Manila Bulletin | November 9, 2017

The public has long gotten used to the sight of long lines of people standing on streets leading to Metro Rail Transit (MRT) stations apparently because there are not enough trains or there has been another incident along the tracks that brought service to a halt. Last Tuesday morning, there were two lines – not the usual one – standing patiently on EDSA near Quezon Ave. waiting to board their rides to work or to school.

On the same day, the newspapers carried reports of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Busan Universal Rail, Inc. (BURI) exchanging harsh words over the DOTr decision to terminate BURI's contract for the maintenance of the MRT-3 system.

The DOTr had issued a notice of termination to BURI last October 20, citing its alleged poor performance, failure to ensure the availability of the required number of trains, failure to implement a feasible procurement plan for spare parts, and non-compliance with the requirements of a computerized management system.

BURI had countered that the problems of MRT were mainly due to its design flaws and not poor maintenance. It pointed out that 91 percent of the fleet (66 out of 72 cars) were operational. It expressed confidence that it would win in the coming arbitration process. It was also planning to take other judicial remedies.

The frequent breakdowns in MRT operations along EDSA have long been deplored, with passengers sometimes made to get off the train and walk along the rails back to the station. The Light Rail Transit (LRT) along Rizal Ave. and Taft Ave. in Manila is a much older operation but seems to have fewer operational problems.

There is now a pending graft case filed with the Ombudsman by the DOTr against former Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and other former officials. It seems that while the notice of award for the P3.8-billion maintenance contract had been issued to Korean-Filipino joint venture Busan JV in December, 2015, the contract was awarded to BURI, a totally different entity, which was incorporated only in January, 2016.

After the DOTr moved to terminate BURI's contract with MRT-3, Rep. Jericho Nograles of the partylist Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta commended Secretary Arthur Tugade for finding the political will to finally take action. After the termination of the BURI contract, he said, Tugade should go after those behind the P3.8-billion maintenance contract.

There will be time enough for that in the future. For the present, it will be enough if the MRT trains can just be made to run on schedule and without any further breakdowns in between stations. We will know that progress is being made when we stop