Some 300,000 commuters depend upon the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) running along Epifanio de los Santos Ave. (EDSA) to get to work or school and return home every day. It is one of the two main mass transit systems in Metro Manila, the other being the Light Rail Transit (LRT) along Rizal Ave. and Taft Ave. from Quezon City to Caloocan to Manila to Pasay City.
The MRT began operating in 1999, with the Japanese companies of Sumitomo Corp. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in charge of maintenance of its 16.9-kilometer route with 13 stations and 72 light vehicles. Then in 2012, officials of the new administration, claiming the Japanese firms’ fees were too high, replaced them with another maintenance firm.
Soon afterwards, the MRT began suffering problems. Many trains stopped between stations, forcing thousands of passengers to walk back to their stations. There were sudden stops, collisions, broken rails. In August, 2014, an MRT train shot past the Taft Ave. station on to the street, resulting in injuries to 36 passengers and off-loading of thousands of others.
Meanwhile, the lines of passengers wanting to board the trains grew longer in the streets outside the MRT stations. Together with the buses and other vehicles jammed to a standstill on EDSA, the long MRT lines projected the sorry state of Metro Manila’s traffic mess.
Last April 30, the government brought back the two original Japanese maintenance companies which had served the MRT from 1996 to 2012, a period of 15 years when the system suffered the least service interruptions and malfunctions, with zero major accidents. They started working the next day, May 1.
In the next three years, Sumitomo and Mitsubishi will restore the MRT system to its original condition and capacity. But we should see improvements “in a year’s time,” its officials said. The work includes restoration and overhaul of the power supply, the overhead catenary system, the signaling system, the rail tracks, the CCTV, the public address system, even the station elevators and escalators. Funding the entire operation is an P18-billion Official Development Assistance (ODA) fund from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Plunder raps were filed in 2017 against several officials responsible for the replacement of the Sumitomo-Mitsubishi combine with a new maintenance group under a P3.8-billion contract. That is another angle to the MRT story that will be resolved in time.
For now it is enough that Sumitomo-Mitsubishi, which has long been known for its track record in railway engineering, construction, and maintenance, is back in charge. We should soon see the results of this move in the operations of the MRT.