Philippine-made Monorail Trains Better and Cheaper Than China-made Trains?

Our Philippine correspondent, Automologist Harold, strongly favours local-made over China-made trains. Here's why... The Filipinos hav...

Our Philippine correspondent, Automologist Harold, strongly favours local-made over China-made trains. Here's why...

The Filipinos have already suffered long enough from the wrong kind of train coaches being delivered for the MRT. This is the main reason for the MRT mess that has brought terrible inconvenience to MRT commuters. The present government fired the previous Chinese supplier and its maintenance consultant, and had the previous Department of Transportation officials who approved this anomalous project held accountable.

But China will not stop. As if it now owns the Philippines, it is again offering to build a 20-km monorail system in Iloilo City, situated in the middle part of the Philippine archipelago. BYD, China's leading new-energy carmaker, made this announcement last quarter of 2017. BYD offered this to the government on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) scheme and prides itself on having designed the system, named Yungui (meaning Cloud Rail); it is capable of making the trains, laying the rail, constructing stations and setting up the communication system on its own, the company said.

But why go for Chinese monorail trains when as early as 2011, the Philippine Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the University of the Philippines (UP) have been doing pilot runs for a monorail system, with an automated guideway transit (AGT) system, conceptualised 25 years ago, sometime in 1993-1994, when this writer was still consultant to the DOST during President Ramos’ time?

The first phase of the track is now being built inside the UP campus. This will serve as the test track for the first mass transit system built and developed by local Filipino engineers. This project will soon be expanded into a 6.9-kilometer UP intra-campus loop and would soon replace the dilapidated and smoke-belching jeepneys that ply the UP campus.


UP DILIMAN’S “New Wheels” at its Quezon City campus took riders (from left) Science Secretary Mario Montejo, UP president Dr. Alfredo Pascual, Science Assistant Secretary Bob Dizon, UP vice president for development Elvira Zamora, and UP vice president for public affairs Prospero de Vera for a short ride during the test run of the Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) on Friday.—Philippine Daily Inquirer. 

The development of the AGT elevated train system will be a major solution to the quest for a proper and affordable mass transportation system in the country. The project could result in more kilometers of cheap transport, decongestion of urban centers and easier access for rural communities to centres of commerce and industry.

Based on international studies, the AGT system is the most cost-effective and less intrusive mass transport for commuting countries like the Philippines, according to the DOST. AGT systems are designed to be cheaper and lighter than the rapid transit system serving the commuters of Metro Manila. The system would be developed and built locally, utilising local skills, technologies and resources to minimise cost. And, because the cost of construction is low, the fare could be far lower and affordable for the commuting public. It could even be cheaper than jeepney fares.

The AGT Monorail project can be upgraded into a rapid transit system, but for longer stretches, not for UP’s small and winding track. The electric, driverless, fully AGT system would be grade-separated, running on rubber tires. According to the DOST, it will not harm the environment. The train will have initially two passenger coaches with a capacity of 60 persons per coach, but can be expanded to even 10 or more coaches, depending on the design and need of the project.

It would be ideal to link this to the government’s Subway system and inter-link it with an improved MRT system. The globally proven solution to traffic mess in countries like the Philippines is a proper, well-planned, well-built and well-coordinated mass transit system—there are no two ways about that!

If our locally made products are equally good in quality, cheaper in its cost of construction and maintenance, with the potential even of exporting it, why then do we need the Chinese monorail trains? Unless, China’s lobby is too strong even for President Duterte to resist.

Some political will is needed to have this project funded and expanded pretty quickly, preferably by local funders. I suppose President Duterte will push this one with the same intensity he pushed for the subway system.

This writer contends, and I hope this reaches the President, that on this project, the Philippine-made monorail trains are better than the China-made ones.


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