Govt eyes O&M deal for MRT-3

The government plans to bid out the operations and maintenance (O&M) component of the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 by 2025, a deal that may be akin to the private concession for the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1, a Cabinet official said.

In a recent interview, Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Jaime J. Bautista said the government will wait for the build-lease-transfer agreement with MRT Corp. (MRTC) to lapse three years from now.

“The current arrangement, which is build-lease-transfer, will lapse in 2025. We’ll study the possibility of offering it for a concession. We can bid it to a private consortium,” he told reporters.

MRT 3 is currently owned by MRTC, a company controlled by businessman Robert Sobrepeña. Its 25-year BLT agreement allows the government to lease the train system and manage its daily operations.

The administration of the late President Benigno Aquino III wanted to cut short the BLT agreement and buyout MRTC from the MRT 3, but this never materialized and was shelved by the Duterte government.

Other groups also wanted to invest in the train system. Metro Pacific Investments Corp. initially wanted to exercise its 48-percent option in MRTC. The Pangilinan-led conglomerate proposed to shoulder the upgrade costs of the train system and release the government from the bondage of paying billions of pesos in equity-rental payments.

The $524-million investment proposal would have expanded the capacity of the railway system by adding more coaches to each train, allowing it to carry more cars at faster intervals. The multimillion-dollar expansion plan would double the capacity of the line to 700,000 passengers a day, from the current 350,000 passengers daily.

It was submitted in 2011, but the transportation agency’s chief back then rejected the proposal.

German companies Schunk Bahn- und Industrietechnik GmbH and HEAG Mobilo GmbH also sought to place the whole train system under a massive transformation program to augment its capacity and to provide safe and comfortable travel to commuters from the northern and southern corridors of Metro Manila.

The P4.64-billion proposal, submitted in February 2015 with Filipino partner Comm Builders and Technology Phils. Corp., calls for the complete overhaul of the 73 light-rail vehicles of the MRT; the replacement of the rails; the upgrading of the line’s ancillary system; the upgrade of the track circuit and signaling systems; the modernization of the conveyance system; and a three-year maintenance contract.

Sobrepeña’s group also submitted its own proposal to extend the life of the BLT agreement during the Aquino administration.

Together with foreign firms Sumitomo Corp. of Japan and Globalvia Infrastructuras of Spain, Metro Global Holdings Inc. proposed to “fix” the ailing system through a $150-million investment that involves the procurement of a total of 96 new train cars, and the rehabilitation of the existing 73 coaches, increasing its capacity by fourfold to 1.2 million daily passengers.

Under the proposal, a single point of responsibility will be implemented: meaning the rehabilitation and the maintenance of the line will be handled by a single company.

In the Philippines, three out of the four train lines are operated by the government, namely the MRT 3, the LRT 2, and the Philippine National Railways.

Light Rail Manila Corp., a consortium led by Metro Pacific and partner Ayala Corp., currently operates the LRT 1 under a 30-year concession to operate, maintain, and expand the train system.

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