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Why MRT 3 is still a problem

It is sad MRT 3 continues to be a problem and things are getting worse. One can only wonder why a year and a half through the Duterte administration, DOTr is still dancing around a solution. When will it have the political will to do what should have been done a long time ago?

Reports of breakdowns have become as regular as the weather. “Fair with lots of sunshine today and as of 9:30 a.m., three MRT 3 breakdowns so far this morning, at Quezon Avenue northbound at 6:30; Cubao northbound at 7:38 and at Buendia southbound just 15 minutes ago.”

DOTr is trying to wash off as much responsibility as it can and blame everything on the maintenance provider. And to prove the point, DOTr fired Busan Universal early this week.

Rail Transport Usec Cesar Chavez told a press conference that while he cannot promise quick relief at MRT 3, he is promising accountability. I scratched my head to figure what that means and what good that does for MRT 3 riders.

Accountability sounds nice. But it is overused. No one is punished for failure. Will Chavez, like P-Noy and Abaya, promise to have himself run over by the trains?

A promise of accountability without a clear idea of what they will do and how much time they will need is just bureaucratic noise. DOTr statements like this are self serving unless a clear plan of action that addresses the serious issues accompanies it.

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I listened to the lawyer of Busan explain why the breakdowns are not their fault. It is due to the deteriorated condition of the rails, she said. Brand new spare parts they installed failed after a short while because of the rough ride the trains get day in and day out.

The lawyer claimed they warned government about it before they took over. She dismisses the accusation of improper maintenance that was used as basis for the cancellation of their contract.

Busan Universal is not innocent as their lawyer claims. The Filipinos in the consortium used their political connections shamelessly to win the contract. They thought this was easy and lucrative.

Busan, the Korean company, wanted out but Jun Abaya led the DOTC team to convince it to stay even if only for a very small equity stake. They needed Busan’s name because the Filipino consortium members have no technology and no experience in maintaining trains. There were into property, agricultural supply and plumbing. Their biggest asset was connection to the Liberal Party.

That Busan lawyer cannot blame the dilapidated rails for today’s problems. They knew what they were getting into. They should have fixed the rails before everything else. But that would have meant getting nothing for themselves before the Aquino watch ended.

Those rails have been begging to be fixed. The Hong Kong MTR experts already warned government that those rails could potentially cause train derailment resulting in substantial casualties in a high usage system like the MRT-3.

“The fact that broken rail cases in the past had not led to train derailment should not be taken as an indication that it will not happen in the future. If [a] rail break do[es] occur despite the speed restriction to 40 kph and is unnoticed, the derailment risk would still be considerable.”

The HK MTR assessment covered the track at the depot and mainline, rolling stock, signaling system, high voltage power supply and catenary system, communications system, stations and all its facilities, as well as depot facilities.

In other words, everyone, including Busan, knew what is wrong with MRT3. The question transport officials must answer is: Why was nothing done about those rails?

DOTr is trying to ignore the obvious thing to do… take the entire system down and do a professional rehabilitation. The band aid approach will just make things worse and put lives at risk.

Of course, it is politically unacceptable to take the system down and leave commuters stranded. But it will be a bigger political catastrophe if someone dies in an accident waiting to happen and for which DOTr officials have been warned about.

Years of inadequate maintenance has caught up, unfortunately.

Davao infra and the Chinese

A Davao-based correspondent of Asia Times, I reported in my column last Monday, wondered why the promised Chinese aid to build infrastructure in Davao hasn’t arrived.

A professor in economics, who has exposure to various big ticket government projects, offered this explanation to our e-group.

“The Davao-based correspondent of Asia Times may not be aware of China’s anxiety vis-à-vis Davao-specific ODA for infrastructure projects. A year after the Duterte presidency, they have been doing risk assessment whether his regime would last.

“On the other hand, they want to avoid repeating their Sri Lanka mistake. They funded several infrastructure projects, including a huge port, in the hometown of Sri Lanka’s former authoritarian president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who surprisingly lost in the 2015 elections.

“Even if he won, the Chinese-funded projects in Sri Lanka would still not generate enough money to pay its Chinese debt because the projects were in a location with less economic activity.  Besides, the lender cannot dictate the project-location decision of the borrower.

“The Sri Lanka case was a borrower’s curse. China has not funded a single project for the One Road One Belt initiative here because both NEDA and DFA are not yet negotiating with China for a single project. They are in a wait-and-see attitude, guessing China’s real objective under the program.”

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.

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