Can DOTC be trusted to run MRT 3?
- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - November 10, 2014 - 12:00am

I finally got copies of the various reports made by MTR HK on the condition of MRT 3. Reading the various reports covering various facets of MRT 3 operations confirms my worst fears. Indeed, government management of the system proved to be far from competent and there is no reason to believe they can do better in the future.

Running a system with public safety considerations require following certain strict protocols. It was shown that DOTC’s management of MRT 3 broke most rules. It was jeepney style management in the sense that they were happy to just get the trains out and running for the day.

The MTR HK report provides proof that government management of the MRT 3 system was negligent on many important aspects of operations and maintenance to the point of sacrificing public safety. DOTC had clearly compromised safety. And because DOTC did not take the prescribed maintenance procedures, they have shortened the expected lifetime of the system based on original design.  

The MRT system was run down almost to the point of destruction. The MTR HK review showed serious deficiencies in maintenance procedures that may force us to scrap it ahead of its programmed 30 years useful life.

It is no longer wise to allow DOTC to continue running the system. For one thing, it doesn’t make sense to spend P56 billion that DOTC Sec Jun Abaya wants us to waste buying control of a system that’s almost due for total rehab. It is cheaper to rip the MRT system out of the elevated and underground carriageway and put in a BRT system instead.Keeping the MRT as it is makes little economic sense. Take note that P56 billion will not buy us new trains or new rail tracks. That’s just the estimate of DOTC of how much it would take to buy ownership control of the system from the private owners. 

Interestingly, the private owners say the P56 billion is not enough. And so the legal wrangling will go on forever to the detriment of MRT 3 riders.

Indeed, MRTH has informed the board of directors of MRTC that they have no authority to enter into any compromise with the Philippine Government and/or to agree to an Equity Value Buy-Out of the MRT-3 System.  MRTH is the 100 percent owner of all the shares in MRTC that owns the facilities of the mass transit system along EDSA that it built through a Build-lease-transfer (BLT) scheme with the government.

The legalities aside, DOTC and MRTH officials have yet to sit down to talk about what to do next. MRTH officials say they have been eager to sit down and talk but DOTC officials have shown no such enthusiasm. This was confirmed in a series of hearings at the Senate.

The two sides will have to start talking because every minute of delay puts lives unnecessarily at risk in the system. Frankly, after reading the MTR HK report, I am sure allowing DOTC or government to manage MRT3 will be a tragic mistake. If it had been unable to do what it must to efficiently run MRT3 all these years, what would give us confidence they can do better in the future?

 If they want to keep the MRT system, DOTC officials must swallow pride and self interest and go back to MetroPac and see if they can negotiate a private take over of the system. I also do not have much confidence in the Sobrepena group doing any better but their alliance with MetroPac changes the story a great deal.

Let us see what kind of deal can be had with MetroPac. It may turn out that the deal they want is unreasonable so we have no choice but to consider converting it to a BRT instead. On the other hand, MetroPac may have a good enough deal compared with what government can deliver so allowing MetroPac to run MRT 3 may be in the interest of commuters.

Here are a few more choice cuts from the MTR HK report that convinced me more than ever that letting DOTC handle MRT 3 only means we are allowing mediocrity to continue even at the risk of lives. PNoy must surely want a better outcome than having blood on his hands if the current system prevails.

Track condition – Of all the systems surveyed, the track condition is most alarming and requires immediate attention. The extent of defects is known for quite some time but no party has taken the responsibility for a more effective maintenance approach to rectify the situation.

Replacement of defective track sections is recommended but it is noticed that there is insufficient stock. Machine rail grinding to control the growth of developing defect is also not done.

Rolling stock – The availability of rolling stock vehicles cannot meet the availability performance requirement for service in peak hours. Traction motor has exhibited the most failures and it should be reviewed if overhaul or full replacement would be required.

The reliability of door system and ATP equipment also need to be improved. The second overhaul is due end 2014 but apparently there has been no plan yet. A number of asset management initiatives are also recommended to be implemented.

In the depot, the wheel lathe and all track maintenance vehicles are out of order and need to be restored to good working condition. Other depot facilities are in good order generally.

Signaling system – The signaling system has continued to function as per the original design. However, the physical condition in the signal equipment room is poor and is going to adversely affect the life of the asset.

There is obsolescence of key components that need to be managed. A system replacement can be considered.

Conclusions – The MTR team has concluded that most of the existing problems in the asset system of MRT3 stem from insufficient attention in the 4 areas: Asset management; Handover management; Maintenance performance management and Railway planning and development.

Asset Performance: There is an increasing trend of broken rail failure in the past 3 years (4 cases in 2011/12, 11 cases in 2012/13 and 22 cases in 2013/14) caused by the Rolling Contact Fatigue (RCF) or shelling defects which is alarming. Technical review or investigation of the root causes of rail failures has not been carried out.

If new rail vehicles will be put in service in 2015, the increase in train loading is anticipated to aggravate the trend of broken rail failure if no action is taken to tackle the rail defects.

Asset Condition – The current track condition is unsatisfactory and as a result speed restriction has been applied throughout the entire line. Serious track defects have been observed along the line which reflects that the current Preventive Maintenance practice is insufficient.

More aggressive corrective maintenance works approach should be exercised (e.g. Machine rail grinding and long rail replacement) in order to restore the track to safe condition and to minimize the risk of broken rail so as to maintain a safe and reliable service performance.

The track defect has affected other supporting elements of the track, including the concrete plinth, the base plates and anchor. If left undone, the maintenance team could be over-stretched.

Other Areas of Concern (Recommendations):

Review of the track/wheel interaction to identify the root cause of the Rolling Contact Fatigue (RCF) problems which leads to the rail wheelburn/shelling/corrugation defect, focusing on rail material, track irregularities, wheelset, wheel profile and damping system etc..);

Perform strategic machine rail grinding to control the growth of rail shelling defects;

Perform machine tamping to rectify the track alignment;

Implement long rail replacement strategy to recover the seriously defective rail sections;

Enhance rail defect monitoring, and to use ultrasonic test vehicle for early detection of rail defects;

Condition monitoring is suggested at 10 years interval to assess the residual life of ballast asset.

We have not even talked about the condition of the escalators, something the HK experts also found despicable. 

We need to keep the pressure up on DOTC and on PNoy to act on the results of the independent audit done by MTR HK. Otherwise, the studies will just gather dust in Sec Abaya’s desk and before we know it, their term is over but not before a really serious accident happens. That will be simply horrible!

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

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