April 10, 2015 Jo. Florendo B. Lontoc in UP Forum
There is no better endorsement for a rail system in a congested city than the existing ones.
The amount of patronage the Light Rail Transit and the Metro Rail Transit are getting despite the long lines and system breakdowns attests to the lengths commuters are willing to put up with just to get a traffic-free, automated ride toward their destinations.
For them there is hardly any alternative given the chaos of the whole public transport system, characterized by abusive bus, jeepney and taxi drivers and operators; lane preference given to private vehicles; inconsistent application of traffic laws; and increasing urban population and vehicular volume. These have caused worsening delays and unpredictability of arrival time. Predictability of transport is essential in meeting quotas and completing work hours. Tardiness is costly in the city.
The current systems have also proven expensive to build and to maintain, requiring humongous amounts of government subsidy. Foreign technology is not cheap. Parts and even maintenance have to be imported. With a government unwilling to continue shouldering the costs, these systems might prove too expensive for the riding public.
Monorail systems have additional criticism. Architect Paulo Alcazaren, a renowned consultant for landscape architecture, environmental planning and impact assessment, has been quoted as saying there are only few of them in the world that turn a profit.
It appears then that engineers in transport research and development have their work cut out for them: Develop our own light rail system and bring down its costs for it to be feasible without or with less government subsidy.
The Automated Guideway Transit System research and development project was born of this scenario, with the Department of Science and Technology and the University of the Philippines as the project leaders. The specific offices involved in the technical aspect of the project implementation are the DOST Metals Industry Research and Development Center (MIRDC), UP Diliman National Center for Transportation Studies (NCTS), College of Engineering (Mechanical Engineering, Geodetic Engineering) and the College of Science (National Institute of Geological Sciences).
With the tracks 6.5 meters above the ground, it is the first all-Philippine elevated rail transit. “All-Philippine” means its technology and materials are all sourced locally; they are thus cheaper, according to UP and DOST.
The test site is the UP Diliman campus, where the first pillars of the 500-meter tracks began construction in 2012. During the “monorail’s” first publicized trip in November of the same year, DOST Secretary Mario Montejo emphasized that the technology was “five times less the cost” than imported technology and the equipment.
Aside from this, the AGT has less fossil fuel requirement and does not emit hazardous smoke because it runs on electricity. It is designed to be environment friendly.
In April 2013, President Benigno Aquino himself gave the AGT a test-ride. He found it a little bumpy and suggested it be tweaked to remedy this.
The feedback has been noted. A team from the UP College of Engineering and NCTS has been conducting evaluations. The tests follow a number of stages concerned with structural integrity of the elevated railway, power supply reliability, automatic safety system, car reliability and safety, etc. They are studying if a full-scale AGT loop is viable. A feasibility assessment is needed for the planned track route extension to Katipunan Avenue and Philcoa.
The AGT prototype, which runs on rubber wheels along a concrete rail, is undergoing performance testing.
At the same time, the project team has been developing its own design of ticketing stations and boarding platforms, and conducting track-passenger flow simulation.
Montejo said various LGUs had expressed interest in the project. The technology is suitable in complementing the existing main rail systems traversing LGUs. In countries such as Singapore, the main lines are fed by smaller elevated rail systems that serve the suburbs. These feeder lines resemble the units being tested in the UP Diliman tracks, which comprise two back-to-back fully air-conditioned 30-seater coaches.
DOST Assistant Secretary Raymund Liboro said the new mass transport system might be adopted in emerging urban areas apart from Metro Manila. “[It] is a practical system for urbanized LGUs [local government units] dreaming of a train system,” Liboro said.
According to an Inquirer news report, Cebu is interested in adopting the system, with Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama ordering City Hall officials to look into an alternative transport system to the bus rapid system. The mayor is said to be convinced of the suitability of the AGT system to Cebu City.
Rama had reportedly asked City Traffic Operations Management (Citom) board chairman Ruben Almendras and Citom head Rafael Yap to request DOST to bring the prototype to Cebu City. “The good thing is that Cebu is capable of producing that coach,” he said.
The AGT require less space and the mayor thinks it can easily be maneuvered in the city’s minor thoroughfares.
Rama’s case shows how important it is to convince investors that the AGT is the real deal. Marketing is needed both in the supply and demand side. Proper investment is needed to supply the demand for it and make production cost-efficient. As Alcazaren said, unless DOST gets serious investors to put up actual factories and does more research and development, the AGT project may remain just “an academic exercise.”
The AGT prototype must prove itself worthy. And this is why R&D must continue.
- This article was originally published at UP Website.