Frequent MRT Breakdowns Threaten Lives Of Passengers

by Marya Salamat

MANILA — Scientists’ group AGHAM warned on Tuesday, June 16, that unless the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) drastically changes how it manages the rail system, breakdowns would get more frequent and could threaten the lives of passengers.

AGHAM or Advocates of Science and Technology for the People has counted 15 glitches and three injuries so far from January to first half of June this year in the MRT system alone. The day after it came out with its statement, MRT operations were disrupted again with the trains servicing only the route to and from MRT North Avenue and Shaw Boulevard stations.

Lack of proper maintenance for the past two years has made the trains unstable, AGHAM has said, noting that since 2013, glitches are occurring more frequently.

“Management failure caused all these breakdowns and glitches,” said Archie Orillosa, an electrical engineer and member of AGHAM. He said the country’s engineers understand the train’s technology well and know what’s wrong, but they don’t have the support or directive to fix it.

In interviews with MRT employees over the past few months, this reporter also learned that lack of parts and sometimes equipment also prevent the technicians from actually repairing what needed fixing. This, despite the budget regularly allocated for its maintenance.

The sorry state of the trains became once again apparent during the resumption of classes. As in past incidences of serious overcrowding in MRT, only seven trains were functional to service the back-to-school rush. Reports said the coaches couldn’t be repaired immediately for lack of stockpiled refrigerant.

“APT Global argued that since their contract is renewed every month, they don’t want to risk stockpiling a multi-month supply of Freon,” said Orillosa. But he also noted that the same problem with the refrigerants has surfaced as early as April.

Another breakdown occurred Monday this week (June 15), as an MRT train stalled between Boni and Guadalupe stations.

Passengers were forced to walk along the rails at Guadalupe Bridge back to the MRT station to look for other modes of transport.

Blame service providers, DOTC, MRT management

The partylist group Anakpawis has questioned earlier why, in the first place, AP&T was maintained despite continuously failing MRT’s maintenance.

Following one in a series of glitches in MRT operations last February, Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap said it is an obvious case of incompetency on the part of Transportation Sec. Joseph Abaya and the MRT management.

“The government is spending almost $1 million dollars or a whopping P50 million pesos per month for the maintenance of the MRT and we are getting this rotten and gradually dangerous train service,” Hicap said.

Early this year, an almost 87 percent increase in fares for the Metro Rail Transit (MRT-3) was also implemented against protests by organizations from the riding public. Petitions blocking the fare hike lodged by progressive groups remain pending at the Supreme Court.

MRT employees have told this reporter that the fare hike has increased the ticket sales of MRT even if its riders have decreased because of the frequent glitches and fewer functional trains, problematic signaling system, air conditioning units, rails, etc.

Last week, just to contain the breakdown of air-conditioning units, APT Global reportedly suggested to the MRT management that it limits the number of passengers per trip to 274 passengers, the ideal capacity per MRT coach, instead of the 600 “packed like sardines” passengers per coach. The MRT management reportedly declined saying that it is not feasible.

The MRT management has previously started implementing various crowd or passenger control mechanisms to limit the onrush of passengers in each station.

The commuters group TREN (Train Riders Network) said “it does not take a genius to figure out that we have been lied to. We have been scammed and held up by corporations and our own government, all in the name of private profits and debt incurred by the government due to an onerous build-lease transfer (BLT) contract with the Metro Rail Transit Corporation’s (MRTC).”

Train glitches amid profit?

In a study of the country’s rail infrastructure, AGHAM found out that the Build-Lease-Transfer (BLT) contract entered into by the government is partly to blame for the escalating cost and many breakdowns in the train system.

It said the public private partnership setup divides the MRT system between the government and a private company, making it difficult, if not impossible, to proactively manage the trains.

Given the complicated legal structure of ownership and control of the MRT, even Agham could not pinpoint who’s ultimately responsible for the glitches. But like other groups, it is sure about who’s the victim, and that is the riding public, said mechanical engineer Miguel Aljibe.

Under the BLT, the DOTC is simply the operator paying an annual lease to the MRT Corporation, whose stocks are partly if not majority owned already by the government-controlled banks yet the private business groups claim it still retained much of the political rights in the corporation.

Even purchasing new trains require the cooperation of the MRT Corporation. TESP, the former maintenance contractor of the MRT, had already warned the government as early as 2011 that the entire MRT system needed an overhaul. But AGHAM noted that the government has been slow to act on the recommendation.

The Aquino government has allotted more funds to “buy back” the MRT, on top of regular outlays to maintain the train system.

This would not have come to pass if the government had not, in the first place, relied on BLT (build-lease-transfer) or public-private partnerships, most critics of privatization said. “The dismal safety record of the MRT is a symptom of a deeper problem, which is the state’s abandonment of its responsibility to provide safe transport,” said Aljibe.

TREN decried what it calls as “massive disenfranchisement of the Filipino commuters” due to government’s prioritization of private interests over public ones. They call on the public to protest this situation brought about by the privatization of public transport.

“We demand a safe, accessible, and efficient mass transport system,” TREN spokesperson James Relativo said in an earlier statement. They also demanded the scrapping of MRT’s “onerous contracts,” and the nationalization, instead, of our trains, “so we can directly fund public service, not private pockets.”

TREN vowed to protest at the transportation department offices in the coming days with other sector. It urged those who could not participate to come up with creative means in voicing their anger through social media, and other ways. (


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