MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Transportation will be limiting the capacity of its rail transport amid the extension of enhanced community quarantine for another week within the 'NCR Plus' bubble, it disclosed Sunday.
Across all rail lines, the mass testing of personnel amid the massive spike in cases is set to bring the number of available personnel down, and consequently, transport capacity.
“We should not compromise the health, safety, and security of the traveling public and our working people. That is a non-negotiable position,” Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said in a statement.
Here's a briefer of the rail lines, as disclosed by transportation officials at a press briefing Sunday afternoon.
PNR: Philippine National Railways General Manager Jun Magno disclosed that the PNR had been detecting mild cases as of March 5, prompting it to move from sampled testing to mass testing.
He said the PNR staff recommended suspending operations for the time being as the railway management segregates cases among personnel. Out of 579 tests conducted, 91 came back positive, he disclosed.
"Since March, we were starting to worry about asymptomatic cases in our premises…it seems these are able to slip through health standards," Magno said in mixed Filipino and English.
"We'll only be able to resume operations on April 9," he added.
As a result, the PNR — which regularly had 60 trips per day on 11 to 12 trainsets deployed on average before ECQ — will be suspended until Thursday. The PNR will be dispatching 10-12 trains on Friday.
MRT-3: Pre-ECQ, the rail line fielded 18-20 train sets on average, but will be forced to 10-12 train sets for the week starting tomorrow due to limited personnel.
Metro Rail Transit- Line 3 Director Michael Capati said that massive contact tracing was conducted among its tellers as monitoring continues.
Capati added that 600 out of 751 employees had already been tested, 107 of whom tested positive. Many were drivers.
The trains will be operating with a limited capacity of 372 passengers per trainset or 124 passengers per car to comply with the pre-determined number of passengers per station, but the busway carousel of the DOTr's road sector would attempt to augment the loss in transport capacity.
LRT-2: Holy Week maintenance has been completed at the Light Rail Transit-2, which is gearing up for limited operations starting Monday, LRTA spokesperson Hernando Cabrera said.
Out of the rail line's 1,696 personnel, only 529 have been tested so far, of which 136 have tested positive while 294 came out negative. The confirmed cases have since been isolated.
According to Cabrera, limited operations will be running at only 17% capacity or 274 passengers per train set for just five trains.
He was careful to point out that the rail line was only averaging 25,000 passengers per day. "So we already run under capacity in a sense," he said.
Mass testing among the rail line's personnel will continue, Cabrera said, though he did not offer any figures.
The first trains will be deployed at 5:00 a.m. while the last train will leave at 8:30 p.m.
LRT-1: The Light Rail Transit Line-1 will be dispatching 17 trains in its limited run and on shortened hours from 4:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Affected passengers will be accommodated by buses running on Route 17 plying Monumento-EDSA, the department said.
"The shortened operating hours from April 5, 2021 onwards will also allow LRMC to perform safety and integration tests for the upgrading of the LRT-1 signaling system, as well as prepare for the commercial run of our new Gen-4 trains in the last quarter of the year," the Light Rail Manila Corporation, the rail line's private operator, said in an advisory.
Capacity augmentation?: The 20-30% capacity per train announced at the beginning of the enhanced community quarantine remains, but what changes is the number of trains being deployed.
According to Transportation Undersecretary for Rails TJ Batan, this is due to the limited number of personnel available amid the outbreak among offices.
Commuters who will be affected by the limited operation of the MRT-3, will be served by augmenting buses running on the EDSA Carousel route which can be accessed at the following MRT-3 stations:
- North Avenue Station
- Quezon Avenue Station
- GMA Kamuning Station
- Santolan Station
- Ortigas Station
- Guadalupe Station
The transportation official said that each railway line would have a bus route assigned to it, with 350 buses set to be deployed to fulfill the capacity requirement along the EDSA carousel to service MRT-3 riders.
Batan provided no figures for the other two rail lines but assured the public that buses would be made available for them.
Health concerns?: "At this point we have not contact traced any passenger since our personnel wear personal protective equipment," Batan also said.
Transportation Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Reiner Yebra said that both errant employees and passengers found violating health protocols face jail time and fines.
"They can be jailed from one month to five months…they can also face removal from office and benefits," he said.
Limited rail capacity does not bode well for an already-precarious transport situation.
Much like 2020's iteration of the ECQ, the same transportation woes marred Monday morning, plaguing commuters earlier on in the pandemic. Many were left stranded and unable to find rides in transportation hubs, and major thoroughfares were left congested amid the slow-moving checkpoints.
On Tuesday, the Philippine National Police warned that more commuters in the so-called 'NCR Plus' bubble would find themselves stranded in the coming days with other transportation modes going into maintenance.
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