Jarius Bondoc | Philstar | October 14, 2016

MRT-3 mis-managers are playing around with the signaling, at the expense of passenger safety. Two incompatible signaling types are being installed. Snags further will deteriorate the commuter rail, and worsen Mega Manila traffic.

Insiders say commissions are being made from the billion-peso purchases of the contrary signaling types. Behind the scams are the political wheeler-dealers who have controlled plum maintenance and supply contracts since the past administration.

The signaling is the electronic system that controls train speeds and keeps safe distances between them. Embedded in railcars and tracks, it tells the control center where each train is at any time, and automatically alerts and stops trains in emergencies.

The two signaling types are the ATP (automatic train protector) and the CBTC (communications-based train control). MRT-3's original tracks and 73 Czech-made trains use the ATP, supplied by Bombardier of Canada in 2000. The advanced CBTC is suitable for overlapping tracks and different train makes, like in Europe. No railway in the world combines the two, experts say, to avert collisions, sudden braking, and other risks.

The ATP currently is being installed on 26 new cars that arrived from China as of early Oct., out of the total 48 ordered in 2013. The Dept. of Transportation (DOTr) contracted Bombardier for an undisclosed sum earlier this year, for interoperability with the tracks and 73 old cars.

Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corp. should have provided the ATP, as stated in the specs of its P3.8-billion train supply. But it reneged on this, as it did on the 5,000-km test-run of each car for safety, worthiness, and durability.

Then-transport and ruling Liberal Party chief Joseph Abaya signed the Dalian deal. Brokering it was Eugene Rapanut, allegedly of the LP-Ilocos Sur chapter. The old signaling was supposed to be maintained by a series of unqualified firms – PH Trams and Global Epcom – of Marlo dela Cruz, LP-Pangasinan.

MRT-3 general manager Roman Buenafe accepted the substandard Dalian cars before leaving abruptly last week. His replacement, officer-in-charge Deo Leo Manalo, a DOTr entrant in 2010, reportedly had a hand in the ATP installation on the Dalian units for an undisclosed amount.

In Oct. 2015 Abaya also had contracted Bombardier to upgrade the old signaling operating system for P53.4 million. For completion in seven months, the deal was to replace the DOS-based computers with a network that can accommodate fiber-optic cables.

About that same time, Abaya secretly was negotiating a three-year MRT-3 maintenance that includes the total replacement of the signaling. The deal was for P4.25 billion, with the new signaling costing P900 million.

The maintenance ended up with Busan Transport Corp. of Korea, with Rapanut again as broker. Busan has four Filipino dummies, behind which again is dela Cruz. Buenafe and Abaya's four undersecretaries granted the upkeep contract in Jan. 2016.

Busan et al are tapping Korea's LS Industrial Systems Ltd. for the P900-million CBTC-type signaling. Experts say that LSIS is very new, barely two years old, in the CBTC business, and is no industry leader. Besides, they add, the CBTC is inapt for the MRT-3, which is a single line that does not intersect with the LRT-1 and -2, unlike the crisscrossing tracks and different train makes in other lands.

There is no need to bring in LSIS to install its untested CBTC, the experts say. Bombardier's ATP would do. The ATP and CBTC should not be combined, lest it endanger the lives and limbs of passengers.

But then, the kickbacks come from the overlapping purchases.

Negotiating with LSIS' entry is a company called Busan Universal Rail Corp. It is unclear what the relationship is between Korea's Busan Transport and the local Busan Universal. Rapanut is the managing director of the latter.