Singapore returns, Phl keeps faulty Chinese MRT trains
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - July 8, 2016 - 12:00am

Recent news in Singapore and the Philippines similarly are about trains. That is, defective commuter coaches were delivered to the island state, as in Manila, from China. Crony capitalism plagues the neighbor countries; in both, plum transport contracts were granted to ruling party brokers for Chinese rail fabricators.

But the similarities end there. Singapore, after engineering review, is returning the trains for safety rectification. In Manila transport officials are accepting substandard works, at the risk of serious accidents.

“26 China-made MRT trains sent back to fix defects,” the Singapore Straits Times headlined Tuesday. The managing director of Singapore Mass Rapid Transit faced the press to explain. They had ordered 22 six-coach trains from China Southern Rail (CSR) Qingdao Sifang Co. in 2009, with the first 35 coaches arriving three years ago. Twenty-six were found to have cracks in the structure connecting the body to the bogie (wheel and motor system). The Land Transport Authority worked out the return to the maker, as the units still were under warranty. Refitting would take till 2023, setting back the railway upgrade. But passenger safety comes first, the director assured. Monthly safety assessments are made on all the older trains.

Online news portal FactWire reported that some of the trains had windows shattering repeatedly. In 2011 one of the Chinese-made uninterrupted power supply batteries exploded, forcing CSR Sifang to replace all with German makes. The batteries keep lights and ventilation on in case of breakdowns. Cracks were also found in other structural components, including the subfloor, a compartment under the passenger floor for the equipment box and electrical wires.

In stark contrast is the attitude of Manila’s Metro Rail Transit (MRT)-3 management under Roman Buenafe. Its mother Dept. of Transport had ordered 48 coaches in 2013 from China Northern Rail (CNR) Dalian Corp. Price: P3.76 billion, allegedly with a five-percent kickback (see Gotcha, 6 July 2016).

The prototype, supposedly a fully functional sample or model, arrived Aug. 2015. It had no traction motors, needed for each of four pairs of bogie wheels. Meaning, contrary to the bidding Terms of Reference (specifications and deadlines), it had not been test-run at the China factory for 5,000 km, at varying speeds, curves, and inclines. It also didn’t have an Automatic Train Protector (ATP) that electronically brakes the coach and opens the doors in case of emergency. Yet the MRT-3 management accepted it.

Not only that. The 47 other coaches were supposed to be delivered within 17 months after acceptance of the prototype. MRT-3 management announced the arrival of two coaches each in Feb., Mar., and May, one in Apr., none in June. There should be 12 to 15 units by now, not only eight.

Like the prototype, the subsequent seven coaches had not been test-run for 5,000 km at the factory. The last two in fact arrived separate from the motors and wheels. There were no ATPs either, so incapable of connecting with the original signaling system from Bombardier-Canada. Dalian has agreed with Bombardier to install signaling only in the first four coaches by Sept. 2016; the rest are still under negotiation.

Management is gambling with hundreds of thousands of riders’ lives. For four days last May it fielded the first three coaches for revenue operation – without ATPs and connections to the signaling system. Hence, the three were invisible from the central monitor that shows onscreen where the older trains are at any given time. There could have been a major crash. Buenafe keeps announcing to deploy the three coaches daily starting this month.

Many other tests remain unfulfilled for three- and four-coach train sets. Among those are: braking, towing, pushing, starting at four-percent incline, and stopping at five percent. For emergency, that brakes engage automatically, doors open, lights and ventilation stay on. For revenue runs, that each train is verified safe, functional, and suitably reliable.

Other missing or questionable parts: no speed sensors; wheels are steel- instead of rubber-type like the original coaches, so may be incompatible with the metal rails. Braking component and shock absorber interfere with the body stand, so could deter proper maintenance since the MRT-3 depot has no body-lift equipment.

Ex-general manager Al Vitangcol, who exposed the five-percent kickback, says the coaches also lack On-Board Communications: radio, public address, intercom. Dalian has not provided the Train Simulator to train MRT-3 drivers to operate the coaches.

Nobody is punished for misdeeds at the DOTC-MRT-3. Only riders suffer injuries, inconvenience, and stress from frequent breakdowns, long queues, and daily traffic.

* * *

Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook:, or The STAR website


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with