By Jarius Bondoc | The Philippine Star | September 16, 2015

Transport Sec. Joseph Abaya’s alibis are becoming sillier than ever. For secret negotiating with unnamed parties a P4.5-billion rehab of the MRT-3 commuter train, he claimed “emergency procurement.” Experts readily proved him illegal. No unforeseen calamity struck to justify rush contracting; Congress had set aside the budget as far back as 2013, for work to be done in three foreknown years. Even if there is an emergency, it still does not merit secret granting of such huge amount.

Abaya then turned to “paawa (poor me) effect.” Via spokesman he whimpered that he already is doing right in fixing the rundown railway for the sake of 560,000 daily riders, yet he’s still being criticized. That only reminded everyone of who wrecked the MRT-3 in the first place. It was doing fine from 2000-2012 – till Abaya came in and gave the multibillion-peso maintenance to a two-month-old undercapitalized, inexperienced company of fundraisers of the Liberal Party, of which he is acting president.

Last weekend Abaya turned personal. Asked by GMA News to react to my latest exposé – that the newly delivered MRT-3 coach from China anomalously has not undergone performance and safety tests – he said something like: “I wonder from what sources he gets info ... I’m beginning to pity the guy.”

No need for Abaya, as head of a national agency for land-sea-air transport infrastructures, regulation, and safety, to waste time on this small voice. Better to spend his time dispelling impressions of “an infestation of Abayas.” It seems that not only he caused Mega Manila’s gridlock in dilapidating the rapid mass transport trains, but his brother Peter too as head of the Reclamation Authority. The latter had left unrepaired for two years a 200-m stretch of Manila Bayside highway, to worsen the traffic at that end of the MRT-3 and LRT-1 (see, by Ms. Amy Pamintuan). Better also for Abaya to live down the stink of traveling to the APEC transport confab in Tokyo 2013 in a ten-man delegation that included five other Abayas – his dad, mom, a brother, and two cousins – and only four DOTC regulars (see, by Mr. Boo Chanco.)

Abaya wonders where I get my info. Let me tell him where: no less from official documents of his DOTC, including orders and contracts that he signed.

His secret contracting of the P4.25-billion MRT-3 rehab was in a 447-page prospectus. The need for 5,000-kilometer test runs of each of the 48 trains he ordered, at P3.8 billion, from Dalian Corp., is attached to the very contract. It came as Bid Bulletin No. 006-2013, issued May 29, 2013, by his favorite U-Sec. Jose Perpetuo Lotilla, amending the Terms of Reference, all forming part of the basic contract, under the Government Procurement Reform Act.

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Despite having signed the deal, Abaya waived the 5,000-km run and other tests, in defiance of these salient provisions:

• “Section – Starting of the Trial Runs. The Supplier shall provide the definitive updated version of the above documentation at the latest for the starting of the trial runs, that is, 5,000 km run test for the first unit...

• “Section 1.15.3 - Design Qualification Testing. (a) Tests shall be carried out to demonstrate that design of the train consist and its systems are fully in compliance with this MRT-3 Specification and Performance Requirements. The tests shall be completed at Supplier’s manufacturing facility unless otherwise specified by the DOTC-MRT-3 Engineer; (b) Supplier shall perform endurance test ... on the proposed door design ... The rig shall test opening and closing of the door, obstacle detection, and re-opening of the door to simulate likely service operation ... (c) Testing of complete braking, propulsion, and Train Management Systems (TMS), using simulated loads on the traction motors... (d) Testing (of) the complete auxiliary power system... (e) Testing (of) the TMS to verify designed capacity... (f) Braking system testing (for) satisfactory interface with Train Control and Signaling Systems... (g) Parking brake testing (for) ability to hold a consist on the specified gradient... (and) record the actual force required to overcome the parking brake in a failure on both level track and 4% gradient. Test shall be undertaken at the time of handover of Rolling Stock... (h) Before transporting the Rolling Stock to Philippines EDSA-MRT-3, Supplier shall test... Emergency Braking...

• “Section - Train Simulator. Contractor shall provide train simulator for training drivers/operators... comprising: (a) driver’s cab mock-up with all the controls and instrumentation found in the real cab; (b) electro-pneumatic motion platform; (c) track visuals ... complete with sounds; (d) Instructor Station for real-time management of training scenarios.

• “Section - Delivery of First Unit in Manila, Philippines (EDSA-MRT-3 Site). Supplier shall submit: (a) documents required for the end of manufacturing of first unit, updated according to progress of the project; (b) test files of each product and unit...

• “Section - Inspection Prior to Delivery. (a) The DOTC-MRT-3 Engineer shall be afforded the opportunity of inspecting all cars to be delivered ... before leaving Supplier’s facility and delivery to the Site... (c) once inspection and any required remedial actions are completed to the satisfaction of the DOTC-MRT-3 Engineer, (he) shall give consent for vehicle shipment.

• “Section - First Article Inspections. FAI shall be performed as specified in Sub-Clause 1.17.4 of this Particular Design and Performance Specifications.

• “Section 1.15.2 - General Testing Requirements. Supplier, in addition to testing for design verification purposes, shall carry out all testing of cars to ensure and demonstrate that consist and all its equipment are safe, functional, and suitably reliable for revenue service.”

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Abaya’s much-awaited first prototype – defined as fully functional sample – arrived from Dalian two weeks ago. Television news showed him beaming as the brand-new coach was being towed into the depot by old Czech makes.

Notably it was being towed because it had no engine. Because engineless, it was never test-run for the required 5,000 kilometers. Because untested, it has no value – a mere prop to show supposed upgrading of MRT-3.

Abaya said he had ordered traction motors from Germany, to be installed on the first and two more prototypes from Oct. to Dec. The coaches will then be used starting Jan., in tandem with the old trains. Every other month three new coaches will arrive, until all 48 are in. Abaya did not say anything about testing.

That the Dalian coach will run smoothly on its own or in tandem with the Czech models is doubtful. Not only was it untested for 5,000-km endurance, it also was unconnected to any signaling and power system. Thus untested as well are its automatic brakes and doors, electronic train connectors and dis-connectors, indoor lights, air conditioner, sound, alarm, and emergency systems. Untried too are its catenary connectors to overhead electric wire power source, and other features.

To commission the coaches as is would be criminally to imperil train commuters’ lives and limbs. Abaya cannot dismiss this as potentially fatal, the way he did with the traffic jams he has created.

With no testing at its plant, Dalian obviously stinted on high-grade steel tracks, simulators, and other hi-tech testing equipment. Were kickbacks paid to exempt it from the crucial work for which it was hired?

The plan allegedly is to do the test runs on the worn out MRT-3 tracks, while the regular trains are off for the night. How long that would take is still unknown. By international train standards, test-runs are for stretches of 150 kilometers, after which the traction motors, bogies, chassis, body, brakes, train connectors, and other major components are taken apart for inspection.

Given Abaya’s rushed work schedules, shortcuts are likely to be done on what should be minute tests and inspections.

Such testing will interfere with the regular nightly inspection of the MRT-3’s tracks, power supply, signaling system, and stations. In the end both the 48 new coaches and the old elevated train system further will deteriorate. When the tracks give way, the new coaches could derail and fall onto the busy highway below. If that happens, the train commuters will feel no pity for Abaya.