MRT, Busan ink 3-year deal; trains bog down anew

Louise Maureen Simeon - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The government has finalized a P3.81-billion three-year contract for the maintenance of Metro Rail Transit 3 with a Filipino-South Korean consortium.

But even as officials were announcing the signing of the contract, MRT service was disrupted twice yesterday – in the morning rush hour and in the afternoon – stranding thousands of commuters on EDSA.

The signing of the deal with the joint venture of Busan Transportation Corp., Edison Development & Construction, Tramat Mercantile Inc., TMICorp Inc., and Castan Corp. Thursday afternoon should end rumors that the consortium has walked out of the negotiations, officials said.

In a press conference yesterday, Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said the contract would cover the general overhaul of 43 coaches and the replacement of the signaling system within the next two years.

Abaya also denied reports the South Korean firm had backed out and opted to merely serve as a technical adviser for the next three years.

“It is not true that they walked out. Where did that come from? We were engaging them for the last three days and three nights,” he said.

The old maintenance contract ended on Jan. 4. Busan’s concerns about the negotiated contract and its wish to merely provide technical advice prevented the signing of the new deal the next day, sources said.

“It just took us quite long due to the language barrier. They were reading the contract and they were just clarifying things. It was just the challenge of having different languages,” Abaya explained.

He noted the DOTC is willing to release details of the contract to the public – possibly online – to prove everything is aboveboard.

He also dismissed reports that there was no maintenance provider for the MRT 3 during the three-day negotiations.

“There was not a single second that there was no maintenance provider of the MRT 3 because if there was none, we should have stopped the operation of the trains since that would be dangerous,” Abaya said.

He did not explain why the DOTC offered to extend by a month the contract of the former German-Filipino maintenance provider when the deal with Busan was not formalized on Jan. 5.

The Busan joint venture started undertaking maintenance works of the rolling stocks and signaling system yesterday, officials said.

Currently, 12 Korean technical experts and specialists are in the Philippines managing the rolling stock and signaling maintenance.

The DOTC said it resorted to negotiated contract after two bidding failures in 2014 and in 2015 and in response to the urgent need for an efficient MRT system for Metro Manila amid worsening transport service woes. The move was pursuant to the Government Procurement Reform Act of 2003.

“While the long-term maintenance service provider was under procurement, the DOTC engaged subcontractors under a multi-disciplinary approach to enhance the efficiency of maintenance works per component,” he said.

Abaya said Busan has the capacity to manage the maintenance works as it has been operating and maintaining the Busan Metro – four railway lines of the mass transit system in Busan, South Korea – since 1999.

“We are one step closer to having a safer and more reliable MRT 3 system with our new world-class rail maintenance service provider. The riding public can expect an increase in the number of running trains and the efficiency of operations,” he said.

He said three trains are set for delivery within the first quarter of 2016.

“But these will be tested and if we see something that needs to be addressed, then we will prioritize the safety of the riding public,” he said.

While four trains will be delivered monthly after the first quarter, DOTC expects the delivery of 48 coaches to be completed by January 2017.

Signaling problem

Meanwhile, Roehl Bacar, representative of outgoing maintenance contractor German-Filipino joint venture Schunk Bahn-und Industreitechnik-Comm Builders and Technology Philippines (SBI-CBT JV), said the second glitch was cause by a signaling problem at around 1:35 p.m.

The problem left only six trains running between the North Avenue station in Quezon City and Shaw Boulevard station in Mandaluyong City.

Bacar explained a power fluctuation in the central signaling computer of the MRT caused the signaling problem.

He scoffed at allegations that the system was being sabotaged. “It’s not sabotage, if it is then we’ll have to blame Meralco because power supply was the problem. The signaling covers the rails and signaling system. This is an engineering (issue),” he explained.

MRT general manager Roman Buenafe did not respond when sought for explanation.

Lawmakers from the Bayan Muna party-list group said President Aquino appeared to be waiting for another major accident at the MRT 3 before deciding to fire Abaya.

Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate said Aquino should no longer wait for the MRT to become a “runaway coffin” before he removes Abaya from his post.

“Despite the illegal fare hike at the start of 2015, the MRT further deteriorated under Abaya’s watch, with almost daily rail problems and glitches,” Colmenares said.

Zarate cited several alleged onerous contracts approved by the DOTC under Abaya “that are adverse to the interests of the people,” like the privatization contracts of LRT 1 and Manila-Cavite Expressway (Cavitex), which he said were loaded with sovereign guarantees.

“From worse to worst; from better to bitter, the MRT is now emblematic of the failing governance of the exiting Aquino administration,” Zarate said. – With Robertzon Ramirez, Paolo Romero

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