Jarius Bondoc,  April 15, 2016

What is Transport Sec. Joseph Abaya up to? He kept promising to test-run the new MRT-3 coaches, to be operational starting March. He failed. It’s mid-April, yet no additional train is in use.

Now he’s rushing to tear up the very tracks on which the old trains run and the new ones are to be tested. The rails are to be replaced at the whopping cost of P1.2 billion. He’s in big hurry. Bidding is set for this Monday, Apr. 18.

The project would take two years; wise to have the next admin handle it. But Abaya doesn’t think so. That he’s stepping down in two months doesn’t hinder him. Neither does the election ban on government contracting. He wants to award the exorbitant deal by hook or by crook. Why?

Abaya publicized an Invitation to Bid only two weeks ago, on Mar. 30. Entitled “Systematic Rail Replacement DOTC-MRT-3,” it stated: “Delivery and installation of the Goods is required within twenty-four (24) months upon receipt of the Notice to Proceed.” Approved Budget for Contract, P1,199,403,704.52. Issuance of Bidding Documents, 30 Mar.-18 Apr. Pre-Bid Conference, 6 Apr., 10:30 a.m. Submission and Opening of Bids: 18 Apr., 11:30 a.m.

If no hitches in his haste, Abaya can grant the bid winner such Notice to Proceed by mid-May. Just in time; being coterminous with his boss and abettor P-Noy, he is to step down on June 30.

Meantime, Abaya is mum about his missed deadline to add one new train, consisting of three coaches (light rail vehicles, LRVs). The last time he mentioned it was Feb. 17, with the arrival from China of two LRVs to link with an earlier one last December.

Supposedly the three-LRV train would commence 5,000-km test-run on Feb. 20, to be added to the old fleet by end-March. None ran, except on Good Friday, Mar. 25.

Test-running it for 5,000 km on the 17-km-long MRT-3 tracks is doubtful. That means the train should run back and forth 295 times, 30 minutes per way, at speeds up to 65 kph. Doing it at night was unfeasible, because dark and perilous. Besides, the tracks are inspected, grinded, and repaired only during the MRT-3’s six off-hours, 11 p.m.-5 a.m.

In a forum with The STAR in January, Abaya muttered something about doing it in-between the regular daytime train runs. That would have been riskier. The brakes and traction controls still are being tested, precisely two major objectives of the 5,000-km run. If the brakes or traction fail, the new LRVs could collide with those loaded with passengers, or derail and fall down the elevated tracks to the busy avenue below. MRT-3 riders, and commuters and pedestrians below would be killed or maimed.

And yet, Abaya recently posted in the DOTC website that the three-LRV train already has completed 3,000 km.

The test-runs should have been done at the factory of Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corp. That’s specified in Abaya’s P3.85-billion overpriced contract of 2013. (Ex-MRT-3 chief Al Vitangcol has exposed a five-percent kickback, or 192.5 million.) Yet Abaya accepted the LRVs untested, with no corresponding deduction of payment from Dalian for passing on the cost to DOTC-MRT-3.

Too, the test-runs should be with the crucial Automatic Train Protection. The ATP is the onboard part of the signaling system, which electronically connects LRVs within a train, trains with each other, and all trains to the MRT-3 control center. If the Dalian LRVs have any ATP at all, those are not being tested. The MRT-3 has yet to replace its old deteriorated signaling system. Supply of that new signaling is part of Abaya’s separate P3.9-billion maintenance grant to Korea’s Busan Transport and four Filipino dummies of his Liberal Party-mates. (Abaya is the ruling LP’s acting president.)

All those specifications are stated in Sections 1.1 to 1.15 of the Terms of Reference, which forms part of Dalian’s contract.

The test-runs also must be in four-LRV configuration, not just three. Part of it is the ability of the four-LRV train to start and stop at stations with precision, negotiate curves and slopes, and push and tow similar trains.

Abaya cannot perform that, because the first prototype that Dalian delivered in August 2015 was engineless. When exposed in this column, Abaya was forced to admit that he separately was to buy traction motors from Germany. Again, there was no corresponding deduction from the payments to Dalian for delivering an incomplete product.

The present MRT-3 power system is enough for only three-LRV trains. Power would shut down if Abaya attempts the required four-LRV setup. He has yet to upgrade the power supply.

Abaya brags that four LRVs would be arriving every month starting March, until Dalian completes the 48 new LRVs. Abaya is not saying, though, that the MRT-3 depot in Quezon City has no space for such number of new trains. Like the power upgrade, the DOTC has yet to bid out the additional depot space and equipment.

Abaya is not worried about that. He’s busy with the replacement of the tracks for P1.2 billion on Monday.