NBI tapped to probe MRT-3 mishap

NBI tapped to probe MRT-3 mishap

Several coaches were detached from a northbound MRT-3 train between the Ayala and Buendia stations, prompting commuters to walk on the rail tracks to a nearby station. File

MANILA, Philippines — The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will look into the possibility that there was sabotage in the decoupling of coaches from a Metro Rail Transit-3 (MRT-3) train last Thursday in Makati City.

Several coaches were detached from a northbound MRT-3 train between the Ayala and Buendia stations, prompting commuters to walk on the rail tracks to a nearby station. 

Transport Undersecretary for railways Cesar Chavez said they are looking into the possible “human intervention” angle in the incident.

He said the Department of Transportation (DOTr) had asked the NBI to conduct a probe.

MRT operations director Michael Capati said trains are still safe despite the decoupling of train cars and the recent failure of train doors a few days ago. 

Capati said the MRT-3’s service has improved since they terminated the contract with service provider Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI), with fewer unloading incidents and technical problems.  

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“Yes, definitely, it is still safe,” Capati said. 

In a statement yesterday, the DOTr said that since the first quarter of this year, it has been considering the option to temporarily stop operations of the MRT-3 covering North Avenue  station in Quezon City to Taft station in Pasay City.

While that option is being considered, the DOTr said it is also aware of the 500,000 passengers who rely on the MRT-3 for their daily commute.

“As long as the technical team works to ensure it remains safe to ride the MRT, operations will continue. But the option to temporarily stop operations is still there if that is what is really needed,” Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said.

The DOTr said the team, which assumed the maintenance of the MRT-3 after the termination of the contract with BURI, is doing all it can to ensure the train system is safe for passengers.

“In fact, since the MRT-3 was put under internal management, fewer unloading incidents have been recorded and more number of trains are being rolled out consistently,” the DOTr said.

The DOTr recently terminated the MRT-3’s contract with service provider BURI due to its alleged poor performance. Since then, MRT-3 has encountered some problems with the train door and detachment of coaches.

BURI’s lawyer Maricris Pahate downplayed the “sabotage” angle in the decoupling of MRT trains on Thursday, saying they had already turned over all maintenance works to the government’s MRT Transition Team (MTT).    

“We deny the sabotage accusations,” Pahate said. 

Pahate said they have informed the government about the problem of the MRT-3 and the design of its trains that could possibly result in decoupling of cars due to poor maintenance. 

She added that they have also reported to the government the problem of the train’s coupler. 

‘MRT-3 unsafe’

Following the accident, a train expert said that the MRT-3 is unsafe for the public, which the should seriously consider. 

“That is something that the DOTr management has to consider because no one can say, but all I can say is, it is really unsafe, but whether it is dangerously unsafe is something else,” Rene Santiago told reporters yesterday. 

Santiago is a former executive of North Luzon Railway Corp. and now the president of a railway consultancy firm.

He said that decoupling of train cars could result in something more dangerous, like what happened in 2014 when a train overshot the tracks at Taft Avenue station in Pasay City that injured several commuters. 

But he said that the daily technical problems, including failure of its train doors and signaling system, are not dangerous. 

Aside from the detachment of train cars, Santiago said that a bigger problem might also occur if a derailment happens at the end stations with the condition of the rail tracks, which the DOTr also has to work on. 

Reacting to Sen. Grace Poe’s proposal to MRT-3 management to stop operations to fully inspect and service the trains, Santiago said train officials could suspend operations every Sunday for complete maintenance work on the trains. 

Santiago explained that one day of maintenance of the MRT trains would be a more practical option than total suspension, considering the demand from commuters during the daily rush hours.

The DOTr said they thought of Poe’s suggestion before, but the 500,000 commuters who regularly rely on the MRT took precedence.

For his part, Metro Rail Transit Corp. (MRTC) president Frederick Parayno, private operator of MRT-3, is asking the DOTr to give back the operations and maintenance of the Edsa-bound railway to them. 

Parayno said they have written the government three times since 2012 asking if they could get back operations and maintenance work of the MRT-3, noting that there were no problems when they were managing the train system. 

Being the private owner, he explained they can easily bring the service provider without having to go through the procurement act if the government agrees to give back to them the MRT-3 operation.   

Sought for comment, Chavez said DOTr’s legal department would decide on this.

‘Stop blaming previous team’

Instead of blaming the previous administration for the problems of MRT-3, Poe advised the DOTr yesterday to start implementing concrete solutions for the benefit of the riding public.

Poe said it is a foregone conclusion that the predecessors of the current DOTr officials were to blame for the deterioration of the MRT-3 and for the various other problems faced by the critical mass transit system.

However, Poe emphasized that the current DOTr officials have been in office for over a year and they now carry the responsibility for whatever mishaps take place in the MRT-3.

“Don’t be content with blaming the previous administration. You have to prove yourself too because you have been there for a year,” Poe said in a radio interview.

Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services, pointed out that Congress has provided the DOTr with the funds required for it to perform its job, including ensuring that the MRT-3 is running smoothly.

The problem, Poe said, was that the DOTr seems to be dragging its feet when it comes to fixing the MRT-3, which she said was unacceptable.

She acknowledged that the decision to cancel the maintenance contract with the Busan consortium was a step in the right direction but this was not enough.

The DOTr is currently handling the maintenance of the MRT-3 on a temporary basis until it finds a suitable maintenance provider to replace BURI.

Poe said that the DOTr leadership has been good only at making promises.

Meanwhile, Sen. Sonny Angara has called for the passage of a bill that seeks to strengthen the emergency medical services system in the country after a female passenger lost her arm in an accident at the MRT-3 early this week.

Doctors successfully reattached the severed right arm of the victim, Angeline Fernando.

Fernando’s parents were thankful that a fellow passenger, who happened to be a medical intern at the Chinese General Hospital, Dr. Charlie Jandic, was quick to assist Fernando when the accident happened.

“We’re thankful that there was a passenger with medical training but not all incidents like this will have a Dr. Jandic who could help,” Angara said in a statement.

Angara’s Senate Bill 1573 mandates the development and institutionalization of emergency medical services system to ensure that there are enough qualified emergency medical service personnel in the country.

Emergency medicine is a specialized discipline in the medical field focused on giving timely and coordinated health and safety services to victims of sudden illness or injury, prior to them reaching hospitals, health centers or any healthcare facility.

According to data cited at the 2013 Asian Conference on Emergency Medicine, the Philippines only has 3,300 recognized emergency medical service personnel. –Marvin Sy, Louella Desiderio