May 2018
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Close to Collapse

Munich subway GBRis what Munich’s underground is according to a local paper (link). It is “not that bad” (link) Harry Roque might say if he rode here, as the elevators and escalators mostly work. Meaning that among 100 underground stations in 100 km. of underground, a non-working escalator is pretty rare. Yet people do crowd a bit more recently. The reason is that some new wagons don’t work yet (link). Haha, in Germany? Yes, from Siemens. Wagons of the C2 series from Siemens that look space age. While the quaint 1970s style old wagons keep on going it seems. What is happening over here?

Voltage spikes and squared wheels


Munich U-Bahn after a soccer game

Well, the electrical transmission of the C2 series seems to generate voltage spikes that could cause the trains to stop or even damage the electrical systems of the Munich U-Bahn or underground. They are in the yards for maintenance, while the old wagons are stretched thin. People are not yet waiting up to the streets though like in Metro Manila. That only happens during the Oktoberfest. Then, extra staff make sure drunk people don’t push each other onto the rails. Central Europeans – which Bavarians are – are not as patient in waiting as Filipinos. And tend to like their own space.

What also happened according to a speaker of the MVG or Munich Transport Corporation is that when autumn came in, the sludge from rain and autumn leaves on some overground stations (yes, the underground also has stations above ground) caused “squaring” of wheels while braking. Making train wheels round again is specialized metalworking. Took some work in depot to get the wagons back into full function. Good thing, even if there was some inconvenience for everyone, as I can imagine the damage squared wheels can do to rails. Or voltage spikes to transmission systems.

Politics and colors over here

Well, is the Reichstag in Berlin discussing this under its modern dome? Is the Maximilianeum (link) in Munich, the Parliament of the Free State of Bavaria, going up in (self-)righteous anger? After all, the ruling party there is different from the ruling party in Munich city hall, so why not? Strangely it is a party that is not ruling that seems to make occasional comments about the SPD or Social Democrats, whose friends in the Philippines are Akbayan. It is the FDP or Liberals or if one wants yellow color – same party whose Naumann Foundation invited VP Leni to South Africa.

But one only knows that if one reads a bit deeper in some papers. No buzz in social media. If ever people are mad at yellow, it is at the OBikes (link) from Singapore which anyone can book and use via simple App. Tourists and others just leave them all over the place. And conveniently, they are of the color some Bavarians will think all Asians are – yellow. Yellow and Chinese, or maybe Japanese. You are only Japanese though if you take pictures of the central square, the Marienplatz, in spring. Now you finally know why Irineo sees the world so differently. I am on the other side, so to speak.

It was not long ago

Munich subway Goetheplatz

Munich’s oldest underground station today

In fact, I am red. Red as in Bayern München, not DDS. More a sympathizer than a fan or a diehard. Reds crowd the very same U-Bahn wagons – or underground trains – as commuters crowd daily when there is a game up in the Allianz Arena. The plans for the a north-south line were really old. Goetheplatz station was finished between 1938 and 1941 (link). The regime behind that probably never said “Bauen, Bauen, Bauen” (Build, Build, Build) as it sounds too much like barking, even if the one who shouted a lot did not come from the Bavarian Forest, where some say people “bark”.

The war stopped the project. Goetheplatz station and the tunnel to Sendlinger Tor were made part of the new underground lines built for the 1972 Olympics. Until now, Goetheplatz station is a little bit longer than the standard full underground train, as it was planned for another kind of wagons. And the design is more similar to Berlin underground stations built before the war. More cramped, and not always with escalators. The modern norm is deeper and with escalators always, often with elevators for PWDs, mothers with children and bikes. I don’t know if yellow OBikes are allowed.

