MRT mishaps sparks probe call

Four senators called for an immediate probe of accidents involving Metro Rail Transit (MRT-3) trains, one of which caused injuries to at least 40 people last Wednesday.

“The increasing number of incidents of train malfunction arising from inadequate maintenance of the MRT-3 is alarming, and endangers the lives of the commuting public,” said Senator Nancy Binay.

Senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Aquilino Pimentel III and Paolo Benigno Aquino also wanted a Senate inquiry to find solution to numerous problems confronting the MRT-3, which officials said, has been serving about half-a-million passengers, more than its rated capacity of 350,000 per day.

Incidents involving the MRT-3 include the alleged short-circuit that caused fire in one MRT coach at Kamuning Station in November 2012;  shutdown of MRT operations in October 2013; and MRT abrupt stop at the Ayala station last March resulting in the injury of at least 10 Last Wednesday, a train, with body number 003-B, was on its way from Magallanes Station to Taft terminal around 4 p.m. when it encountered “technical problem”.

Following railway standard operating procedures, the train had to be pushed by the next incoming train. The trains were coupled or linked together but along the way, the coupling disconnected that caused the accident.

MRT trains and railways are vulnerable to breakdown which causes injuries, delays and long lines due to inadequate preventive maintenance, absence of regular inspection, lack of spare parts replacement and readiness in times of accidents and risks, insiders said.

Angara said the government institutional set up may also be re-examined to address the weak coordination, regulation and oversight for public transportation and mass transit policies and plans.

He stressed the urgent need to institute policy reforms to address the needs of the country’s public and mass transport system in order to sustain the Philippines’ exemplary economic performance as manifested in unprecedented Gross Domestic Product growth.

“An efficient mass transit system, particularly in a highly-urbanized megapolis such as the Metro Manila, is a key component and a lever for a sustained economic growth in any growing nation. We must look into this MRT 3 incident, as well as the country’s rail system and transport network policy, with the view of instituting policy reforms to address the country’s infrastructure needs in the next 50 years,” Angara said.

Pimentel, for his part, said he is wondering why the MRT administrator is also the general manager of the poorly maintained government-run, mass transit system.

“Indecisiveness. The management could not decide to whom to give the maintenance contract for three years,” noted Pimentel, adding that some Malacanang officials were also indecisive on whom to trust the management of the three MRT lines.

MRT-3 was earlier hit by a major management shakeup when its former general manager Al Vitangcol III, who was linked to an alleged bribery attempt, was sacked following charges of conflict-of-interest over the train’s maintenance deal.

Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) denounced the recent statement of Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya who said in an interview with reporters that “riding (MRT) is a personal decision.”

“Such disrespect is an affront to thousands of working people who have no other choice but to ride in the MRT to and from work. Such statement is a slap-on-face of all the victims of the unfortunate mishap which happened days ago,” said TUCP spokesperson Alan Tanjusay.

He added “In effect the secretary of transportation is telling the MRT victims: “Mag-sorry kayo sa sarili nyo kung nabalian kayo o nalamog ka matapos tumilapon ang sinasakyan ninyong tren, malaya ka at choice mo yang sumakay ng MRT. Huwag mong sisihin ang gobyerno.”

MRT-3 started its operation in 1999 as the country’s second rapid transit line in Metro Manila. It forms part of the rail transport infrastructure, including the Manila Light Rail Transit System composed two lines which are the LRT-1 and MRT-2, and the Metro Commuter Line of the Philippine National Railways.

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