Another look at the MRT

This is a rejoinder to the post about the MRT. In that post, I had discussed the possibility of a stampede during the morning rush hour at the North Ave. MRT station. Based on the comments, two possible solutions were raised: getting more trains, and instituting a queue system. The problem with the second solution is that it will not work. If you take the MRT daily, you will agree that there is a queue. The problem is that the system cannot handle the volume of people during rush hour. The first solution is unpalatable because the MRT is on a build-lease-transfer (BLT) scheme. And getting new trains means loans, and loans pushed the government and the MRT Consortium to revise the original build-operate-transfer (BOT) agreement to BLT.

For now, let me discuss what I think can be done temporarily to make the system more efficient, until we all agree that taking out loans to get more trains is a good solution.

I think that for the MRT to efficiently service the morning rush hour volume, trains should arrive and leave a terminal every minute, 2 minutes maximum. This is possible, but there are a lot of factors that affect the turnaround time. For this discussion, turnaround time refers to the time it takes for a train to switch from north bound to southbound at the North Ave. terminal (and Taft Ave. terminal). To better visualize, here are some pictures.

In this picture (courtesy of Wikimapia), the top view of the North Ave. MRT station is shown. The tracks at the left is the south bound lane, and the right one, the north bound lane. Turnaround time refers to the time it takes for the train at the north bound lane to transfer to the south bound lane and enter the station. The turnaround is represented by an line crossing from north bound to south bound. I believe the turnaround should be max of one minute. The worst that I had experienced was 15 minutes; that time, the train broke down.

There is actually a design flaw in this case. Because of the said flaw, only one train can ‘turn around’ at a time, so a bottleneck is possible. This happens when three trains are at a station – on the northbound platform, on the switch (the track where the northbound train transfers to the south bound), and on the southbound platform. So what if the train on the switch breaks down? Woe to the passengers who are waiting on the south bound platform. The design should have allowed for two trains to switch. Referring again to the picture, the train moves straight north and switch to south bound lane. It would have been more efficient if the designers had allowed for the train to move straight north, then move straight south to switch. Draw an imaginary line from the north bound lane going to the south bound lane. This should be able to address the problem of trains breaking down, but that’s wishful thinking now. This design was implemented at LRT 1, so I am puzzled why this was not done for the MRT3. One plausible explanation is that the Consortium was anticipating the extension up to Monumento; however, BLT killed the idea, so the LRT 1 is instead going to be extended from Monumento to SM North EDSA.

What contributes to the turnaround problem is expounded below. See this image first.

This picture shows the North Ave. station platform. I took this shot while standing on the south bound platform. At the right is the north bound platform, and at the background (where the train is) is the switch. When a train arrives from the south, it should not take more than 2 minutes for all the passengers to unload. However, that is not the case. A lot of things contribute to the delay.

The MRT management allows the elderly, the disabled, and pregnant women to take the train at the north bound platform during rush hours. However, knowing Pinoys, some unscrupulous people take advantage of the situation, so it is normal to see able-bodied, obviously-young, definitely-not-pregnant people waiting at the north bound platform. So when a train unloads passengers, these people get in. A lone guard will have to check all three coaches and order people to get out. (Of course, it is futile). That would take around a minute or two of useless checking.

Then, there’s the matter of the train operator for the south bound leg. When a train arrives, the next train operator should be at the empty cockpit at the end immediately after the passengers have unloaded. Look at the second picture again. At the end of the north bound platform is the dispatcher’s area, the bullpen for train operators. From there, it is a minute of slow walk to the other end, where the train operator has to get inside the train. Sometimes, a train operator is slow in walking. Sometimes, a train operator is lazy, so instead of walking, he’d just wait in the dispatcher’s area, and the train would approach the switch, and stop exactly so that the lazy operator can get in at the south bound cockpit.

Another problem is that each train has three coaches. Each station can actually accomodate 4-coach trains, so I wonder why the Consortium settled for 3-coach trains. Must be an oversight or what. Anyway, I can’t fault them; the LRTA took 20 years to introduce 4-coach trains at LRT 1. LRT 2 was designed with the mistakes of LRT 1 and MRT 3 in mind. The coaches are longer, wider. The waiting time is another story, but it is no big deal.

2 thoughts on “Another look at the MRT

  1. How about assigning certain sectors a different schedule, as though we’re on DST? I think this solution alone will be effective in avoiding the impossible volume at rush hour.

    There’s also the matter of maximizing the loading capacity of the buses in EDSA.

  2. Hi, R.O., since we have lots of BPOs here, we are lucky that the current MRT load is actually LESS than it should be. Your idea has merit, and I hope companies will act on their own to change their work schedules.

    As for buses, that is another story. The problem is traffic, I think.

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