Almost yesterday

Karte der S-Bahn München

The Munich suburban train network

another system in Munich was the subject of complaints. The Munich S-Bahn or suburban train. 150 stations and 434 kilometers into the suburbs of Munich. The trunk line or Stammstrecke (line) was also built for the 1972 Olympics. That was a Build, Build, Build period – without dictatorship. Half of Munich, especially the Marienplatz where U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines converge in a common station under the city hall, was excavated or tunneled then. No space for Japanese to make fotos. But then again, it is mostly the S-Bahn or U-Bahn that brings them there, escalators bring them up.

Almost yesterday is a decade ago or more. I don’t even remember the exact years when the S-Bahn was catastrophic as I lived outside town then – it only affected me when I went in on weekends. Frequent delays. Often the signalling systems at the Ostbahnhof (Eastern train station) got stuck. Electrical and signalling systems in the trunk line, the busiest train route in Germany they say, had to be renovated step by step as they had aged since the early 1970s. There was a time, I think an entire year, where the S-Bahn trunk line was closed for entire weekends – technical overhaul.

Some were bothered

Bothered me a bit coming from outside, as I had to switch to the yet seemingly perfect U-Bahn when I rode into the city. But new rails, signalling systems and more improved the S-Bahn. Meanwhile, the U-Bahn increased stations, covering more and more of the city, always having interoperability in mind – with the S-Bahn which belongs to the Deutsche Bahn or German railways, and of course with busses and trams, which together with the U-Bahn all belong to the MVG (Münchner Verkehrsgesellschaft / Munich Transport corporation) which is city-owned.

I have heard that Günther Beckstein (link) used to take the tram 19 to work in the Maximilaneum. Very probable during the time he was in the parliament, even when he was Bavarian Interior Minister. It is a beautiful ride which I won’t tell the Japanese about, passing historical monuments. Used to be the main ride between the East and the West of Munich, before the S-Bahn was built. Now a second Stammstrecke is being built to increase capacity, get the suburbs connected better. This goes until 2026, work has started. Even if it may get delayed, I think it will never just stop.

Tram München - Baureihen P, R und S - Betriebshof Einsteinstraße - April 2014

Tram depot Einsteinstraße with different generations of wagons

Why should it stop? And why should relatively young systems like the Munich U- and S-Bahn fall apart. What is 1972? 45 years ago. Berlin has really old systems. A major line of the Berlin S-Bahn had to be closed for MONTHS, also about a decade or so ago for complete overhaul. Under the management of Communist East Berlin, the citywide system had rotted. Not as much as New York (link) it seems which is of similar vintage. How Filipinos lost the late 19th century Spanish railway to Dagupan, the 1930s railway to Legazpi and may lose the MRT is another story. A sadder one.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 24 November 2017



15 comments to Close to Collapse


    In the 1960s, Singapore’s land was unable to accommodate more roads. The government formulated Singapore’s first concept plan for infrastructural development then.

    The concept plan laid out a blueprint for a network of expressways, as well as the concept for the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT)..


    ..Before the subway, it was by no means a foregone conclusion that New York would become the greatest city on earth. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants fleeing poverty and persecution were arriving on its doorstep every year, but most of them were effectively marooned, herded into dark, squalid tenements in disease-ridden slums. The five boroughs had recently been joined as one city, but the farms and villages of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens might as well have been on the other side of the planet from Manhattan’s teeming streets. Bound up in the fate of the city were even larger questions: Would America be able to manage the transition from the individualism and insularity that defined its 19th-century frontiers to the creative collaboration and competition of its fast-growing urban centers? Could it adapt and excel in this rapidly changing world? Were cities the past or the future of civilization? And then came the subway: hundreds of miles of track shooting out in every direction, carrying millions of immigrants out of the ghettos and into newly built homes, tying together the modern city and enabling it to become a place where anything was possible.

    It was the arrival of the subway that transformed a seedy neighborhood called Longacre Square into Times Square, that helped turn a single square mile surrounding the Wall Street station into the center of global finance, that made Coney Island an amusement park for the masses. It was the subway that fueled the astonishing economic growth that built the city’s iconic skyscrapers. Other cities had subways, but none threaded through nearly as many neighborhoods as New York’s, enabling it to move large numbers of workers between Manhattan and the middle-class boroughs — a cycle that repeated itself every day, generating ever more wealth and drawing in ever more people..

