Maintenance provider: MRT getting better

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According to data gathered by CNN Philippines research, there had been more reported glitches in July and August than the first six months of the year. (file photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Some memes are making a joke out of the daily experience of passengers taking the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3.

The memes imply that trips could be as horrible as the "Train To Busan" -- referring to the popular South Korean zombie horror film.

But for Busan Universal Rail, MRT's new maintenance provider also from South Korea, changes at the MRT are taking place for the better. 

Busan claimed it was able to restore 22 coaches since it took over the maintenance operations on January 8.

This makes the current number of running coaches to 62 from 40 at the beginning of the year.

The maintenance firm added 18 trains are running daily as of date, up from 13 eight months ago.

"Hindi namin papayagan na iakyat sa system yung car hangga't hindi nag-u-undergo ng testing namin for the day (translation: We will not allow a car to run in the system until we do testing for the day.)," said Charles Mercado, legal counsel of Busan, in a press conference in Makati on Tuesday noon.

Busan is aiming to improve the MRT system's capacity of 20 trains running before September ends.

Mercado added it has completed the grinding of rails from North Avenue to Taft Avenue station last July 18.

"The segments where the rails had been grinded by Busan delivered significant improvements in train ride quality and noise reduction at wayside," Busan's September 6 accomplishment report said.

The firm also claimed it increased the pebble tamping rate by four times than what the previous maintainer Schunk Bahn-und Industreitechnik-Comm Buolders and Technology Philippines  (SBI-CBT JV) had done.

"We were able to quadruple the rate of the tamping to 200 meters per night," Mercado added.

He said this means tighter grip of the rails to the cement which results to more comfort for the riding public.

Busan also deployed 'ghost riders' to give feedback on the operations of MRT.

Coaches not apt for elevated railway

The MRT, which takes almost twice than its ideal daily capacity of 350,000 passengers, is still facing a lot of challenges.

Mercado admitted the size and design of the old MRT coaches are not suitable for an elevated railway.

Such is the reason why MRT trains are running at only 40-45 kilometers per hour instead of the ideal 60kph.

"They are not for light rail elevated system. They are heavy design for street level," Mercado said.

Moreover, the said coaches are similar to a tram which runs only on tracks along public urban streets.

He added Busan have inherited older trains to maintain. The trains, which were made from Czech Republic, have been up and running since 1999.

"Medyo old na yung cars unlike yung previous maintainers na yung in-inherit namin, older na yung cars," Mercado explained.

The legal counsel though said this is not the only reason why trains break down especially during rush hour.

More glitches in recent months

According to data gathered by CNN Philippines research, there had been more reported glitches in July and August (102 cases) than the first six months of the year (79 cases).

MONITORED NUMBER OF MRT GLITCHES

  • January - 5
  • February - 6
  • March - 9
  • April - 24
  • May - 17
  • June - 18
  • July - 54
  • August - 48

Mercado said Busan cannot be solely blamed for every problem as they are only in charge of maintaining and not of operating the MRT.

"The primary reason we started this conversation with you guys is so that you can better understand our responsibility and we don't get blamed for what is being hit on us," Mercado said.

He assured the old MRT coaches are still safe despite their unsuitability in an elevated railway.

Mercado added the government has also learned its lesson by procuring China-made trains which are appropriate for light railways.

Another challenge, Mercado admitted, is Busan's lower budget by almost half (P54 million) than the funding (P100 million) given to SBI-CBT JV.

The maintenance firm is instead hoping for more trains and more stations to give the public a better experience.

Busan is a joint venture betweenSouth Korea's Busan Transport Corporation (BTC), which claims to be an end-to-end railway transport expert in Korea, and four other domestic firms.

It was given P4.25 billion pesos for the maintenance service and overhaul of MRT's light rail vehicles and replacement of signaling systems.