Jarius Bondoc | Philstar | October 6, 2016

MRT-3 promised to boost train speeds, frequency, and ridership within the first 100 days of the Duterte admin. It put up Prez Rody to announce glowing statistics in his State of the Nation last July. Yet as the deadline falls this Saturday, the trains are as slow, sparse, rough – and perilous – as ever.

There were only 13 trains per hour on average in July and Aug., and 12 in Sept. At peak hours the best MRT-3 could field were 17 trains. They first ran at 40 kph in July, 50 kph in Aug., and back to 40 in Sept. Intervals between trains remained at just below or above five minutes.

The record was only slightly better than during the Aquino tenure, when the commuter railway deteriorated. There were only 330,640 passengers per day in July and Aug., and 305,040 in Sept. That's a far cry from high speeds of 65 kph, 18 trains per hour and 20 to 21 during peak hours, and 560,000 riders per day before 2012.

All this is because, abetted by MRT-3 managers, the maintenance contractor has not stockpiled on necessary spare parts. It has done only slapdash repairs of trains and tracks. Without the crucial spares, it merely cannibalizes the most dilapidated coaches to keep the rest running. It also merely grinds the rails and slows down the trains on portions that need track replacement. The relatively intact rails in the depot are being uprooted for rotation with the crushed ones.

Busan Transport Corp. of Korea and its four Filipino dummies have a P4.25-billion contract to maintain the railway for three years starting last Jan. Part of the deal is to overhaul 43 of the 73 Czech-made coaches. It has not done the work, yet is collecting monthly billings.

The details are being kept from Transport Sec. Arthur Tugade:

- Only seven of the total 68 kilometers of dilapidated rails have been replaced. Busan merely grinded the rest. The cost of replacement rails, labor, and rail grinder was shouldered by MRT-3, instead of Busan, per its contract.

- With no parts purchases, Busan only used up by last month the last of the stockpiles worth $17 million left behind in 2012 by the original maintenance firm Sumitomo of Japan.

- Each of the 73 coaches have eight wheels. All have exceeded the safety standards for flange thickness and surface contact. The wheels have to be trued, or restored to circular shape, once a year. That has not been done because the truing machine broke down, and Busan has not repaired or replaced it.

- Due to bad tracks and wheels, passengers feel rough rides. Unseen is the danger of tracks and wheels crushing from metal wear.

- Four coaches – Nos. 08, 31, 70, and 73 – severely have been cannibalized. Eleven others are being stripped of usable parts.

- Cracks have been found on 12 bogey frames of the 19 coaches so far inspected. Left unrepaired, the cracks can worsen and lead to serious accident. The frames that hold up the heavy steel wheels and brakes could collapse under the weight of the motors and passengers, and derail the train.

- Each of the 73 coaches has four traction motors, for a total of 292. More than half, 152, are defective. All the rest have exceeded safety wear-and-tear limits.

- Each of the 73 coaches has three air-conditioners, for a total of 219 units. Of those, only 58 still run on tandem compressors; 125 have single compressors remaining. Nineteen are cannibalized units; 17 are defective.

- If Tugade decides to go and inspect the railway, he had better beware of taking any of the 35 elevators. All are defective from non-replacement of parts from Mitsubishi and Schindler. MRT-3 has opted to buy untested elevators from China, to cover up the non-procurement of spare parts.

Duterte is about to collect on the promised train speed of 60-65 kph, with 20 trains at peak hours and 17 at non-peak, and intervals of three minutes between trains. Tugade reportedly bawled out Monday his Undersecretary for Railways. The MRT-3 will be forced to fulfill its false promises. But with shoddy maintenance and un-replaced worn-out parts, it would be pushing the trains and tracks to the limits – at grave peril to the riders and the commuters and pedestrians on EDSA below.