MANILA, Philippines — The independent audit and assessment (IAA) being conducted for the Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) and the 48 light rail vehicles (LRVs) from CRRC Dalian Co. Ltd. is expected to be completed by April.

“We requested them to prioritize the Dalian trains. They said they would try but we don’t want to rush it. We want them to do a thorough industry standard assessment,” said Timothy Bataan, officer-in-charge undersecretary for railways at the DOTr.

The DOTr tapped TUV Rheinland as IAA consultant for the entire MRT-3 system.

Batan said the 48 LRVs remain unused unless their safety and compatibility with the MRT-3 system have been certified.

“We will not in any way try to influence their independent assessment of the 48 cars from Dalian, and we will come up with a decision based on their recommendation. If they say we can use the LRVs immediately, we will consider. And if they say we have to return them, we will return the LRVs,” he said.

Concerns were earlier raised with the 48 LRVs procured by the previous administration for P3.8 billion after they exceeded the weight prescribed in the terms of reference (49,700 kilograms vs. 46,300 kilograms).

With the current fleet of Czech-made trains, Batan said MRT-3 can operate up to 20 three-car trains.

If the 48 LRVs are cleared to run, the number could be increased to 20 four-car trains, Batan said.

“The original design capacity of MRT-3 at peak hours is 20 three-car trains, running at 60-kilometers per hour (kph), with a three-minute headway,” he added.

DOTr earlier awarded the contract for the spare parts needed for the maintenance of the MRT-3. The spare parts will start arriving in tranches from February to June.

Batan said general maintenance works on the MRT-3 would be conducted during the Holy Week break.

He also gave an assurance that there would be no fare hike while there is no substantial improvement of MRT-3 operations.

The MRT-3, which covers North Ave. station in Quezon City until Taft station in Pasay City, serves 500,000 passengers daily.

At present, the government is handling the maintenance of the MRT-3 after it terminated the contract with Busan Universal Rail Inc. (BURI) in November last year for failure to fulfill maintenance obligations and to procure spare parts.

Since the government took over, data from the DOTr showed the average number of passengers unloading incidents declined to 24 per month.

Under BURI’s watch, the MRT-3 had an average of 39 unloading incidents per month.

By Louella Desiderio