday mood. A “sneak attack,” it has been described. Despite legal attempts to hold it back and much public outrage, the increase took effect on Jan. 4, now requiring a base fare of P11 plus P1 per kilometer. The Department of Transportation and Communications pegged the increase for “the average passenger for the average trip” at P6. In their report “Turn MRT into Opportunity,” James Miraflor and Walden Bello said minimum-wage earners really had it bad: “a staggering 144-percent increase.”

And yet, as Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya has admitted, that fare increase would not go to long-overdue improvements in the system but to the payment of P600 million in monthly fees to the concessionaire that owns MRT3. The man, who has long been dodging calls from the public for his resignation, thought nothing of saying on national TV: It doesn’t follow that if I resign, the trains will run faster. Or words to that effect.

That flippant attitude compounds the problem that is MRT3—an inefficient, perilous, overworked and essentially overpriced transport system that systemically punishes the very people it was intended to serve. Repairing the old rails is a necessary move, but how long will it take for the government to make MRT3 a safe, reliable and affordable train system for the desperate riding public? More and more, it has become obvious that private-sector competence is the answer.



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TAGS: metro rail transit, MRT-3

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