As the number of Covid-19 cases continue to increase in and around the National Capital Region, the country’s railway systems management has stepped up its testing efforts, especially since positive cases have also become alarming—91 at Philippine National Railways; 107 at Metro Rail Transit-3; 94 at Light Rail Transit-1, and 136 at Light Rail Transit-2 as announced during April 4’s online press briefing at the Department of Transportation.
As a consequence, the MRT-3, LRT-1, and LRT-2 lines have limited operations starting April 5.
Timothy John Batan, Transport Undersecretary for Railways, said during the April 4 press briefing: “We started last week with our mass testing. We are expecting to finish in the middle of this week.”
PNR General Manager Junn Magno explained the advantages of video evidence through CCTV and digital technology through artificial intelligence infrastructure (AI) to help abate Covid-19 transmission or outbreak through the rail lines.
“We encourage all railway networks to implement AI, too, because if you have origination and destination papers only, the video system and the AI system would actually track you back just in case. It’s going to be seamless. That’s going to be the strategy of the DOTr,” said Magno.
The AI infra centric Covid-19 mitigation can be programmed to do the following: Massive scanning and temperature profiling to enable scanning of several persons in parallel and repetitively to avoid false positive readings; automated contact tracing for passenger information to be automatically recorded and paired during the passenger’s ingress and egress for future contact tracing purposes; human-to-human contact detection for violation of social distancing protocols while in the train and station premises; face mask detection enabling non-human intervention of passengers not wearing face masks, and; frequent contact surface analysis to help detect common contact surfaces for target disinfection and sanitation.
DOTr Assistant Secretary Banoy Lopez told the press the need to limit the operations of the rail sector due to the spike in the number of employees with Covid-19.
“DOTr Secretary (Arthur) Tugade directed the mass testing so we will be assured that all employees of our rail sector are Covid-free, and also for the peace of mind of our passengers,” Lopez disclosed.
MRT-3 management announced on April 4 that it would be operating on a limited scale starting April 5, dispatching only up to 12 trains, with each train accepting only 372 passengers (124 passengers per car) to comply with the pre-determined number of passengers per station. Commuters affected by the scaled-down operations could alternatively take the buses running on the Edsa Carousel route which can be accessed at the following MRT-3 stations: North Avenue, Quezon Avenue, GMA Kamuning, Santolan, Ortigas and Guadalupe.
Meanwhile, the LRT-2 line has dispatched only five trains for its own limited operations. Displaced passengers on this route are being accommodated by buses at street-level. LRT-1, on the other hand, has 17 trains on its limited run. Affected passengers can use buses running on Route 17 (Monumento-EDSA).
PNR management has suspended operations up to April 8. When operations resume April 9, up to 12 trains will be dispatched, compared to its pre-ECQ operations of 6 to 10 trains.
Tugade has ordered all rail sector personnel considered as active Covid-19 cases and those who are still waiting for their test results be kept in isolation and not be allowed to enter trains or rail facilities. Also barred from entering rail facilities are their close contacts who had been identified after contact tracing, as well as those exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19.
The DOTr railways sector has been enforcing strict health measures in all of the facilities and trains of the MRT-3, LRT-1, and LRT-2: 1) Wear face masks and face shields; 2) No talking and making telephone calls; 3) No eating; 4) Keep PUVs well-ventilated; 5) Conduct frequent disinfection; 6) No passengers with Covid-19 symptoms are allowed inside public transportation, and; 7) Observe appropriate physical distancing.
5 new vehicle inspection centers
The Vehicle Inspection Center Operators Association of the Philippines (Vicoap) yesterday sent a statement that three new modern and automated inspection member facilities are now open, while another two would be ready by the second week of April with the issuance of their respective authorization certificates to operate.
The Private Motor Vehicle Inspection Authorization Committee (AC) of the DOTr and the Land Transportation Office have granted the respective authorization certificates to the MVIC Bacolod by Cimatech, located in Bredco Port, Bacolod City; CHECK Motor Vehicle Inspection Center in Lubao, Pampanga; Tagbilaran Vehicle Inspection Center in Tagbilaran City, Bohol; Blue Circle Motor Vehicle Inspection Center in Iligan City, and; Sta. Clara in Meycauyan, Bulacan.
In a statement yesterday, Tugade called on all transport entities, law enforcement agencies, and local governments to urgently act on what he called “Covid-19 smuggling” involving trucking companies and colorum vans that clandestinely transport untested individuals into and out of the “NCR Plus” quarantine bubble.
Tugade made the call after seeing video footage—reportedly taken somewhere in southern Luzon—showing a closed-van type of truck being opened, revealing a group of people, many not wearing masks and face shields, huddled inside. The footage then goes on to show these individuals scrambling into several unmarked commuter vans that would supposedly bring them to destinations inside Metro Manila. Tugade said he was informed that these vans and trucks sneak people into and out of Metro Manila in exchange for cash.
Tugade stressed that such illegal operations could serve as vectors of transmission for Covid-19, as the people being transported have not been tested for the coronavirus disease before entering or leaving Metro Manila. LTO is expected to issue within the day a “show cause order” against the driver and registered owner of the truck.
Over the recent Holy Week break, 12 colorum vehicles bound to different cities and municipalities in the Bicol Region were apprehended by LTO enforcers. According to the Bicol Inter-Agency Task Force, there has been an increase in the movement of people trying to cross borders to avoid the impact of the ongoing enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in the NCR Plus” bubble. The extended ECQ is scheduled to end on April 11.