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MRT-3 on track to being fixed and restored to high-grade design state

By Merrowen Mendoza on July 05, 2019 under News

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QUEZON CITY – With the comprehensive rehabilitation underway and ahead of schedule, the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 is on track to being fixed and restored to its original, high-grade design state by the third quarter of 2021.

The DOTr MRT-3 said that since the Duterte Administration took office in 2016, a series of critical and strategic steps were taken to put the major rail line back on track. These include the termination of non-performing service providers, establishment of a government maintenance transition team, and procurement of a Japanese Government-backed, JICA-funded, and experienced rehabilitation and maintenance service provider.

"Fixing MRT-3 requires a painstaking process that involves removing the cause -- terminating BURI; procuring the solution -- return of Sumitomo-Mitsubishi Heavy; and implementing the solution -- the 26-month rehabilitation period. We recognize that the process is taking time, but the DOTr , under the strong leadership of Secretary Tugade, has acted decisively and swiftly at every step, beginning with the termination of BURI, up to what no less than JICA and the Japanese government have recognized to be the fastest and most efficient JICA-funded project in the history of all JICA projects in the world," Department of Transportation (DOTr) Undersecretary for Railways Timothy John Batan said.

"We are not deaf to the inconvenience being endured by our commuters, and this is precisely why the DOTr has already put in motion a series of strategic steps that will deliver a very dramatic improvement in MRT-3 in the course of the next two years," Batan added.

Restoring MRT-3

August 17, 2012 marks the current high point of MRT-3, when it carried a record 622,880 passengers on a single day.

Three to four years later, in 2015 and 2016, MRT-3 saw the biggest drop in average daily ridership, when weekday ridership fell from 525,000 to 375,000 per day.

At the same time, from 2012 to 2017, passenger unloading incidents shot up to an average of 377 incidents per year, with 2016 setting the record of 586 unloading incidents in a single year, or an average of almost 2 passenger unloading incidents per day throughout an entire year. With each train carrying up to 1,100 passengers, this translates up to almost 2,200 passengers being unloaded and inconvenienced on a daily basis.

This was the starting point of the current administration's efforts to fix MRT-3.

Through the ongoing comprehensive rehabilitation project, DOTr MRT-3 will raise the number of operating trains from 15 to 20 at peak hours, double train operating speed from 30 to 60 kilometers per hour, and slash by half the headway or waiting time between trains from 7-10 minutes to just 3.5 minutes. The system's capacity will likewise double from the current 350,000 to 650,000 passengers per day.

Contract of non-performing BURI terminated

In November 2017, the DOTr officially terminated its contract with MRT-3's maintenance service provider, Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI), which was engaged by the previous administration in January 2016.

BURI's termination was predicated on its poor performance, which included its failure to ensure the availability of reliable trains, failure to maintain a sufficient stock of spare parts, failure to repair critical equipment such as the wheel lathe machine, failure to timely complete the scheduled general overhaul of LRVs, and failure to put in place a Computerized Maintenance Management System.

From 2016 to 2017, for example, BURI was only able to complete the overhaul of three out of the 43 LRVs it was supposed to overhaul.

Establishment of Maintenance Transition Team

Following the contract termination with BURI, the DOTr established a Maintenance Transition Team (MTT) that temporarily took over the maintenance of the railway system, while the procurement of a new maintenance service provider was being processed.

A little over a month after its establishment, the MTT, through its Bids and Awards Committee (BAC), was able to procure 18,579 necessary spare parts, broken down as follows: rolling stock – 9,515, tracks – 7,776, Overhead Catenary System (OCS) – 1,109, and power – 179.

The MTT was also able to procure 78 brand-new air conditioning units (ACUs), 60 units of which have been delivered and already installed. The remaining 18 ACUs are set to arrive in August.

Dramatic drop in unloading incidents and service interruptions

Under the MTT's supervision, passenger unloading incidents and service interruptions dropped dramatically.

In 2018, passenger unloading incidents plunged to 57 – a massive improvement from 417 passenger unloading incidents recorded in 2015; 586 in 2016; and 463 in 2017.

Service interruptions have also considerably decreased in recent years. From 55 service interruptions in 2015; 63 in 2016; and 81 in 2017 – service interruptions for 2018 plunged to 17.

For the January-June 2019 period, MRT-3 recorded 14 unloading incidents – a massive reduction compared to 180 unloading incidents in the same first half year period in 2015; 333 in 2016; 200 in 2017; and 49 in 2018.

Service interruptions for the January-June 2019 period, as well, continue to taper. This year saw 12 service interruptions for the first half, a substantial improvement from 25 service interruptions recorded for the same period in 2015; 31 in 2016 and 2017; and 13 in 2018.

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Sumitomo-Mitsubishi Heavy returns as MRT-3's rehabilitation and maintenance service provider

On November 8, 2018, the Philippines and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) signed the PhP18-billion loan agreement for the rehabilitation of MRT-3.

