Boo Chanco | The Philippine Star | January 25, 2016

It seems DOTC is now cutting corners to deliver those much needed MRT 3 train cars. After taking their sweet time over the last five years, they now feel the pressure to deliver some visible improvement before the May election.

By rushing everything now, they are putting lives at risk. Those train cars have not gone through the 5,000 kilometers testing required under the contract.

I hold Bob Sobrepena in very low esteem because of his role in the business tragedies in CAP, Fil-Estate, John Hay and MRT 3. I would normally not give anything he says any credibility, but this time he may be right.

In a story by written by Jacque Manabat, their transport reporter, Sobrepena issued a warning that sounds pretty ominous.

“How will you run the LRV (light rail vehicle) at 65 kilometers per hour on a system with dilapidated tracks? Sira-sira ‘yung riles, pipilitin mo tumakbo ng 65 kph, baka ma-derail yan. There’s a real danger in what they’re saying or what they’re planning to do. This is not how a test run should be done,” Sobrepena said.

I asked a transport expert and this was his reply: “The loop (round trip) will be about 34km. Thus, 5,000km/34km =147 runs for each train. At best one hour on average for each loop.

Since they cannot run a test continuously (unless they stop commercial service), the testing must be done in between or interspersed with commercial runs. That would entail a good signaling system so as not to jumble the test and commercial runs.

“If they do the test runs between 10 p.m.-4 p.m., that means six hours or six loops a day. Very little time left for track maintenance. Therefore, 147/6=25 days per train. The 16 Dalian trains will need a total of 16x25 = 400 days, or more than a year to complete the required test.”

Perhaps a big reason why MRT 3 is in such a mess today is the sweetheart contract Sobrepena got during FVR’s watch. The private owners did cream off everything they could get from the system that could have made it more viable.

But the government, through DOTC, had been running the system ever since. The heavy subsidy is also government’s decision. The worst part is that Sec. Abaya refuses to sit down with Sobrepena, whose company still owns the system on paper, so they can start fixing it.

The legal mess Abaya blames for his inability to move more quickly could have also been resolved if there was dialogue and a sense of patriotism on the part of Sobrepena’s group and DOTC officials. But the public is being sacrificed in the squabble.

The other thing I still cannot understand is why DOTC refused to listen to a proposal of MVP to take over the system, take away all the legal problems and assume financial responsibility for rehabilitating and running it at a fare competitive with the buses running on the ground.

Then there is the way by which bidders were disqualified so that only one favored bidder is left to supply the rail cars and lately, for the maintenance.

I can’t understand also why they are in a hurry to accept delivery now, other than the negative impact to Mar Roxas of a substandard and dangerous MRT3. They are probably also wary the next administration, assuming Mar loses, may drop the Dalian contract the way this administration dropped NorthRail, another Chinese rail project, on suspicion of corruption.

DOTC is no doubt one big dark spot among many in P-Noy’s watch. Now that the former MRT 3 manager has started to speak and is suggesting commissions were included in the deal, the Ombudsman will have to do more in terms of indictments.

I just hope that in their rush to get the Dalian rail cars going they don’t have a serious accident that will result in injuries or even death.