The Business Mirror | May 16, 2016

The owner of the most congested railway line in Metro Manila is willing to shell out P37.27 billion to fix, improve and modernize the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT 3) and, finally, put an end to the chronic problems of the train system.

Robert John L. Sobrepeña, who chairs MRT Holdings Inc., said in a briefing that his company will revive its earlier proposal to the transport department once Rodrigo R. Duterte has been sworn into office this June.

The new proposal, however, is an amended version of its earlier proposal. This offer involves solutions to the projected growth in passenger volume once the train line has been fixed.

"We are extremely happy that we now have a new president-elect; and we are looking forward to dealing with the new government to find a solution to solve the problem of the train system, which is critical to solve the congestion along Edsa," he said. Sobrepeña said he has met with the camp of Duterte and discussed his group’s proposal. He has yet to meet the future president of the country, but has scheduled a meeting with him next week.

"The only way to solve the problem is to deal with the owners of the train line. We are looking forward to finalizing and negotiating this proposal to the new government," he said.

Under the three-phased proposal, the private sector will start fixing the train line’s immediate problems, namely, the system’s dilapidated rails, outdated signaling system and its failing train cars.

"The proposal is a fast-track rehab, wherein, together with Sumitomo Corp., we will fix the train system in about nine months to a year," Sobrepeña said. "This will cost roughly $100 million, and it will bring the system back from where we have left."

He was referring to the normal and not overly congested phase of the railway line in 2012, when all of the 73 Czech-made trains were still running. Today the official said only half of them are operating along the rails of the 17-kilometer line.

"The next phase involves the upgrade of the whole system, which costs about $400 million. It involves the replacement of all elevators, escalators, and the makeover of the stations. We will also buy 48 new cars to double our capacity, so that 1 million to 1.2 million passengers could ride the train system daily," Sobrepeña said.

The third phase involves the linking of the MRT to the Light Rail Transit Line 1’s Monumento Station. This would require another $300 million in investment.

"We will also add 48 more train cars, so definitely, we are looking at scenario that most of public commuters could ride the MRT, thereby lessening the buses on Edsa, hence, easing the traffic on the road," he said.

All these, he added could be completed in a matter of three to three-and-a-half years, almost half of a term of a president.

"We will do all of these without any cost to the government, and without extending our concession period under the build-lease-transfer. Fares will also be based on bus fares," Sobrepeña said. "The government will not have to spend a single centavo."

The said contract, signed during the term of President Fidel V. Ramos, will end by 2025. Once the concession expires, the government will own the train system.

The only catch to this proposal is this: the government has to agree to pass on the management of the train line to the group of Sobrepeña through an operations and maintenance contract.

"We still have to negotiate it with the government," he said.

The Aquino administration has repeatedly ignored the proposals offered by the Sobrepeña group. It also did not reply to two other proposals from other private companies laid on the table.

Under its proposal, Metro Pacific Investments Corp. will shoulder the upgrade costs of the train system and release the government from the bondage of paying billions of pesos in equity rental payments.

The group of businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan, which earlier entered into a partnership agreement with the corporate owner of the MRT, intends to spend $524-million to overhaul the line.

The venture would effectively expand the capacity of the railway system by adding more coaches to each train, allowing it to carry more cars at faster intervals. The multimillion-dollar expansion plan would double the capacity of the line to 700,000 passengers a day from the current 350,000 passengers daily.

It was submitted in 2011, but the transportation agency’s chief back then rejected the proposal. The group revived its proposal before Congress in 2014.

Sobrepeña met with the group of Pangilinan on Friday afternoon to arrive at a possible joint venture for the rehab and the modernization of the train system.

On the other hand, Schunk is seeking to place whole train system under a massive transformation program to augment its capacity and to provide a safe and comfortable travel to commuters from the northern and southern corridors of Metro Manila.

The P4.64-billion proposal, submitted in February last year with Filipino partner Comm Builders and Technology Phils. Corp., calls for the complete overhaul of the 73 light-rail vehicles of the MRT, the replacement of the rails, the upgrading of the line’s ancillary system, the upgrade of the track circuit and signaling systems, the modernization of the conveyance system and a three-year maintenance contract. Under the amended build-operate-transfer law, the government has to inform the proponent whether it accepts or rejects an unsolicited proposal within 120 days.