    ..The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the government agency that operates the subway, uses the catchall word “incident” to describe all the various events that impede the system’s healthy functioning. Every one of these incidents triggers an investigation resulting in an incident report, a minute-by-minute account of what went wrong and the steps taken to resolve the issue. Thousands of these reports are produced every month. A random sampling of incidents from a single recent day include: “Signal Trouble,” “Switch Trouble,” “Unruly Person(s),” “Track Circuit Failure,” “Delayed by Track/Work Gangs,” “Water Condition,” “Fire/Smoke Conditions,” “Debris on Roadbed,” “Brakes Fail to Charge” and “Sparks Issuing.” Among the most common were “Excess Dwell Time” and “Insufficient Capacity/Crowding.” Translation: too many passengers, not enough trains.

    All these problems lead to one really big problem: The trains are terminally late, obstructed daily by a cascade of system failures. During the first three months of 2017, three-quarters of the subway’s lines were chronically behind schedule. The worst offender, the 2 train, was late nearly 70 percent of the time..

    ..At point-blank range, subway cars seem invincible. In fact, they can be laid low by something as insignificant as a broken bolt or a can of soda — which, when resting against the third rail, might heat up and ignite a scrap of newspaper, causing a track fire, the source of hundreds of delays every month. Every inch of the system’s rails is supposed to be checked twice a week for imperfections. Much of this work happens overnight, when the frequency of trains on this 24-hour system decreases and workers are able to move more freely on the tracks. “While the rest of the city is sleeping, there’s a whole industrial ballet going on underground that most people have no idea about,” John Samuelsen, a track inspector who now runs the Transport Workers Union of America, told me. “It’s like friggin’ Brigadoon down there.” And yet a recent study found that only 3 percent of the tracks in stations meet the M.T.A.’s own standards for cleanliness.

    Workers face an even more insidious challenge than trash in the form of water. Many parts of the system are below the water table, and its lines course through neighborhoods that were once lush farmland. On a dry day, the M.T.A. pumps 13 million gallons of water from the system. Over time, the water corrodes the system, rusting and rotting its infrastructure — and yet sealing and grouting these leaks often requires rerouting service on lines, further frustrating riders. Next year, the L train will begin a shutdown that will last at least 15 months for repairs to its East River tunnel, which flooded during Hurricane Sandy. Some 225,000 people will have to find a new way to get in and out of Manhattan every day..

    ..The subway could be both faster and safer if all of it were controlled by a computer-based signal system, which would automatically ensure that trains are always operating at the maximum safe speed, with the narrowest possible distance between them. Instead, much of the subway uses a signal system that dates to the 1920s and ’30s. What that means didn’t really hit home for me until I visited the signal-repair shop at the 215th Street rail yard in Manhattan. Technicians were hunched over cast-iron gadgets — stop motors, compressors, track relays — that looked as if they belonged in the workshop of an eccentric antique collector. In the machine shop downstairs, I saw workers making mounting brackets and ball bearings; even the system’s most basic parts are so obsolete that they have to be manufactured in-house. “A lot of the equipment we really can’t purchase,” the M.T.A.’s assistant chief of signals, Salvatore Ambrosino, told me as we watched a technician assemble a tiny motor. “Our only option is to rebuild.”..

    ..The subway’s importance to the city begins with a single, durable economic principle: Cities create density, and density creates growth. Economists call the phenomenon agglomeration. Not only does geographical proximity reduce costs, but it also facilitates the exchange of knowledge and spurs innovation. It’s a principle that holds true for better and worse and regardless of the industry. The free-market economist Edward Glaeser has pointed out that the junk bonds and leveraged buyouts of ’70s and ’80s Wall Street were as much the product of human collaboration as they were of corporate greed. The urban-planning professor Elizabeth Currid-Halkett coined the phrase “the Warhol economy” to describe how this same sort of cross-fertilization and idea-sharing works in New York’s art, fashion and music worlds. As industries grow, they attract and create new, connected ones: Book publishers beget book agents, tech start-ups beget venture-capital firms and so on. It all begins with the ability to pack large numbers of people into small spaces and then unpack them at the end of the day. Without the subway, this process breaks down, and the city dissipates.

