By: Darwin G. Amojelar | | September 2, 2014

MANILA - The owner of Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT3) wants the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) to revise the terms for the auction of the system's maintenance provider.

MRT Holdings II spokesman David Narvasa told that his group submitted its initial comments on the terms of reference (TOR) for the procurement of a new maintenance provider and "requested for a 10-year contract for the maintenance and include the overhaul of the trains."

Additional comments on the TOR would be submitted to the DOTC after MTR Hong Kong completed its technical audit on the MRT3, Narvasa said.

"The technical audit will be completed in 30 days," he added.

To recall, DOTC had asked the MRT Holdings to review the TOR for the procurement of the maintenance provider. DOTC had issued a notice of invitation for the 3-year maintenance contract for MRT3 costing about P2.2 billion. A pre-bid conference is set on September 9, while the deadline for the submission of bids is on October 13.

The one-year contract of Autre Porte Technique Global Inc (APT Global) will end on September 5. The expiration of the contract comes on the heels of the worst accident to involve the MRT3. Last August 13, a southbound train of the MRT3 crashed through the barrier of the Pasay terminal, hurting at least 38 people.

DOTC blamed the accident on its personnel's negligence, as the drivers did not follow the standard "coupling" procedure. The agency's investigating committee found that there was "poor coordination" between the two train drivers and the control center personnel.

"An equity value buy out will not address the problem of safety. The problem of safety can only be addressed by getting a qualified maintenance provider," Narvasa said in a statement.

"The solution to the safety issue is to get a qualified maintenance provider that is financially and technically capable," he said.

Narvasa said MRT Holdings had been proposing upgrades in anticipation of reaching the 350,000 design capacity of the MRT3 but that DOTC did not act on these proposals. The capacity expansion of the MRT3 is long overdue, but its private owner and the government has been mired in dispute.

Running from North Avenue in Quezon City to Taft Avenue in Pasay City, MRT3 is operating at nearly 500,000 passengers per day, or way beyond its rated capacity of 350,000.

At present, the rail system has a fleet of 73 Czech-made air-conditioned rail cars, of which up to 60 three-car trains operate daily. The trains run at a maximum speed of 65 kilometers per hour to cover the rail system’s 13 stations in about 30 minutes, including short dwell times of about 25 to 35 seconds in each station.

"We gave government proposals for additional trains in 2002, 2004, 2007, 2010, including a proposal where the trains would be purchased at no cost to government but all these proposals were not acted upon by government," Narvasa said.

The government is instead procuring 48 light-rail vehicles or coaches from China’s CNR Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Co. Ltd.

"The problem with these trains from China is that they may not be compatible with the existing structure of the MRT," Narvasa said.

"What will be sent over is a prototype made by a company that has no experience in making double-articulated trains.  What it has experience in is locomotives.  So the issue now will be if these trains will be compatible. We want to ensure, for the safety of the people, that the trains that would be purchased are compatible with the current system," Narvasa said.

He said the company is open to discussions on the proposed compromise agreement with the government for the buyout of the MRT3.

"But as of now, there is no terms and conditions," Narvasa said, adding that there are no talks with the government.

"An equity value buyout is a right given to MRTC in case of default of the government. The government has to first be in default. If DOTC says they insist on an equity value buyout, are they saying they are in default?" Narvasa said.

In March last year, President Benigno Aquino III issued Executive Order No. 126, directing DOTC and the Department of Finance (DOF) to buy out MRT3 from MRTC pursuant to its build-lease-transfer (BLT) agreement.

DOTC had said the buyout of MRT3 would cost $1 billion, but would allow the government to wind down the 15 percent equity rental paid to the private owners. The government pays a P7 billion subsidy for MRT3 each year.