Nicole-Anne C. Lagrimas | GMA News | November 17, 2017

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) will heed Senator Grace Poe's suggestion to temporarily shut down the operations of the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 only if it finds that all of the line's trains are no longer running, said a transportation official on Friday.

For now, the MRT3 remains "reliable" despite its shortcomings, said Transportation Undersecretary for Rails Cesar Chavez in an interview on Unang Balita.

"Sa ngayon ang tingin namin—at ito ay matindi namang pagsusuri—reliable pa rin 'yung tren kahit may mga pagkukulang ito," he said.

The consensus, he said, was the train line was still safe and could still service around half a million people daily.

He earlier said that Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade was "seriously considering" a temporary shutdown of the oft-malfunctioning train line.

The undersecretary explained a three-step check-up or maintenance process that each train car undergoes after it operates each day: first, he said, a train car will have to go through a light maintenance section, and get transferred to a heavy maintenance section in the event of serious mechanical concerns.

Next, train cars would be transferred to a stabling area, then be turned over to an emergency repair unit, wherein a train car's every nook and cranny will be inspected by technicians.

Finally, the train cars will be turned over to a yardmaster, who is responsible for assigning which train cars go to which train sets, and ultimately which sets are "good to go," said Chavez.

But owing to "poor maintenance"—the last overhaul, he said, happened in 2008—glitches continue to mar the train line's performance.

Chavez said the DOTr is currently undergoing procurement procedures for spare parts, and for a "technically and financially competent" service provider, which could be an international firm with local partners.

The call of Poe, who chairs the Senate Committee on Public Services, to consider the said shutdown came on the day a train car of the MRT3 detached from the rest of the train set in between stations, prompting up to 140 passengers to walk on the railway tracks to get to safety.

Chavez on Thursday said they are eyeing a sabotage angle behind the incident after the detached train car's "black box"—essentially a memory card—was discovered missing. But on Friday, he added that technicians are also looking into a possible issue with the coupler motor.

He was not keen to point fingers on who may have been responsible for the incident pending the results of an investigation.

"Ayaw naming magpangalan. Ayaw naming mag-single out, at wala pang conclusion tayo diyan," he said.

"Ang sinasabi lang natin, ito 'yung mga anggulo na tinitingnan natin, sapagkat sinong may motibo para mawala 'yung black box o Messma card na siyang magbibigay sa amin ng technical explanation (kung) ano 'yung pagkakamali sa operasyon ng train na 'yun at the time the incident happened?" he added.

Ultimately, the MRT3's performance is the DOTr's responsibility, he said.

"Ang importante, ang pananagutan dito ay sa amin. Ang gusto nating sabihin sa mga kababayan natin ay pinagsisikapan natin na lahat ng tren na iaakyat ay maayos. Nagkakaroon ng problema, paminsan-minsan..." he said.

Chavez also reiterated an earlier claim that the train line's service has been improving since the government took over its maintenance from what it called a poorly performing maintenance provider. In light of this, Thursday's decoupling incident, he said, was "saddening."