Last Monday, the long-suffering commuters using the Metro Rail Transit went through more than the usual life-draining ordeal when the overburdened train system was hit by another “technical problem” that caused longer-than-usual lines beginning at the Gates of Hell, I mean the North Avenue station. But it was just another of the increasingly frequent MRT glitches, something that didn’t even merit newspaper space the following day—just like the daily, kilometer-long lines just to get on a train on Edsa themselves.
I wonder, though, what Metro Manila’s one million or so daily commuter train riders will feel when the MRT’s already spotty service is stopped for months while the Department of Transportation and Communications builds it strange “common station” starting this year in the mall of the government’s Most Favored Business Conglomerate. And the irony is, the inconvenience of shutting down the MRT line from North Avenue to Shaw for the duration of common station project is an unnecessary aggravation, if DOTC really wanted to do the right thing.
The closure of nearly half of the MRT line is only one of the avoidable problems that will arise with the building of the common station at the Trinoma mall, something that state planners themselves never envisioned. But the Ayala conglomerate, which somehow convinced DOTC to relocate the common station to its mall, is willing to do that – and much, much more.
The story of how the common station for the MRT-3, the Light Rail Transit-1 and the proposed MRT Line 7 (the 23-kilometer, 14-station rail from San Jose del Monte, Bulacan to North Avenue) was transferred from SM North Edsa to Trinoma is truly one for the books. And it’s a testament to just how influential the Ayala group is with the government of President Noynoy Aquino.
In 2009, the government signed an agreement with Sy’s SM group to have the common station for all three lines built in front of the North Edsa mall, where studies have shown that an aboveground concourse would best serve passengers of all three trains, the terminals being mere meters away from each other. SM even paid the government P200 million for the “naming rights” to the new common terminal, which would be the most logical, cost-effective and fastest solution (in terms of turnarounds) for all three tracks.
At the beginning of the Aquino administration, DOTC under then Secretary Jose de Jesus even announced a public bidding for the SM North common station. But when De Jesus left suddenly, to be replaced by Mar Roxas, nothing more was heard about the station.
Until last November, when the common station (now located in front of the Ayalas’ Trinoma mall) was among the projects green-lighted by the National Economic Development Authority. And that’s when DOTC, now headed by Secretary Joseph Emilio (“Let Me Ask Mar First”) Abaya, started its defense of the “new” project, on grounds that are shaky at best – and inviting imprisonment for its proponents, at worst.
And let’s not forget the suffering of the commuters, which will not, according to the new plan, cease even after the common station is built. Oh, but I forget: the convenience and comfort of the ordinary MRT-LRT rider was never in the equation.
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The Trinoma station, according to Abaya, is cheaper by P1 billion than the original SM station. But that figure doesn’t include the construction of a “walkalator” of more than 300 meters (the distance between two regular stations) that will allow the passengers of MRT-7 to go to the common station built for just two lines, instead of a true three-line concourse, according to the original plan.
Given the record of the train operators in maintaining elevators and escalators, what this means is passengers will just have to walk the entire distance, like they do now. And the new “head-to-head” design of the Trinoma station is not only dangerous, as the MRT and LRT trains may just collide if their brakes fail, it will also increase “headway” or turnaround, because the coaches will have to back up so far just to resume running the other way; even if all the trains in the Czech Republic were deployed on the tracks, arrivals will still be few and far in between.
The Trinoma design will also cause the closure of MRT-3 for the duration of the construction, unlike the SM scheme, which will allow for uninterrupted service of the two existing lines while the concourse is being built. (As for the payment for naming rights, Abaya has announced that no, the government will not return the money, as logic dictates; instead, in a brilliant move, DOTC will allow SM to still name the Trinoma common station after the mall owned by the Sys—right at the entrance to the Ayala mall, no doubt.)
No question about it: the Trinoma common station does not follow any “daang matuwid,” unless that road (or railway) leads straight to the pockets of capitalists favored by this administration.
About the only thing good about this newfangled scheme of DOTC-Ayala is that the people responsible for this unnatural, costly and criminal plan will probably land in jail if they push through with it. For the commuters themselves, there is, as usual, no good news.