By Lorenz S. Marasigan | August 17, 2014

REHABILITATION and proper maintenance.

Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 Spokesman Hernando T. Cabrera said these two ingredients—when mixed together—would drastically improve the state of the overhead train system that serves roughly 550,000 passengers daily, or 57 percent above its rated capacity of 350,000 train riders per day.

He stressed that the two components should never be separated, as without one, the other could not stand, thereby compromising the integrity of the transportation system.

“The solution for MRT 3 is simple: We need to rehabilitate and properly maintain the train system. The two components should always go hand in hand. One should not be separated from the other,” he explained.

So to improve the system, the government plans to auction off a multimillion-peso contract to rehabilitate the 15-year-old railway line.

“The contract will provide for an overhauling of the whole system. The terms of reference will soon be issued and we plan to bid out the deal within the year,” Cabrera told the BusinessMirror in a phone interview.  “Implementation of the project is set as early as the first half of next year.”

In a separate interview, MRT Officer in Charge Honorito D. Chaneco said the government also plans to auction off within the next few weeks the maintenance contract for the train system.

He said the government has revised the terms of the deal, extending the concession period to three years from the previous one year to make sure the upkeep of the system is constant.

These plans came on the heels of the worst accident that happened involving the overhead railway line, wherein a wayward southbound train rammed against a concrete barrier at the Taft Avenue Station in Pasay City after it uncoupled with the light-rail vehicle that was assisting it for repair. At least 36 people were hurt from the incident.

After 10 years of being congested, the MRT Line 3 has not yet seen improvements from the government and private concessionaire that owns the assets of the railway line.

Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) President Jose Ma. K. Lim earlier said the shareholders of MRT Corp. (MRTC) are determined to undertake the proposed $300-million expansion of the infrastructure firm controlled by businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan.

The local flagship of the Hong Kong-based First Pacific Co. Ltd. wants to expand the capacity of the railway system by adding more coaches to each light-rail vehicle, effectively carrying more cars at faster intervals. The multimillion-dollar expansion plan would effectively double the capacity of the line to 700,000 passengers a day, from the current 350,000 passengers daily.

Aside from the $300-million proposal, the firm also offered the government $350 million for the acquisition of equity and some of the bonds issued by MRTC.

The $650-million offer was presented twice to the Department of Transportation and Communications since the plan was placed on the table in 2011.

MRTC, the concessionaire controlled by the Sobrepeña family, owns the assets of the railway line under a 25-year build-lease-transfer agreement, which mandates the government to pay an annual P7-billion fee in equity-rental costs for the state to operate the line.

Ahead of the buyout plan, the government has earmarked a P6.6-billion subsidy for the railway line for 2015.