The Philippine Star | August 15, 2014

Transport officials are blaming Metro Rail Transit 3 train drivers for the accident in which a train slammed into a concrete barrier and jumped off the tracks at the Taft Avenue station in Pasay City the other day. Regardless of the cause, the accident, which left at least 36 passengers injured and aggravated the despicable traffic jam along EDSA, reminded the public about

the inadequacy of the light rail service and mass transportation in general in Metro Manila.

Expansion of the light railway service has not been fast-tracked even with the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program of the Aquino administration. Expansion and improved maintenance plans have also become bogged down in a $30-million extortion scandal that is still waiting for resolution, with the recommendations of the Department of Justice still languishing on the desk of President Aquino. Why the DOJ report on Al Vitangcol, who was fired as MRT 3 chief, needs presidential action is unclear.  A related scandal, also involving Vitangcol and the maintenance contract for MRT trains, is being investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Even before the MRT 3 scandals erupted, the system clearly needed a major upgrade. The light railway services, started during the Marcos regime, have become among the most popular modes of public transportation, unimpeded by traffic jams, running on time and with reasonable fares. Commuters are willing to be packed like sardines into light rail coaches just to avoid Metro Manila’s infernal traffic.

If the system can be substantially expanded, many private vehicle owners will readily leave their cars at home or at least in nearby parking lots and take the light rail trains. The light rails are among the answers to Metro Manila’s traffic congestion. Last Wednesday’s accident should spur the government to speed up action on the expansion of the light rail service.