Poe’s Senate panel to resume hearing on MRT

By Christina Mendez
Poe’s Senate panel to resume hearing on MRT

Senators would like to get an update on the new Metro Rail Transit 3 coaches when the public hearing of the subcommittee on public services resumes within the month.

The hearing was set after Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya promised last week that prototypes of the new Light Rail Vehicle (LRV) coaches would be arriving from Dalian, China.

The Senate will continue the public hearings to determine how fast and efficient the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) has been implementing the rehabilitation plan for the MRT-3, according to Senate public services committee chairman Grace Poe.

“Definitely the meeting should be ongoing because the rehabilitation has not been completed yet so as far as we are concerned, for as long as the service of the MRT is less than satisfactory, we are obligated to call them periodically to be able to report to the public what they’ve actually achieved,” she said.

She cannot fault others for calling for Abaya’s resignation in the face of the poor services of MRT-3, Poe said.

“I cannot blame those calling for it,” she said in Filipino. “I don’t want to be hasty. But I will look into delivery dates that they had promised in our last hearing to determine how many of those that they had promised would have been delivered.”

It is about time to review the credentials of the DOTC executives handling sensitive portfolio, Poe said in the wake of The STAR report that the agency lacked technical experts on railway operations.

“I think the DOTC must have more technical experts,” she said in Filipino. “Many of them are lawyers, who don’t really understand the needs of the MRT.”

She wants to know from Abaya and other officials of the DOTC whether the existing MRT-3 system is compatible with the 48 LRVs from the Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Co. Ltd. CNR Group costing P3.759 billion, Poe said.

“These persistent concerns on safety brought about by maintenance failures as well as on measures taken to at least address the daily inconvenience to riders will be tackled jointly,” she said.

“Hopefully, as they promised, this month the prototype train from Dalian will be delivered,” she said. “We can then ask them to present an update on its compatibility with our system.” 

Poe wants to scrutinize the DOTC’s request for the approval of a P43.5-billion budget for 2016.

She is apprehensive after the agency failed to meet its targets for the past two years on the MRT-3 Capacity Expansion and Rehabilitation Projects.

The DOTC even implemented a fare hike despite the poor services and doubts on the integrity of the MRT-3 system, Poe said.

“One more thing, we have been burned by the DOTC,” she said in Filipino.

“They asked for a very big budget, and a week after its approval, they hiked fares. So this time, we will say on the record, what would you do with the budget that you had been requesting, when will be the delivery? Will you hike fares or not?”

The prototype of the new coaches is expected to arrive by Aug. 12 to 18, Abaya said.

Efforts must be sped up to ensure that MRT-3 operations are improved, acting Senate Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III said.

“We have to get to the bottom of things in the DOTC,” he said. “What’s really wrong?”

A major train collision might occur if the government and private contractors are unable to deal with several maintenance issues of the MRT-3, said Stephen Deacon, a signaling and communications specialist that the DOTC has hired.

His observations are independent of the assessment review conducted by Hong Kong’s MTR Corp. Ltd., which was commissioned by the Sobrepeña-controlled MRT Holdings Inc. from Aug. 27 to Sept. 5 last year.

The MRT-3’s signaling received a “Fair” overall condition from MTR. However, the signaling system has already reached “its mid-life so an overhaul maintenance plan has to be developed and implemented,” the MTR said.

The operating condition of signal equipment rooms (SER) housing the servers, computers, controls of the system is “poor,” the Hong Kong-based audit agency said.

SER in all 13 stations are full of fine dust, and fine dust can potentially damage the circuit boards, read the report.

MTR’s recommendation is to implement an upgrade or consider replacement of the entire system; deep cleaning of the SER, signaling equipment and the ATP train-borne equipment; repair or replace air conditioners in SERs and install backup units and develop and implement overhaul plan for the system.

The MRT-3 asset condition “stemmed from insufficient attention” to areas on asset management; hand-over management; management of the provider and railway planning and development,” the MTR team said in a 39-page report submitted to the Senate committee on public services.

It gave a “poor and unacceptable” grading to the track work, owing to the number of broken rail cases which increased fourfold over the past three years.   

“Broken rail leads to serious threat to safety and may cause train derailment resulting to substantial casualties in a high-usage system like the MRT-3,” read the report.

The group of experts also noted “Rolling Contact Fatigue” or RCF, a type of defect found all along the rail lines of MRT-3. 

RCF is due to the interaction between the wheel and the track, according to MTR.

“At the earliest stage, RCF will be visible on the rail surface only and could be detected by visual inspection during track patrolling,” read the report.  

It assessed that the early stage of RCF could be removed by rail grinding, a normal track maintenance process which should be performed every six months to two years over the entire length of the railway.

 “Current status of the RCF has worsened to a stage called ‘shelling’, meaning the defects have propagated vertically and longitudinally such as part of the rail head is chipped off,” read the report.

“The scale and extent of defects found in MRT-3 are considered as abnormal. Effects of RCF: (a) rough surfaces which lead to vibration of the rail vehicles when they run on the tracks; and (b) vibration weakens the components that hold and support the rail.”   

The potential root cause of RCF is “abrupt braking and acceleration by the overloaded trains,” MTR said.

As of September 2013, a total of 66,129 meters of rail was identified and recommended to be replaced.

However, no agreed strategy has been formulated to remedy the situation yet. 

The MTR cited the low level of rail tracks stock in the depot as possible reason.

Among others, the MTR also noted unsatisfactory assessment of MRT-3’s rolling stock with the top 3 system with “highest failure rate,” namely, traction motor, door systems and train-borne signaling equipment.

“Overhaul of the MRT-3 trains should be carried out every eight years as per maintenance agreement. Sumitomo did the overhaul in December, 2006,” MTR said.

“The second overhaul cycle should have been made in 2014 but there was no evidence that any overhaul work has been in place at the time of the survey (last year).”