Hundreds of thousands of passengers may have to wait longer before the government could deploy the P3.8-billion Dalian trains for Metro Rail Transit Line 3’s (MRT 3) commercial operations.
The multibillion-peso deal with Chinese firm CRRC Dalian Co. again drew attention at a recent Senate hearing, led by Sen. Mary Grace Poe, as the Department of Transportation (DoTr) requested emergency powers to solve the worsening traffic congestion in Metro Manila.
Poe, who heads the Senate Committee on Public Services, questioned why the Dalian trains, composed of 48 light rail vehicles (LRVs) or 16 train sets, were not being utilized to increase the capacity of the troubled railway along Edsa.
Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade argued that the deployment had to be “suspended,” as Japan’s Sumitomo Corp. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. took over the maintenance and rehabilitation works for MRT 3.
When asked for details, DoTr Assistant Secretary for Communications Goddes Hope Libiran said the two Japanese firms had to study first the maintenance requirements of the China-made trains before they could hit the tracks of the rail line.
Libiran added that the DoTr already issued provisional acceptance certificates for three train sets or nine LRVs after completing all testing, commissioning and validation procedures.
She said they were in talks with Sumitomo for the “gradual deployment” of the three Dalian train sets.
“Recently, Sumitomo [had] agreed to start gradual deployment of the accepted Dalian trains, starting in off-peak hours. Discussions are ongoing on the procedures to begin this gradual deployment,” she told The Manila Times.
Although the Dalian trains were bought in 2016, they had been idle over issues of incompatibility regarding weight, signaling and maintenance equipment.
CRRC Dalian had failed to deliver LRVs weighing only 46.4 tons each under the agreement, as the DoTr received trains weighing 49.7 tons each.
Late last year, the DoTr said CRRC Dalian began working on the problems in July 2018.
The Independent Safety Audit and Assessment was conducted by TUV Rheinland, an ISO 17020 and 17025 certified German company.
An MRT 3 Advisory Panel, consisting of railway specialists from the Asian Development Bank, Australia Aid and local experts from the Philippine National Railways, also participated in the evaluation and validation.
Tugade previously said the unused trains would be needed once restoration works for the MRT 3 begin, as the number of trains running would be cut to 12 from the average 15 to 16 per day, which is still lower than the ideal 20 to 22 trains.
The MRT 3, which suffered from glitches recently, serves more than 500,000 commuters each day, higher than its original capacity of 350,000 passengers.
Sammy Malunes, lead convenor and spokesman for Riles Network, told reporters on Friday that with all the technical problems facing the MRT 3 — the latest being the Guadalupe cable incident that crippled the railway’s operations last September 6 — the safety of thousands of passengers was being compromised.
“MRT 3 is, indeed, a rolling coffin. Do we have to wait for a major disaster before we all act on this foolishness by MRT and transport officials?” Malunes said.