MRT safe even amid glitches, say transport officials

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 10) — After recording at least 504 glitches in 2017 - or at least two per day - train officials insisted the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) is safe.

"Ligtas po ang pagpapatakbo ng MRT dahil marami po tayong nilalagay na operational measures upang masigurado po na lahat ng lumalabas na tren sa depot ay ligtas," Transportation Undersecretary and Officer-in-Charge for Railways Timothy Batan said in a press briefing Wednesday.

(Translation: The MRT is safe because there are operational measures in place to ensure all trains going out of the depot are safe.)

But Batan said the reliability of the MRT, which caters to 500,000 passengers on average daily, is a different story.

"Hindi po perfect ang kondisyon ng MRT-3. Hindi po perfect ang kondisyon ng ating mga riles…tayo po ay gumagawa ng mga compensatory measures para po ma-address ang safety issue natin," Batan said.

(Translation: The condition of the MRT-3 is not perfect. The condition of our rails is also not perfect. We are implementing compensatory measures to address safety issues.)

For example, he said they have adjusted the speed of trains. The MRT is designed to run at 60 kph, but authorities said they only allow up to 40 kph due to the condition of the railways.

Batan said all these problems boil down to underinvestment in the train system in the past years, resulting in lack of proper maintenance.

Authorities said they are laying down several measures to address these problems, the first one being the termination of the maintenance contract with the Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI) in November 2017 to promote accountability.

READ: Breakdowns, corruption and separations: The MRT in 2017

Train officials are also in the talks with the Japanese government for the official development assistance of MRT rehabilitation and maintenance.

No fare increase

They also promised no fare hike until commuters see improvement.

"Ang commitment po natin sa sektor ng riles ay hindi po tayo magtataas ng pasahe hangga't hindi nakakaramdam ang commuters ng improvement sa convenience, availability, and reliability po ng ating mga sistema," Batan said.

(Translation: We commit not to increase fares until commuters see improvement in convenience, availability, and reliability of our system.)

Batan added this is not only for the MRT, but for all railway systems.

Talks of fare hike in different public transport systems were raised after the tax reform law took effect January 1. The measure imposes higher taxes on coal, which would lead to higher fuel costs expected to roll out by mid-January.

Despite the glitches, MRT officials said stopping its operations is unthinkable.

"It would be a nightmare for MRT-3 to even think about stopping our operation even for one day, considering that there are so many kababayan natin (Filipinos) who depend on MRT-3 for their livelihood," MRT General Manager Rodolfo Garcia said.

CNN Philippines' AC Nicholls contributed to this story.