‘Partial operation’ of subway won’t work, experts say
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - October 11, 2019 - 12:00am

All’s set to dig the Metro Manila subway’s first three stations. Tunnel boring machines from Japan are being assembled. Government and international funding are allocated. Publicity fanfare is primed up.

There’s one hitch, though. “Partial operation” of those three tunnels is unfeasible. The Dept. of Transportation wants them usable starting Jan. 2022, while tunnel boring goes on in the rest of the 36-kilometer rail. But subway construction technology is such that tunneling must be continuous from end to end, land transportation and traffic experts say. Digging cannot stop to give way to train runs in a handful of stations. There would be no place to dump the dug-up earth and stockpile the prefab concrete tunnel walling. That three stations were even considered for initial use may indicate poor planning of the entire project.

“Whoever says ‘partial operation’ does not know subways,” sighs Engr. Rene Santiago, past president of the Transportation Science Society of the Philippines.

Constructors are to dig the first three stations in Quirino Highway-Mindanao Avenue, Tandang Sora Road, and North Avenue, Quezon City. Groundbreaking was simulated last Feb. The consortium of Shimizu Corp., Fujita Corp., Takenaka Civil Engineering Co. Ltd., and Engineering & Equipment Industries detailed the designs, to be finished this Oct. By Nov. excavations will begin, Usec. for rails Timothy John Batan told the House committee on appropriations last month. Usec. for finance Gary de Guzman added that P9.8 billion will come from the 2020 national budget. Japan International Cooperation Agency will lend P52.25 billion. Sec. Arthur Tugade said five million cubic meters of earth equivalent to 2,500 Olympic-size swimming pools will be moved. The tunnel boring machine (TBM) delivered by Hitachi Zosen Sakai Works weighs 600 tons and can dig a seven-meter diameter hole.

The immense dimensions notwithstanding, Santiago explains why “partial operability” won’t work: “I witnessed in Europe how tunneling is done down there. Where you dig is where you bring out the earth. As the TBM moves forward, it scoops out soil and automatically installs the prefab concrete linings of the tunnel. Each of those colossal Lego pieces weighs two to four tons.

“To optimize tunneling, it must be non-stop all the way to the other end. If you stop to put up and operate a station and trains midway, where will you then put the bored earth? The TBM cannot move forward unless the linings are put in place. You cannot have simultaneous tunnel boring and operation. The station will be obstructed. You will have to pull out the TBM and start anew at the other end, and put up another facility for the concrete linings. The duplication and delays will drive up costs.”

A rail technologist who used to be DOTr consultant shares Santiago’s view. Requesting anonymity, he asks why DOTr is bent on running the three stations despite unstudied ridership. Jitneys ply the Quirino Highway-Mindanao-Tandang Sora-North Avenue route to the malls. There is no need to spend a staggering P52.25 billion plus P9.8 billion to duplicate it.

Santiago, a fellow of the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers, also doubts the construction deadlines. The first three stations in QC and depot in Valenzuela City will take five years to finish, and all 15 stations around ten years, not by 2022 and 2025 that DOTr claims. Former Public Works undersecretary Primitivo Cal, now executive director of the Planning and Development Research Foundation Inc. of the University of the Philippines, agreed with Santiago’s assessment. Right-of-way acquisitions alone take years to execute, he said in an interview with News Net Asia in July.

Santiago reiterates observations in the Senate about DOTr: that its technical and engineering experts have long left, replaced by lawyers with infirm grasp of transport science. Even just right-of-way issues they cannot understand, he says, recounting a fiasco that began in the previous admin and continues today. Private lands had been expropriated at huge costs to give way to the LRT-1 extension from Baclaran to Bacoor. It turned out that the alignment was altered and government failed to expropriate the lands along the new route. Due to that default, the government must pay the contractor P4.5 billion.

The Metro Manila subway is to include a previously unannounced Bicutan station in Parañaque, and displace 200 middle-class homes. Despite a policy to minimize social dislocations, DOTr apparently overlooked three adjacent government lots as alternative sites.

Haphazardness shows in other rail projects. DOTr wants to use nine defective Chinese coaches in MRT-3, but the rehab contract with Sumitomo forbids it. The Malacañang squawk box blames the past administration’s neglect for the LRT-2’s present disrepair. But LRT-2’s maintenance contractor from the start still handles the work at present; impliedly, the sins of the past go on today. The Philippine National Railways Calamba-Tutuban commuter train can ease gridlocks along South Luzon Expressway. But, as the PNR labor union exposed, top management diverted tens of millions of pesos from operations and maintenance to the security agency; thus depleting its funds for locomotive fuel. DOTr plans to transfer NAIA domestic flights to Sangley, Cavite, by Nov. But without any train service, it will make do with sea ferries – prohibited in choppy “habagat” waters half of the year.

The present subway alignment from Quezon City to Food Terminal Inc., Taguig, perilously will cross the West Valley Fault Line. That makes it vulnerable to earthquake and liquefaction. It also will traverse flood zones confirmed during 2009’s Super Storm Ondoy. JICA since 2013 had surveyed three other options. But in Dec. 2016 DOTr suddenly wrote JICA that QC to FTI-Taguig was the final alignment. It was approved despite negative environmental and social impacts, doubtful ridership of 370,000 a day, and cost. Initially estimated in 2017 at P227 billion, it is now P357 billion.

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

Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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