The horror stories from the rail tracks never seem to end.
As if the daily ordeal of waiting in incredibly long queues at the LRT-MRT and all sorts of delay and inconvenience during the ride are not enough, commuters also get exposed to safety risks from the frequent technical problems plaguing the aging system.
Passengers could be disembarking prematurely onto the stony tracks more than a meter below from a train coach that, for instance as what happened at the MRT last Thursday, got decoupled from the main train in the middle of the ride. There was collective relief in knowing the accident happened on level ground and not atop a slope.
In a separate incident, over at the Gil Puyat Station of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) along Taft Avenue on November 6, a 48-year old passenger suffered multiple head injuries for getting stuck in between the closing doors and then dragged by the moving train.
Almost everyday, some kind of trouble visits the most widely patronized mass public transport system of Metro Manila, causing severe inconvenience or putting the riding public’s safety in jeopardy. The commuters have for years been crying out for a solution to the dismal state of what is supposedly a rapid public rail transit service, but the remedy seems to have eluded the DoTr, past and present.
Transport Secretary Arthur Tugade, who has been in office for more than a year now, must take more urgent and decisive steps in dealing with growing public discontent over the deteriorating LRT-MRT service before more lives are endangered and the transport nightmare erupts into a full-blown national crisis.
Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares, chairperson of the Senate committee on public services, raised a valid point when she said putting public safety first ahead of all other concerns should be the government’s top priority on this matter. Along the same line or reasoning, she logically proposed a shutdown of the MRT to give way to a thorough inspection of the trains, as well as the railways, to give the government an accurate basis for the appropriate action to take.
“The public would definitely be outraged because that [service shutdown]would cause tremendous inconvenience to them, but the more important thing is their safety. The DoTr should urgently decide how it could possibly go about the MRT service suspension” to fix the problem now, she said on Friday.
True enough, the idea immediately met a barrage of criticisms and objections from social media netizens. MRT commuters rejected the idea of a service suspension, citing a likely worsening of their suffering in commuting daily to work or school if the MRT shuts down without any alternative means of transport provided to them.
DoTr Undersecretary Cesar Chavez reiterated that despite the occasional technical problems, the government “cannot simply stop operating the trains knowing fully well that we’ve got no alternative mode of transport to offer to the half a million Filipino commuters who depend on the MRT daily,” he told a public radio interview.
But Sen. Poe-Llamanzares cited a few temporary measures that could mitigate the scarcity of transport options for the public at the moment. One of those measures was for the MRT to provide an alternative bus service for commuters along the same routes as the trains during the shutdown, at discounted rates.
However, to be realistic about the situation, a complete shutdown may be best if there are alternative modes of transport provided for the mass transit passengers.
For the long term, the senator proposed the addition of more trains servicing the MRT routes. Calling attention to the incompatibility of the recently delivered coaches from China with the existing local railways, she also urged the transport authorities to ensure the hiring of highly qualified rail system engineers to assess and fix the technical problems for good.
She also called on Secretary Tugade to face the public himself to communicate directly what his department is doing to solve these problems. Two other lawmakers have already called for his resignation.
All available solutions should be discussed by all means. But the most urgent measures such as the provision of a bus service and all other transport means should be made available to the public without reservation. Mr. Tugade said a new maintenance provider replacing Korean company Busan Universal Rail Inc (BURI) is expected to come in 2018. He and the rest of the DoTr must also do their best in finding new coaches and replacing the defective rail tracks to get the system running safely for our people as soon as possible.