Railway expert says every MRT trip ‘risky’

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A railway expert is calling on the government to urgently upgrade the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) line 3, particularly the train’s obsolete signaling system which poses serious threat to its passengers.

Rene Santiago, a former chief of the defunct Northrail Corp., said the MRT 3 needs a new signaling system that controls the gap between trips to prevent collision between trains. He said the government should look into the matter now that it is in the process of acquiring new coaches to augments the current fleet.

“Government is bidding out the procurement of new coaches, but it is not looking at acquiring a new signaling system,” said Santiago who is the infrastructure planner of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) study team on the 2013 Roadmap for Transport Infrastructre Development for Metro Manila study and was a member of the master plan team for the Metro Manila Urban Transport Integration study in 1998.

The fact that MRT 3 has been operating since 2002 makes its signaling system already obsolete and considered “risky”, not to mention the worn-out rails that also need replacement.

“In effect, every MRT trip is a risky trip. Every time you ride the MRT, pray that there will be no accident because a glitch in the signaling system would mean life and death to the passengers. Replacing it is a safety issue,” he said.

Santiago said a new signaling system will roughly cost about P1 billion so he suggested that the government implement an overall upgrading of MRT 3 instead.

“Government would probably need P10 billion to double the capacity of MRT 3. This already covers cost for the additional coaches, station renovation, facility repairs and rail replacement,” he said.

Santiago, a civil engineering cum laude from the University of the Philippines, is not optimistic that the MRT 3 will be upgraded before 2016 given the slow bidding process at the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC). Santiago is convinced that money is not the problem why DoTC has failed to implement a single transportation infrastructure project halfway through Aquino’s term of office.

“The problem is neither technical nor financial. It is the official’s ability to execute. The people who are supposed to execute the projects cannot do it because they placed lawyers to handle technical projects,” he said.

He then suggested that Malacanang should consider a new team at the DoTC, starting from the Assistant Secretary level, to replace ineffective staff. He said he is not volunteering for any job, but he would offer his expertise if asked.