EDSA subway, elevated walkways envisioned since 1976 vs traffic
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - October 16, 2019 - 12:00am

Why is DOTr so bent on running three Chinese coaches on MRT-3 for a mere two weeks and at nighttime at that? There are issues of safety and compatibility involved. Why not just make do with three or more of the old European trains that Sumitomo Corp. of Japan is refurbishing?

DOTr started using last night three of 48 Chinese coaches that the past MRT-3 administration purchased from Dalian Corp. Defective and delayed, the units have been inoperative since 2016. The coaches are each four tons overweight, ill-fit for the car hoist at the repair yard, and untested for safety and reliability of 94 components and parts. State auditors have counseled they be shipped back to China to unclog the depot. The contract for MRT-3’s rehab by Sumitomo forbids DOTr from using any railcar other than the 73 original European makes. Otherwise it will be fined 50 percent of the P18.8-billion contract price, or P9.4 billion more (see Gotcha 4 Oct. 2019: https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2019/10/04/1957170/sumitomo-rehab-contract-bars-use-dalian-trains). DOTr’s press release stated that Sumitomo allowed the Chinese trains in on two conditions: that they be used only on non-peak hours, 8:30-10:30 p.m., then removed when Sumitomo starts changing the tracks in Nov.         

If the fielding of the three faulty Dalian trains is for test-run as DOTr says, then it is inadequate. The 2013 purchase was for four-car train sets, not just three. Hence, its true capacity will not be tried. Other issues arise from that marred deal. Who will maintain the Chinese trains daily during the test-run, given that Sumitomo’s contract covers only the European coaches? Who will guarantee passenger safety given that Sumitomo abhors the substandard trains? Who will spend for the costly accident insurance that Sumitomo certainly will refuse to cover?

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A subway train zipping under EDSA. Side roads tunneling below to not bisect that main Metro Manila artery. Elevated walkways linking buildings so pedestrians can get to and from offices in minutes. Those were planned since a generation ago – to avert transportation and traffic turmoil. On the flow of vehicles and commuters on EDSA depended the rest of the big city. But administrations wasted funds on nonessentials. Experts are calling for revival of the blueprints. With political decision-makers hairsplitting over “crisis” and “paralysis”, will engineering solutions ever be done?

Catastrophic traffic and floods had been foreseen as far back as 1976, recounts world-renowned Filipino urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. So were transport, water and housing lacks, garbage-sewage messes, and disaster vulnerability. Such urban ills were among the “do-nothing scenarios” of a Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project. In that World Bank-funded MMetroplan 43 years ago, fresh architecture grad Palafox was team leader. Though mostly unheeded, their ideas remain relevant. Public commuting then and now make up 70 percent of traffic. Metro Manila loses P3.5 billion daily to gridlocks. Learning from travels to 1,000 cities in 75 countries, Palafox tries to call Philippine leaders’ attention to the solutions.

The EDSA subway was first planned in 1971, Palafox says. Since that 27-km thoroughfare connects the central business districts of seven cities, a fast underground train was deemed crucial. MMetroplan 1976 added the tunneling of EDSA feeder roads, plus parallel routes through gated villages and military camps. Eight light railways were to crisscross EDSA. People would be encouraged to take public rides rather than private cars. Elevated covered walkways, some stretches mechanized, also would make them use their feet or bikes. Thirteen bridges were proposed across the Pasig, Marikina, and San Juan Rivers. Laguna de Bay and river ferries were plotted. Government agencies were to be moved out to decongest the metropolis.

Today only three light rails are running, frequently breaking down at that. An EDSA subway still is needed to complement the inadequate MRT-3, says Palafox: “For lack of anything else, an elevated EDSA is being proposed.” No walkways have been built; street sidewalks are too narrow, unroofed, and unsafe. Water ferries are unreliably decrepit; only two of 14 riverboats remain afloat. In lieu of un-spanned vehicle bridges, Palafox suggests pedestrian and bike crossings. Government has stayed in urban centers, even the agriculture and agrarian reform departments.

The EDSA subway plan was revived in 2013. Under Japan International Cooperation Agency, dozens of rail consultants studied the tunnel route, station locations, geo-hazards, environment and social impacts.

Last year the long-planned EDSA subway was diverted to Food Terminal Inc. in Taguig. Instead of CBDs, it would now connect mall after shopping mall. The original intention of getting workingmen to job sites around EDSA was scuttled.

Passing instead through Katipunan Road, Quezon City, the underground train would traverse the West Valley Fault Line. “They need to rethink that,” Palafox says of the subway’s vulnerability to earthquake and liquefaction. New technologies need to be installed, like “seismic isolators” separating the rail base from the fault to minimize damage from tremors. Used in quake-proofing the Istanbul airport in 2009, the technology is costly. Texas Instruments’ factory in Baguio and the Iglesia ni Cristo arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, sit on such seismic isolators. Without it, the Katipunan-FTI subway already will cost P357 billion. That’s six times the country’s yearly transport infrastructure budget, rail experts noted in nixing the Katipunan-FTI realignment. The EDSA subway alignment was preferred since it would have higher ridership, dislocate less homes and shops, and cost much less at P208 billion. All that is based on a compilation of official documents.      

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

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