Blame game on for non-operational Dalian trains

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AL S. VITANGCOL III

SENATOR Grace Poe filed on Wednesday Senate Resolution 355, directing the Senate committee on public services to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the reported need to examine the newly delivered Dalian trains due to allegations that they would remain unusable until 2018, among other issues.

On April 24, 2017, transportation undersecretary Cesar Chavez announced in a radio interview that 48 new coaches for the MRT3 expansion project had already been delivered. However, he said the new coaches cannot be used for the next three years for several reasons. A major reason was that they were never fully tested and that there was no signaling system installed in the Chinese-made coaches.

The new coaches were ordered under the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) of the previous administration to reduce the passenger congestion in the MRT3 railway line. The plan was to acquire an additional 48 light rail vehicles (LRVs) that would use four-car trains that would arrive every 2.5 minutes. The DOTC said it would enhance passenger convenience, improve reliability, reduce passengers’ waiting time, and decongest crowded passenger platforms.

All this will not happen because the new coaches are non-operational.


So, who should be held responsible for this failure?

The bidding process
The old DOTC published in February 2013 an invitation to bid for the MRT3 Capacity Expansion Project Lot 1, as the project was called. The approved budget for the contract (ABC) for the 48 train cars was P3,769,382,400. Fifteen interested parties attended the pre-bid conference in March 2013.

Only two of ultimately submitted bids—China South Railways (CSR) and China North Railways (CNR). Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive Co. submitted the bid on behalf of CSR and Dalian Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co. (Dalian) for the CNR Group.

In June 2013, the DOTC bids and awards committee (BAC), headed by its chairman, Jose Perpetuo Lotilla, opened the bids for the procurement of the 48 cars.

CSR Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive Co., Ltd. was disqualified in the bidding for failing to include a certificate of reciprocity between China and the Philippines.

Thus, Dalian won the contract after the BAC declared its bid of P3,759,382,400 as the lowest calculated and responsive bid (LCB). Amazingly, the difference between the LCB and the ABC was P10 million. Mere coincidence or non-diligence?

The contract award
In January 2014, Antonio de Mesa, the authorized representative of Dalian, received the notice of award, which was recommended for approval by Lotilla and approved and signed by then Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya.

Thereafter, DOTC and Dalian executed a contract for the DOTC-MRT3 Capacity Expansion Project, which was signed by Lotilla for the DOTC and Min Xing, Li Depu, and De Mesa for Dalian.

Why did Lotilla sign this particular contract? He was not the head of the procuring entity (HOPE). Only the HOPE can sign a contract with this amount of funding.

In February 2014, Abaya issued a notice to proceed (NTP), which was received by De Mesa on February 26, 2014.

Delivery schedule
The bid documents stipulated that the delivery of the prototype would be 18 months from the issuance of the NTP, or on August 25, 2015. It further specified that the delivery of the LRVs should be completed 17 months from the acceptance of the prototype with a delivery of three LRVs per month.

The 48 Dalian-made coaches should have been delivered 17 months from August 25, 2015, or on or about the end of January 2017. Well, all of the 48 coaches were delivered – but not fully operational.

Moreover, there was no report as to whether or not the train simulator was delivered. Delivery of the train simulator should have been completed one month after the acceptance of the prototype, or on or about September 2015.

Roman Buenafe, at the time the general manager of DOTC-MRT3, was the head of the project implementation team that evaluated and accepted the non-operational trains. Deo Leo Manalo was the primary technical consultant. Manalo became the officer in charge (OIC) of DOTC-MRT3 when Buenafe resigned in October 2016. As the OIC, Manalo accepted the last few coaches from the Chinese manufacturer and even endorsed the payment for Dalian. He promised that the new trains would be operational by February 2017.

Deficiencies of Dalian-made coaches
From the statements of transportation undersecretary Chavez, it is clear that Dalian failed to fully comply with the technical specifications of their bid, which stated that all trains should be equipped with automatic train protection (ATP) and equipment through the signaling provider as defined in the signaling specification. The railway signaling system is used to direct railway traffic and keep trains clear of each other at all times.

Another factor being cited by the present Department of Transportation (DoTr) is the new trains’ lack of an international safety certification, which is given after a thorough examination, evaluation and safety testing.

Damage to the public
Based on previous data and estimates, the government is bound to lose 178,200 passengers for each day that the new trains are not fielded. This translates to P9.4 million per day in terms of lost revenue. Using a very simple method of calculation, for a delay of three months—from February 2017 to April 2017—the lost revenues would now amount to P847 million. There are millions more of losses involved in terms of damage to the riding public.

Who should be blamed for this fiasco?

The former transportation secretary who approved and signed the award? The BAC chairman who signed the contract? The head of the project implementation team which accepted the trains?

The private personalities who brokered the deal between Dalian and the DOTC? Or the present director for operations who previously acted as the technical consultant for the project?

My readers, you be the judge.

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