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From trams to trains?

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FINEX Folio — By J. Albert Gamboa-125

FINEX Folio

BURI says glitch due to ‘design flaws’ in MRT-3
BW FILE PHOTO

During a visit to the magnificent city of Prague in the Czech Republic, I stumbled upon a startling piece of information that may provide a clue to the problems plaguing our own Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) plying Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (EDSA), the country’s busiest thoroughfare.

The extensive tramway network of the Czech capital consists of 21 daytime routes that run between 4:30 AM and 1:00 AM the following day, and nine nighttime routes operating between midnight and 6:00 AM. Prague’s first electric tram line opened in 1891, using two-axle railcars. Since 1951, these railcars have been replaced by the Tatra tramcar series produced by the then Czechoslovakian company known as CKD Dopravny Systemy.

CKD was the very same firm that supplied the trains for Metro Manila’s MRT-3. The supply agreement was signed toward the tailend of the Ramos administration in 1997. Full operations started in 2000 during the Estrada administration, with a 16.9-kilometer single line traversing between Taft Avenue in Pasay City and North Avenue in Quezon City. A total of thirteen stations serve the National Capital Region’s commuters, with several stops in the cities of Makati and Mandaluyong.

Over the last decade and a half, MRT ridership has grown to more than half a million passengers daily. It has the characteristics of a light rail transit network especially because of the type of rolling stock used, but functions more like a rapid transit system due to its high passenger throughput and total grade separation.

I found out in Prague that CKD Dopravny Systemy is no longer in existence as a state-owned enterprise. It has since been acquired by Siemens Mobility of Germany and uses the brand name CKD Tatra, which still manufactures trams or streetcars.

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In concept, a tram is similar to a train as it also runs on iron tracks. The difference is that trams run on rails that are on the same level as normal roads to which they are embedded. Filipinos are familiar with the trams of Hong Kong and San Francisco, which are mainly built to transport people between short distances.

Trams are lighter than trains and rarely transport cargo since they are designed to help commuters reach nearby destinations within city centers. On the other hand, trains cover long distances outside city limits and use their own tracks without any traffic since they do not occupy anyone else’s road space.

A reliable source told me that the MRT-3’s light rail vehicles were originally trams that had been converted into trains. Is this the reason they have been breaking down the past five years? Why did transportation officials in four previous administrations allow this to happen at the expense of the commuting public?

ON SOLID GROUND
A new advocacy group has been formed to address the Philippines’ housing backlog that is estimated to reach 10 million by 2030.

Known as the Solid Ground Advocacy Campaign (SGAC), its mission is to change policies, systems, and attitudes to ensure that every Filipino has access to land for shelter. The country’s poor are usually left behind despite the numerous housing projects being developed in the major urban areas.

SGAC’s working group is composed of representatives from the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the National Housing Authority.

Spearheading this movement is Habitat for Humanity Philippines, which has been involved in building houses and working with communities for the longest time. Now it has decided to focus on asset formation in the belief that unlocking assets like land is key to solving the country’s housing problems.

J. Albert Gamboa is Chief Financial Officer of the Asian Center for Legal Excellence and serves as Co-Chairman of the FINEX Media Affairs Committee.

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