    Ravitch took his case to editorial boards and legislative leaders. But there was a problem. No one wanted new taxes. So Ravitch cold-called David Rockefeller, the longtime head of Chase Manhattan Bank. “I said, ‘Mr. Rockefeller, this is an audacious request, but would you get up at 5 in the morning and let me show you the subway system?’ ” he told me one afternoon in his office at Waterside. “And he said yes.” Ravitch then suggested that Rockefeller bring along the chairman of MetLife and the president of AT&T. All three went and saw the dirty, graffiti-scarred system firsthand. As Ravitch tells the story, that was all it took: Rockefeller called the majority leader of the State Senate and told him to “give Ravitch what he needs.” The tax package passed, and Ravitch ultimately raised $7.7 billion — more than $17 billion in today’s dollars — much of which was spent replacing cars, refurbishing stations and increasing maintenance..

    ..Like most good-government tools, zoning sounds boring, but it is in fact a secret means by which cities are shaped and fortunes are made. If the subway delivers density, zoning determines where that density goes by doing things like placing limits on how tall buildings can rise or how many dwellings they can contain. New York’s zoning codes are byzantine, the product of years of pushing and pulling between the desire to allow the city to evolve and grow and the impulse to keep development in check. These codes have helped preserve the city’s historic buildings and neighborhoods while preventing its streets from being forever cast into darkness by endless rows of skyscrapers. But they have also had the effect of restricting the supply of housing, which has driven up prices, especially in neighborhoods with desirable buildings and good subway access. “I rent studio apartments for $3,400 a month,” Walentas told me. “It doesn’t make any sense.”..

    ..The subway has made a lot of people very rich. And without carefully constructed zoning laws that foster inclusive growth, it can create the kind of gentrification that contributes to America’s growing income divide. That divide has been especially acute in New York City. The Fiscal Policy Institute, an economic think tank, reports that between 1980 and 2015, the share of the country’s income going to the wealthiest 1 percent increased from 10 percent to 22 percent. In New York City, it went from 12.2 percent to 40.9 percent. The subway can help narrow that divide by doing what subways do best: increasing density. For all the recent growth in neighborhoods like Dumbo and Williamsburg, large pockets of the city remain underpopulated and underdeveloped. Many of these neighborhoods already have good subway access. One of them is in a section of Brooklyn called East New York..

    ..Here’s one possible scenario: New York won’t die, but it will become a different place. It will happen slowly, almost imperceptibly, for years, obscured by the prosperity of the segment of the population that can consistently avoid mass transit. But gradually, an unpleasant and unreliable subway will have a cascading effect on New Yorkers’ relationship with their city. Increasingly, we will retreat; the infinite possibilities of New York will shrink as the distances between neighborhoods seem to grow. In time, businesses will choose to move elsewhere, to cities where public transit is better and housing is cheaper. This will depress real estate values, which will make housing more affordable in the short term. But it will also slow growth and development, which will curtail job prospects and deplete New York’s tax base, limiting its ability to provide for citizens who rely on its public institutions for opportunity. The gap between rich and poor will widen. As the city’s density dissipates, so too will its economic energy. Innovation will happen elsewhere. New York City will be just some city.

    That doesn’t have to happen. The subway still exists, and the people who operate it still bring a kind of subtle genius to their work. As we rode deeper into Brooklyn, Diamond told me about something he had seen the night before. He had been monitoring the Yankees’ playoff game on the internet, not because he cares about baseball but because the heavy crowds during the postseason often spur rare service patterns..

