Monica M. Hernandez | BusinessWorld Online | September 14, 2016

BUSAN Universal Rail, Inc., the maintenance service provider of the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3), is targeting to have 20 running trains and two reserve trains by the end of this year.

In a press briefing in Makati City on Tuesday, Busan Universal Legal Counsel Charles Perfecto A. Mercado said the company is outperforming the contract terms with the Department of Transportation, having restored 22 cars to help the MRT run 18 trains in the first 8 months of its contract.

"The target of Busan is to meet 20 running trains and have two reserve cars by the end of the year," said Mr. Mercado. The MRT system's maximum capacity is 20 trains.

When it took over the MRT support service in January, the company said outgoing maintenance provider only turned over 40 operational cars, which is good for 13 trains at 3 cars per train. After a month, it restored enough rail cars to bring the trains to 16.

By April 29, Busan Universal increased the number of operational cars to 54, which were enough for 18 trains on the mainline, and by June 27, the number of good cars rose to 59. To date, there are 62 operational cars.

Busan Universal was awarded the P3.81-billion, 3-year MRT-3 maintenance deal by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) last Dec. 23, 2015. The consortium is composed of South Korea's Busan Transportation Corp. (BTC) and its Filipino partners: Edison Development and Construction, Tramat Mercantile, Inc., TMI Corp., Inc., and Castan Corp.

Mr. Mercado said the firm has completed the grinding of rails from the MRT North Avenue station in Quezon City to Taft Ave. station in Pasay City on July 18 to reduce noise and improve ride quality for passengers.

Busan Universal has restored MRT-3's ballast tamping equipment, quadrupling the tamping rate to 200 meters per night and loosening more pebbles in the rail tracks. Spare rails were imported and stored by the company to replace defective and broken rails.

Employees' quarters, shower rooms and comfort rooms among other depot facilities have also been improved, Mr. Mercado said.

He said Busan Universal is looking to increase available cars, shorten overhaul period to eight years and make arrival and departures "more prompt" for travelers using MRT-3. However, improvements in service are being hampered by aging cars and a small budget.

"We are really dreaming together with the government. We are planning, looking at ways to modernize the system and to increase the comfort, safety [of passengers] and smoothness of travel. 'Yan ang tinitingnan natin palagi (That is what we are always looking at)," Mr. Mercado said on the sidelines of the briefing.

Mr. Mercado noted the MRT-3 is the "biggest challenge" for Busan Universal and BTC compared with its other foreign projects, such as in Peru, due to the "large volume of ridership" in Metro Manila.

“We are ready if the government would decide to add more trains,” he said.

According to Mr. Mercado, MRT-3 serves more than 650,000 passengers daily, which is over its rated capacity of 350,000.