Shame old story | Inquirer Business
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Shame old story

Sen. Grace Poe recently revisited the sole issue that, in 2015, projected her in media as a presidential timber: The MRT Edsa line.

It was the same old story for the chair of the committee on public service as she again worried about the MRT, particularly the current maintenance contract with the consortium Busan Universal Rail Inc. (Buri).

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Now, the technical partner in Buri is the 30-year-old Busan Transportation Corp. or BTC, which runs the trains in the port city of Busan, the second biggest in that country next to Seoul. The South Korean government owns BTC and I heard that the Senate hearings already bothered top officials there. You know, the public humiliation, the shame.

Attacks from senators and DOTr officials actually centered solely on Buri. Buri nevertheless tried to present its side, but the good senator snubbed it, effectively turning the investigation into another blame-throwing soap opera.

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Look, she wanted to summon another losing presidential candidate, former senator and Cabinet member Mar Roxas. But then a new star was born in the hearing, the new DOTr undersecretary for rail, Cesar Chavez, who insisted on cancelling the Buri contract.

In effect, he blamed Buri entirely for what he called the poor maintenance of the MRT system.

Instead he wanted to transfer management and maintenance to the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA), which handled LRT1 (Taft line) and LRT2 (Aurora line).

He claimed that both LRTs performed far better than MRT.

Hmmm. Really? Why do official records then show that the MRT has 66 cars running out of 72 cars, or some 92 percent. This is much higher than 102 out of 139 cars for LRT1 or 73 percent, and 28 out of 72 cars for LRT2 or 39 percent.

Last time I checked, statements made in Senate hearings were still under oath.

By the way, DMCI already finished construction of the 4-kilometer elevated concrete structure of the LRT2 extension between Santolan (Quezon City) and Masinag (Antipolo).

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The original schedule was for the extension to start operations in a couple of months. The only problem is, well, even after a year of the Duterte administration, the DOTr has to build stations throughout the entire stretch.

Really, it still does not have stations, this project that is worth more than P3 billion!

Anyway, back to MRT, based on the pronouncements of our beloved Chavez, do I take it that MRT engineers fielded trains knowing that these were not reliable?

Like it or not, it was unfair for the Poe investigation to crucify Buri alone for glitches in MRT operations. It is a fact that all railways around the world suffer glitches regularly and no engineer can promise to make them disappear as they also can come from factors outside regular maintenance.

Under Sumitomo of Japan in its first year, when the entire line was brand new, MRT recorded almost 1,500 glitches-–even with a budget of P87 million a month.

For its part, Buri even met key performance indicators under its contract: That 18 trains should be running during peak hours. Buri actually averaged 19 to 20 trains.

Even then, DOTr already stopped all payments to Buri and the Duterte administration already owed the consortium more than P300 million.

Moreover, when the motor-biking Duterte Harley promoted Chavez from DOTr assistant to undersecretary for rail, he brought in some consultants. A number of them were said to be former LRT people who also reportedly had taken part in the bidding for the MRT maintenance contract, which they lost to Buri.

Under Chavez as rail undersecretary, the DOTr started to refer all – without any exception – billings of Buri to a certain Urban Integrated Consultants Inc. Who the people behind the company should be another interesting story.

Buri of course would need regular payments from the DOTr to do its job in MRT or else the public will suffer. Or get maimed. Or even, heaven forbids, die. And the DOTr has not been paying for MRT maintenance for the last six months.

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TAGS: Busan Universal Rail Inc. (Buri), Business, MRT, Sen. Grace Poe
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