Transport officials aim 'close to normal' MRT operations by Friday

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 15) — The Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT-3) is expected to resume “close to normal” operation on Friday, a day after a systems check on its trains displaced 80 percent of its usual riding public and caused exasperation among commuters.

"Friday morning, we will be close to normal. That means on peak hours, we will be able to run 18 trains at 40 kph," Transportation Undersecretary for Rails Cesar Chavez told CNN Philippines' News Night on Thursday.

The problem surfaced on June 13, when a driver reported a strange sound and excessive swaying of one of the trains of the MRT-3 which traverses a 16.9-kilometer stretch along Edsa, a major artery for motorists and commuters.


They discovered a faulty axle—a metal rod connecting the wheels of the bogie, or the frame underneath the coaches. Management said this is the first time this has happened.

By afternoon of June 14, only 15 trains from the usual 20 were in service, and running at a reduced speed of 20 kph from the usual 40 kph.

READ: MRT to commuters: Longer lines due to system checks

This continued until Thursday, with the train system servicing only 8,000 passengers per hour per direction on peak hours, down from its usual 48,000, said Chavez. Due to fewers cars, commuters hailed ground transport, snarling traffic on different parts of Edsa.

Better safe than sorry

When all 20 trains are fully functioning at 40 kph, the MRT-3 serves up to 96,000 passengers in both directions per hour.

The MRT-3 is expected to carry more passengers late Thursday despite fewer cars since the trains would be running at 40 kph.

"We expect to run 13 trains at a speed of 40 kph, that is to accommodate more or less 11,500 passengers per hour per direction," Chavez said.

READ: Passengers irked as MRT suffers technical glitch anew

He apologized for the inconvenience to commuters caused by the 18-year old MRT-3, which is prone to service glitches at the rate of 34 per month in 2017, down from 36 per month in 2016.

"Ang sabi ni [Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade], 'di bale kaming murahin ng mga mananakay ng publiko ng iba't-ibang sektor, 'di bale kaming murahin kesa makita ang mga pasahero na umiiyak sa ospital or nananahimik sa sementeryo.' We cannot sacrifice safety," Chavez said.

[Translation: Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said, 'It doesn't matter if we are cussed out by the riding public from different sectors, so long as we don't see passengers crying in hospitals or sleeping in cemeteries. We cannot sacrifice safety.]

"Deserve namin ang mga murang yan sapagkat araw-araw ay halos ganito at lumala pa," Chavez said.

[Translation: We deserve their cusses because they're in a bad situation everyday, and it has even gone worse.]

Meticulous check on trains

Chavez detailed how the MRT coaches were checked to ensure there were no cracks or broken axles.

"Hindi po kasi simpleng checking ito, kinakailangang dalhin sa depot, baklasin yung bogie frame, yung bawat bagon ay nakapatong sa apat na bogie frame, bawat bogie frame ay may dalawang axle, bawat axle ay may dalawang gulong, apat na gulong lahat," Chavez said, "'Yon ay binabaklas natin pinapasakan natin yan ng ultrasonic device...doon makikita mo kung may crack o wala."

[Translation: This is not a simple check. We needed to bring them to the depot and disassemble the bogie frame. Every coach is on top of four bogie frames, which in turn has two axles. Each axle has two wheels, so there are four in total. We disassembled them and inserted an ultrasonic device, where we'll see if there's a crack or not.]

The breakdown highlights the chronic problems of the MRT and comes three weeks after the Senate Committee on Public Services held its second hearing on the maintenance and alleged corruption of the MRT contracts. The committee headed by Senator Grace Poe plans to summon former Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas to the next hearing which has no set date yet.

READ: Grace Poe calls for probe on MRT

MRT Director for Operations Deo Manalo said the train inspections went faster than expected, instead of the original estimate of four days.

"Marami po kaming natapos kagabi kaya po pino-project po namin na matatapos ang enough trains to operate to normal speed," said

[Translation: We finished a lot last night, so we're projecting enough trains will be done to operate to normal speed.]

"Wala pa kaming conclusion how (We still don't have a conclusion how), why it happened. So give us time to investigate," he added.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board deployed additional buses along EDSA from 5:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. to address commuters’ needs.

CNN Philippines' Cecille Lardizabal contributed to this report.