Jarius Bondoc | Philstar | September 2, 2016

The Dept. of Transport admitted that MRT-3 railcars do have metal cracks that could cause fatal derailments. But it claimed that only two cars – not four as reported here Wednesday – are damaged. And for whatever reason, DOTr downplayed the seriousness of the metal wear, saying it was "normal" when trains are overloaded. It needs refuting.

First off, pictures don't lie. Photos and diagrams provided by MRT-3 insiders show long hairline cracks in the bogey frames of Cars No. 04, 11, 48, and 64. All four bogey frames of Car 04 have faults; cracks are in the front bogey frames of the three other cars.

The bogey frame holds up the railcar's wheel and brake systems. If worn out, it could collapse under the weight of passengers (394 per railcar at full capacity). The train, consisting of three railcars, could jump off the tracks and smash onto a station or fall down the busy avenue below. The cost to lives and limbs is incalculable.

DOTr said the two railcars with cracks have been pulled out of operation. That means two other cars already confirmed by insiders to also be faulty are still in daily use. DOTr did not identify the numbers of the claimed two defective cars. It is risking the safety of the 550,000 daily riders. Is the new changed DOTr as opaque as the old one?

The damage on four cars were detected on inspection of only 19 of the 73 MRT-3 cars from the Czech Republic, insiders said. How many of the 54 other cars also have cracks? No word of that too by DOTr.

There also was no mention of what was done with the only two trains supposed to have cracks. Special welding can fuse the worn metal. Insiders aver that nothing of the sort has been done. Otherwise, it would have been stated in the daily status reports on the condition of the railcars. Is the MRT-3 paying the maintenance contractor for nothing?

That contractor consists of Busan Transport of Korea and four Filipino dummies. After secret negotiations in Oct. 2015, their contract commenced in Jan. 2016. The P4.25-billion deal includes three-year maintenance of the railcars, tracks, power supply, and stations. Yet Busan et al have not even stockpiled basic spare parts for periodic replacement. Included too are the major overhaul of 43 railcars, and total replacement of the signaling system. Not one has been overhauled. The old signaling remains busted. The railway breaks down every two days. The four dummies have no experience in railways, only in construction, general merchandise, agriculture supply, and plumbing.

True, train overloading could crack the bogey frames. But there are other causes of metal wear, like inferior materials. Singapore's Mass Transit Railway discovered that in 26 new trains from China. The motor compartment showed cracks only weeks after deployment. Singapore is returning to China for repair and modification over a hundred recently purchased railcars.

In contrast MRT-3 has been accepting without complaint the first few deliveries of 48 railcars also ordered from China. Contrary to specs, eight railcars arrived incomplete. The first prototype, supposedly a fully functional sample or model, came in Oct. with no engine. A second followed in Dec. lacking four of eight wheels. The rest arrived starting in March disassembled: passenger compartments came in separate crates from motor platforms, bogey wheels, and brakes. None had been test-run at the China factory for 5,000 km at varying speeds, curves, and slopes. None had the requisite automatic train protector (ATP) that brakes the train, shuts off the motors, activates the alarm and ventilation, and opens the doors in emergencies. As signaling component, the ATP electronically connects the trains to each other and to the control-monitoring center. Without it the trains cannot be safely operated.

The railcars from China's Dalian Corp. were defectively designed and made. The motor compartment brackets hinder inspection, and are substandard, so susceptible to metal chipping. Not a peep from MRT-3.

MRT-3 temporarily has stopped the delivery of any more Dalian trains. It forgot to expand the old depot of the 73 original railcars to accommodate the 48 new ones. Talk about buying expensive sports cars yet not having a garage!

Why is the new DOTr speaking for the old MRT-3? The latter is "old" because still under the general manager of the past administration, Roman Buenafe. He was a political appointee in Dec. 2014 of high schoolmate transport chief Joseph Abaya. To recall, one month later, Abaya, Buenafe, and another high schoolmate, administrator Honorito Chaneco of LRT-1 and -2, suddenly doubled the train fares. Yet they had just wangled from Congress increased budgets for operation and maintenance.

Buenafe was among the closed-door negotiators who hired Busan and the Filipino dummies. He signed the contract, along with then- DOTr undersecretaries Rene Limcaoco, Catherine Jennifer Gonzales, and Edwin Lopez. (They are charged with graft before the Ombudsman for not holding a public bidding.) Buenafe also recommends the release of payments to Busan et al, based on purported performance. Not to forget, he also accepts the delivery of the Dalian railcars, the P3.8-billion purchase of which allegedly had a five-percent kickback (P200 million).

Buenafe has yet another schoolboy, Joel Erestain, as executive aide. The latter has been speaking for Buenafe and MRT-3. So why does DOTr have to yak for them?

Here's probably why. New Undersecretary for Rails Noel Kintanar is again a high schoolmate of Buenafe and Erestain, Abaya and Chaneco. So the new head office now speaks for the old dealmaker.

Last presidential campaign, Kintanar and Buenafe were busy campaigning against candidate Rodrigo Duterte. Nothing wrong with that, as far as then-private citizen Kintanar was concerned. But not Buenafe, because government officials are forbidden from election partisanship. Buenafe's contracting of Busan and accommodation of Dalian allegedly are as illegal as his vicious postings on social media (see http://www.philstar.com/opinion/2016/07/11/1601649/anti-duterte-partisan...). Yet he was retained at MRT-3.

Kintanar, when asked in a radio interview why he's now with DOTr, shot back that people shouldn't begrudge him his desire to serve the new President. He unbelievably has turned into a Duterte loyalist overnight. Has he truly severed his ties with Ayala Corp., for whom he contracted the terms of the LRT-1 extension with an astounding payback of P7.5 billion.

Buenafe is as conflicted. He contracted and pays out millions of pesos to Eugene Rapanut and Marlo dela Cruz, brokers of the Busan and Dalian deals and members of the once ruling Liberal Party. He does not tell the new DOTr bosses that those contractors are not performing. Not only the MRT-3 trains but the system is cracked.