The DOTr strategically re-engaged the services of Sumitomo Corporation and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), who are not only experienced experts in the field of railway development and maintenance, but who are also the original designer, builder, and maintenance provider of MRT-3 during its first 12 years of operations.

Sumitomo-MHI fully mobilized for the system's comprehensive rehabilitation at 00:00H of May 1, 2019, following the official handover of MRT-3 from the MTT. As early as end-2018, however, Sumitomo-MHI has already been undertaking advance works and procurement activities for the rehabilitation project.

Under the MRT-3 Rehabilitation Project, Sumitomo-MHI will undertake the overhaul of all 72 Light Rail Vehicles (LRVs) of the MRT-3, replace all mainline tracks, rehabilitate power and overhead catenary systems, upgrade the signaling system, communications and CCTV systems, and repair all of MRT-3's escalators and elevators, among other system repairs and improvements.

The project will last for 43 months, with rehabilitation works slated for completion within the first 26 months.

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Arrival of spare parts ahead of scheduled delivery dates

As early as January 2019, even prior to receiving any advance payment and as an act of faith in the Duterte Administration and in the leadership of DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade, Sumitomo-MHI began advance procurement of tracks, train parts, and other necessary components for the comprehensive rehabilitation of MRT-3.

Following the successful factory test conducted by the Factory Acceptance Team (FAT) for rails headed by MRT-3 Director for Operations Michael Capati at Nippon Steel in Fukuoka, Japan, over 50% of new rails have been shipped and are due to arrive to arrive in the country between this month and August, several months earlier than their scheduled date of delivery.

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Rail replacement works for the whole stretch of the MRT-3 mainline will begin in November 2019, and will be completed by February 2021, since rail replacement can only be done during the evening non-operating hours.

Meanwhile, in a meeting with Secretary Tugade on June 29, 2019, Sumitomo-MHI also gave assurance that other spare parts are also due to arrive ahead of schedule.

LRV parts, rail, and track parts will arrive this month, three months ahead of schedule. Power supply equipment and OCS parts will arrive in August 2019, one month ahead of schedule. Signaling system parts will also arrive in August, two months ahead of schedule. Road rail vehicle and depot equipment parts will arrive in September, one month ahead of schedule. And communication system parts will arrive in December 2019, one month ahead of schedule.

Various rehabilitation works ongoing

Upon mobilization of Sumitomo-MHI, various rolling stock rehabilitation works immediately commenced, which include wheel truing or profiling using the newly repaired wheel lathe machine.

After breaking down in 2014 and BURI's failure to repair it, MRT-3's wheel lathe machine was finally repaired in March 2019 through the coordinated efforts of the MTT and Sumitomo-MHI.

With the recent repair of the wheel lathe machine, and the upcoming replacement of all mainline tracks, MRT-3 trains will be running more smoothly and with less vibration.

Excess vibration is a bane to the proper functioning of any mechanical and electrical equipment, and is one of the major root causes of MRT-3 train breakdowns in the past.

"Dahil baku-bako 'yung mga riles natin at dahil baku-bako 'yung gulong ng mga tren, nagiging matagtag ang takbo ng MRT-3, at 'yang tagtag na 'yan ay isa sa pinakamalaking root causes kung bakit tayo nagkakaaberya. Kasi isipin mo na lang, marami kang mechanical, marami kang electrical components sa loob ng mga bagon, at ang disenyo naman ng mga tren ay tumakbo sa makikinis na riles na may makikinis na mga gulong. Kapag excessive 'yung nagiging tagtag dahil sa baku-bakong riles at gulong, maaalog nang sobra ang mga mechanical at electrical components, at talaga namang maaapektuhan ang reliability ng ating mga tren," Undersecretary Batan explained.

After MRT-3's train wheels are smoothened using the now-operational wheel lathe machine, and once train tracks are smoothened following the upcoming mainline tracks replacement, vibrations will be substantially reduced, resulting in fewer vibration-related mechanical and electrical breakdowns.

Meanwhile, Sumitomo-MHI also announced that a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) has already been put in place for a more efficient railway operation.

Rehabilitation works for station facilities have also commenced, with all escalators and elevators becoming operational by the end of 2019.

According to DOTr MRT-3, not only should all of these rehabilitation and repair works have been done years ago, the system should not have even been allowed to degrade into its current state. Railway systems shouldn't be allowed to be destroyed just so they can be fixed later.

"Kinikilala po natin na naghahabol po tayo ngayon sa pagaayos at pagrerepair ng MRT-3 dahil napabayaan po talaga at nasira ito ng sobra nitong nakaraang mga taon. Habang puspusan po nating tinatrabaho ang pag-rehabilitate at pag restore ng MRT-3, kami po ay humihingi ng kaunti pang pag-unawa at pasensya sa ating mga mananakay. Umuusad na po at lalo pa naming pinabibilis ang pagsasaayos sa MRT-3, bilang tugon sa utos ng ating Pangulong Duterte at Kalihim Art Tugade na maghatid ng mas kumportableng pamumuhay sa bawat Pilipino," Undersecretary Batan said.