The management of MRT 3 is a mess-—and this is saying it mildly. Constructed during the administration of former President Fidel Ramos, it was completed in time for former President Joseph Estrada to inaugurate it. It has therefore been in operation for the last 19 years. Over time, the reliability of MRT 3 as mass transport mode has simply gotten worse. There seems to be no assurances anymore that paying passengers can reach their destinations. Technical glitches are happening so often to a point that last Nov. 16, one of the wagons separated from the rest of the train which prompted Senator Grace Poe to ask the Department of Transportation to decide whether it is time to stop the operation of MRT 3 in order to finally fix whatever problem it is experiencing.
Designed for about 320,000 passengers a day, it is now carrying about 590,000 passengers a day. It is therefore safe to say that the system is over worked. This being the case, what it needs is first class maintenance which the MRT 3 management is apparently unable to do. The amount of maintenance devoted to the system is directly proportional to how much the system is used. Since the MRT 3 is now operating way beyond the designed capacity, it stands to reason that maintenance must also be constant and efficient. The railroad similar to the road. The more it is used, more maintenance work needs to be done.
To people who understand rail operations, what has happened to the MRT 3 is hardly surprising. Every time a new administration is inaugurated, a new MRT 3 management team is also sworn in. To add to the problem, no effort is made by the government to at least select competent people with experience and technical skills to be able to manage rail operations efficiently. People who are being appointed are friends or political cronies of the political party in power. Add corruption into the mix and it is easy to understand why the MRT 3 is so broken. Efficient rail maintenance takes time to develop to a point when management can comfortably say that breakdowns are down to the barest minimum. This cannot be done with the frequent change of management teams in a railroad company like the MRT 3.
Since the very beginning of its operation, MRT 3 has always outsourced it maintenance operation. Because of this, there was very little effort devoted to developing its in house maintenance capability. I do not know whether the intention all along was to simply outsourced maintenance. If this is the case, it is hard to understand why this is so because I have never seen a rail road company that does not have an in house maintenance capability. What should have been done was to outsource the maintenance while developing MRT 3’s maintenance capability until it was ready to take over. Instead, the company took the easy way out.
If only MRT 3 has a professional maintenance department, it could have easily avoided many of the minor glitches that have bedevilled the company. Rail operations are complicated and difficult. But MRT 3 is only about 16 kilometers long and we cannot even run it efficiently. Maybe the MRT 3 management should send a team to India and visit the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways. This is a railway constructed by the British to go to Darjeeling which is more than 7,000 feet high. Like Baguio, it was meant for the British colonials to escape the oppressive Indian summer. The railway is now more than 100 years old running on the same original engines which are no longer manufactured anywhere in the world. Yet, the company have kept the trains in running order thru improvisation gained by many years of experience up to this day. If the Indians can keep 100 year old engines running, there is really no reason why we cannot keep a 19-year rail road running efficiently. A trip there may teach our MRT 3 officials a thing or two about maintenance.
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Ordinarily, there are two very common ways rail experts use to keep rail road companies operating efficiently. Time and distance like what we do with our cars is used. For instance, rail companies perform maintenance work every three months or 10,000 kilometers whichever comes first. But this is only done if the system is not overworked.
But if the system is so overworked and is operating way beyond its designed capacity, like MRT 3, the method that is used is by constant inspections and monitoring to be able to detect the impending problems before they happen. As an example, the decoupling of the rail wagon last November 16 that caused so much inconvenience to the passengers could have been easily avoided if all the rail wagons were inspected before the trains left the train depot to begin operation. There was also a time when electrical disruption caused the stoppage of MRT 3 operations. It was found out later that an object got entangled with electrical wires short circuiting the entire MRT 3 electrical system.
This problem could have been also avoided if there were MRT 3 maintenance personnel inspecting the whole stretch of the railroad. With MRT 3 so unreliable, there should be maintenance presence in the field at all times. There are many things big and small that the MRT 3 management has to do in order to keep the trains running efficiently. Unfortunately these are not being done. One thing for sure, there are no magic formulas that MRT 3 can rely upon to solve the current maintenance problems quickly. Maybe the Transportation Department can start by replacing people with technically component people with management capability to start professionalizing MRT 3 management.