VJ Bacungan | CNN Philippines | November 29, 2017

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) said the Metro Rail Transit 3's (MRT-3) new maintenance provider, Japanese firm Sumitomo Corporation, could start work on the troubled railway by the second quarter of 2018.

"(This could happen) as early as April, May of next year," Transportation Assistant Secretary TJ Batan told CNN Philippines on Wednesday.

"The first step before any maintenance provider can start working is for them to review the condition of the system," Batan added. "There will be a few months to do that and, once that's done, the maintenance service provider can come in and start doing not just the maintenance work there, but also the rehabilitation of the system."

Sumitomo and its technical partner, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, designed and built the MRT-3 and had maintained it from the start of operations in 2000 until 2012, when the contract with the companies expired.

The Philippine government is conducting "high-level discussions" with the Japanese government for "direct engagement" with Sumitomo and Mitsubishi, the DOTr said in a Wednesday statement.

"A G2G (government-to-government) agreement is scheduled to be signed before year-end," the DOTr said. "The maintenance and rehabilitation contract is intended to have a term of 3 years, and will include the rehabilitation and restoration of the system to its original performance standards."

Batan said the agreement is expected to be signed by the 3rd week of December 2017, after which the government will talk to Sumitomo and Mitsubishi to arrange their re-entry to the MRT-3.

On November 6, the government took over the MRT's maintenance from Korean group Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI) due to the company's alleged failure to operate the railway efficiently.

BURI officials, as well as Cabinet officials under the Aquino administration, face plunder charges for the allegedly anomalous, ₱3.8-billion maintenance contract that the government signed with BURI.

From January 2016 to Nov. 17, 2017, there have been at least 897 glitches on the MRT-3, or at least one glitch a day.

The glitches range from technical problems resulting in passengers being unloaded to the decoupling of two northbound MRT trains on Nov. 16, which resulted to around 140 passengers walking on the tracks for 10 minutes.