Editorial & Opinion

Sad story of MRT3

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The sad story that is the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT3) still has no happy ending in sight. More than a year since the Duterte administration promised to ease the plight of commuters, the fate of the train system traversing Edsa remains unclear.

The deterioration of the train system during the past administration has made it notorious for endless passenger queues and regular breakdowns, such that it became a campaign issue in the 2016 presidential election.

It’s not as if the government is doing nothing to fix the mess. Perhaps the problem has become so complicated that there is no single solution to it.

Aside from poor upkeep (due to frequent changes in maintenance contractors), there is the side issue of ownership as the government wants to take over from private shareholders.

Then there is this unsolicited proposal from private groups to rehabilitate MRT3. More importantly, there is the unusual quiet on the part of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) on what it has in mind for the train system.

Last week, Metro Pacific Investments Corp. revived an offer to buy out the government’s stake in MRT3. That offer was made in 2011 but was not acted upon as the Aquino administration decided to pursue the buyout itself, but failed.

This time, Metro Pacific boss Manuel V. Pangilinan seemed more optimistic about its P12.5-billion rehabilitation and upgrading proposal. Pangilinan was referring to the government’s interest in the privately held Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRTC), the corporate owner of MRT3 led by Robert John Sobrepeña.

According to Pangilinan, his group conducted several meetings, at Metro Pacific’s initiative, with government representatives last month.

Ayala Corp. has also signaled its interest in joining Metro Pacific in its offer to rehabilitate MRT3, which serves about half a million passengers a day.

Ayala and Metro Pacific jointly operate the Light Rail Transit Line 1, which will be extended from Baclaran to Bacoor in Cavite by 2021. LRT1 serves around 400,000 commuters a day.

However, also last week, the private shareholders of MRT3 wanted President Duterte to step in and back their own bid to rehabilitate the congested railway line on Edsa.

MRTC president Frederick Parayno disclosed that his group had directly written Mr. Duterte due to the “inaction” of the DOTr on its $150-million offer to rehabilitate MRT3. He claimed that the main objective of MRTC’s proposal was to “fast-track” MRT3’s rehabilitation and bring back long-time maintenance provider Sumitomo Corp. of Japan.

It was during the Aquino administration that Sumitomo was replaced by various other groups, including the current maintenance provider, Busan Universal Rail Inc., which MRTC said was partly to blame for MRT3’s current condition. Aside from acknowledging receipt of the letter proposal submitted in April, the official said the DOTr has not replied to MRTC.

The government and MRTC are already embroiled in various legal cases involving the late payment of equity rentals and the acquisition by the previous Department of Transportation and Communications of new trains from China’s Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Co.

Dalian had completed the delivery of 48 train coaches. But the DOTr noted in March that these could not be deployed due to power supply issues and the need to install a new signalling system required for the trains to operate safely.

As it stands now, the government is unclear on what path to take regarding MRT3. The DOTr cannot take forever to make a decision on this pressing problem that has long affected Metro Manila commuters. It must choose the best solution to MRT3’s deteriorating condition.

First, it must decide soon between the rehabilitation offers of the original stockholders - those people now entangled in legal disputes with the government  - and the Metro Pacific-Ayala consortium that seems to be successfully rehabilitating and expanding LRT1. Commuters have long been suffering and deserve a break as soon as possible. -Inquirer.net

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