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Gov’t serves notice to end MRT maintenance deal

Commuters wait in a long line to enter the MRT North Avenue station in Quezon City last Sept. 5. Michael Varcas
 

MANILA, Philippines — With the almost daily breakdown of Metro Rail Transit 3 operations, the government has begun the process of terminating its contract with Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI) for the maintenance of the system, which runs along the busy EDSA.

In a statement, the Department of Transportation said it has served BURI a notice to terminate the P3.8-billion service maintenance contract citing the firm’s failure to provide the required number of trains and ensure efficient operation of the existing ones. DOTr relayed the notice to BURI on Oct. 17.

The DOTr gave BURI seven calendar days upon receipt of the notice to issue a position paper explaining why the contract should not be terminated.

“After which, the DOTr shall have 10 days, upon receipt of BURI’s response, to decide whether or not it will issue an order to terminate the entire contract,” the DOTr said.

Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services, said it was about time the DOTr took decisive action against BURI. For some House members, the DOTr action was too little too late.

In its statement, the DOTr said BURI also failed to implement a feasible procurement plan for spare parts and that such oversight has affected the day-to-day operations of the system on which thousands of commuters depend.

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In addition, BURI failed to set in place a computerized maintenance management system as provided for in the contract.

Reacting to DOTr’s move, BURI said it is confident an arbitration process as well as other “judicial remedies” would prove there is no justification for the termination of the contract.

An order issued by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 105 dated Oct. 13, called on DOTr and BURI to proceed with arbitration proceedings before the Philippine Dispute Resolution Center Inc.

“The allegation of poor performance against the service company will be met by evidence that BURI has delivered even more than what is required under its contract, together with its early accomplishment of fixing 26 cars to raise the number of running trains from 13 in January 2016, when it started servicing the system, to about 22 running trains at present,” BURI said.

It added it was able to meet train availability requirements as required in the contract.

BURI also emphasized it should not be blamed for service interruptions as those were mainly caused by system design issues and not by alleged poor maintenance.

Cesar Chavez, undersecretary for rails at the DOTr, earlier recommended the termination of BURI’s contract in the wake of recent service interruptions, which stranded thousands of passengers.

He said there were 933 service interruptions and passenger unloading incidents due to defects in the trains in service from January 2016 to July this year.

In 2016 alone, there were 2,705 incidents of train removals. For the January to July period of this year, the figure was 1,116.

Transition team

Last month, MRT-3 general manager Rodolfo Garcia said the management of the train system is preparing to come up with a transition team to handle the maintenance of the rail system should the government decide to terminate BURI’s contract.

Currently, MRT-3 carries more than 500,000 passengers per day. The system traverses a stretch of EDSA between North Ave. station in Quezon City and Taft Ave. station in Pasay City.

Poe said BURI has “proven to be an incompetent maintenance service provider, and the riding public has suffered more than enough with its dismal record of train breakdowns and derailments that have become almost daily events.”

“We expect BURI, however baseless its cause of action may be, to take legal action against the DOTr, which could take years to resolve,” she said.

She said the DOTr should anticipate such legal actions while taking steps to make sure the MRT-3 continues to run and provide better service.

“The DOTr should ensure that the people do not suffer from unreliable and unsafe public transportation during the course of litigation,” Poe said.

The DOTr should immediately act on the repairs and maintenance of the trains by either immediately looking for a new contractor or by creating, in the interim, a technical and engineering team, she pointed out.

For Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, the DOTr should have terminated its agreement with BURI a long time ago. “It should have been done much earlier as the company miserably failed to do its job in maintaining MRT-3 and has supposedly even sourced some parts from Bangkal, Makati,” he said.

He said the notice should also lead to filing of charges against officials of BURI.

“We also trust and challenge DOTr leadership to vigorously run after past officials of the Aquino administration for the sorry state of MRT-3 and other mass transport systems in the country as well as the numerous anomalies in the transportation sector,” he said.

He added that the government should eventually take over operation and maintenance of the EDSA rail line, and make it safe and reliable.

Rep. Jericho Nograles of Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta, who initiated a House inquiry into the MRT-3 contract, has repeatedly called for the cancellation of the deal due to the failure of BURI to properly maintain it.

“The rail line is plagued by frequent breakdowns, sometimes up to three a day. It’s the safety of more than half a million riders that’s at stake,” he said. – With Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz

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