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The great MRT-3 train robbery

Ed Javier / Where I stand

As we write this piece, the Metro Rail Transit- Line 3 has suffered another glitch.

The government pays Global APT, MRT-3’s service maintenance provider, the amount of P57 million a month, but many are wondering: Where does the money go?

A recent technical audit by rail experts from Hong Kong reported a “four-fold increase in broken rail cases…over the past three years, which is a clear indication that the current maintenance strategy is insufficient to halt the growth of the defect.”

“Of all the systems surveyed, the track system is the most alarming and requires immediate attention. Replacement of defective track section was recommended but it is noticed that there is insufficient stock.”

The Hong Kong rail authorities have also warned that the MRT-3 system is “at risk of rail derailment that could result in a number of deaths.”

“The fact that broken rail cases in the past had not led to train derailment should not be taken as an indication that it will not happen in the future. If a rail break occurs despite the speed restriction to 40 kilometers per hour (down from 65 kilometers per hour), the derailment risk could still be considerable,” the HK experts said.

It is worrisome that despite these dire predictions, the MRT maintenance operator is not alarmed and insists that the MRT is safe.

Why is the government tempting fate? It is playing a very dangerous game gambling with the lives of our countrymen.

We fear that the recent move to cut operating hours on weekends to conduct the MRT’s first-ever rail-replacement activity may be a case of too little, too late.

The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) is trying to find a new maintenance provider, but it appears that no group wants to touch this project with a 10-foot pole. In the meantime, Global APT’s contract has been extended.

For far too long, the MRT has been operating beyond its intended capacity, resulting in long lines, jampacked coaches and recurring breakdowns.

Pity poor Juan de la Cruz who fears for his life every time he rides the MRT but has no choice but to take it!

Technical problems are occurring with disturbing frequency. The most serious incident happened last year when an MRT train overshot the platform at the EDSA-Taft station and slammed against a concrete barrier, injuring at least 36 passengers.

Adding insult to injury is the recent MRT fare hike imposed upon commuters, many of whom are common wage earners.

Considering the almost-daily MRT breakdowns, the substantial fare increase is nothing short of highway robbery on Edsa!

Sen. Grace Poe echoed the sentiments of many when she said, “We must remember that a mass-transport system like the MRT is an essential government service. The fare increase is an added insult and an injustice to the suffering riding public whose very lives are put on the line every day.”

She notes that “the sorry state of the MRT brought about to a large extent by government mismanagement and ineptness cannot justify an increase.”

The MRT received an infusion of a substantial financial assistance this year, getting a budgetary allocation of P4.65 billion in subsidy and another P7.4 billion for rehabilitation.

This is on top of the P1.21 billion it carved out of the 2014 supplemental budget for capacity extension.

The DOTC and Global APT are apparently awash with cash. So we cannot reconcile this with the continuing maintenance-related problems that hound our commuters almost on a daily basis.

There is no justification for the lack of political will that threatens the lives of our commuting public.

Must we wait for another major tragedy before our government officials get their acts together?

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