  • karlgarcia

    I shared the links to my dad, he happens to talk to some exAsecs and Usecs of the DOTC.
    They might find the links useful. They can’t just leave everything to their lawyers.

    • That is fine, that is what the links are for, what these kinds of sites are for – collect and distribute.

      All updates re MRT please paste here if you have any, I know it is a scrapbook approach but better than nothing.

      • karlgarcia

        I have no problem with the scrap book approach.

        • – hehe, itodo na natin ngayon…

          Preliminary chronology, Dengvaxia

          ..refer to link above for more details…


          1) June 2016 Malaysia and Straits Times (Spore) already knew about UP Manila professor’s warning about potential ADE (antibody-dependent enhancement)

          2) Sept. 2016 lots of articles about the risk on CNN, VOA but also research journals, including one with this statement “”..A second dengue infection is often much more severe than the first, and because the vaccine acts like a silent natural infection, any subsequent infection is immediately as serious as a second one. Generally, vaccines are not 100% effective, so it is possible that patients will still come down with the fever; and in the case of those inoculated with Dengvaxia, their symptoms will be much more serious and requiring of emergency medical care…”

          Oct. 2016 – India wants to test on monkeys first

          3) Dec. 2016 was Gordon hearing on Dengvaxia, I only see a focus on the budget aspect, not on risks known by then

          4) April 2017: Malaysia calls for Phase 4 study first

          May 2017: Phil. Dengvaxia program to end after 3rd round and six month observation period by NTAG experts

          5) Aug 2017: 67K kids in Central Visayas get Dengvaxia!

          Nov. 2017: Assam state of India wants to sample blood test areas for at least 70% prevalence before starting vaxx.


          no final conclusions as of now..

          feel free to add stuff as it comes please, all readers!

          • – April 5, 2016

            The Philippines has begun rolling out the world’s first dengue vaccine for more than a million children, amid safety concerns expressed by public health advocates.

            About 600 children at a public school in Marikina city, 16km west of Manila, were the first to receive the vaccine Dengvaxia yesterday…

            Dr Antonio Dans, a professor at UP’s College of Medicine, warned that while the vaccine could reduce the number of dengue cases, it could later increase the disease’s severity, a phenomenon known as “antibody- dependent enhancement”.

            Citing Sanofi’s own studies, he said this could happen three years after the vaccine’s introduction.

            “The real dengue we are afraid of is severe dengue, not the mild ones. If a vaccine prevents mild disease but causes severe dengue, we shouldn’t be using it at all.”..

          • karlgarcia

            From an article dated 12 October 2016


            Probe of dengue vaccine purchase set
            Christine O. Avendaño
            Sen. Richard Gordon said on Tuesday he would seek an investigation into what he said was the “undue haste” in providing a dengue vaccine worth P3.5 million to almost half-a-million children during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III.

            Gordon said he and Sen. Nancy Binay were filing a resolution to investigate the immediate provision of the dengue vaccine, despite some questions regarding the safety of the new drug.

            During a hearing on the budget of the Department of Health (DOH) Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial assured Gordon that the newly registered vaccine was safe for use.

            Gordon, however, appeared unconvinced. “There has been an awful lot of questions about this sudden, undue haste in providing the dengue vaccine,” he told reporters after the DOH budget hearing.

            The vaccine is the first ever approved for use to prevent dengue, a mosquito-borne disease endemic in the Philippines.

            Gordon expressed concern that children here were being used as “guinea pigs” since the country was the first in Asia to implement the vaccination.

            The government purchased the dengue vaccine in March this year and was delivered in the same month. The vaccine was just registered by the Food and Drug Authority on Dec. 22, 2015.

            The DOH started to give the first of three doses of the vaccine from April to July this year that benefited 489,003 children in Metro Manila, Southern Luzon and Central Luzon, said Health Assistant Secretary Dr. Eric Tayag.

          • karlgarcia


            Press Release – Gordon: More medical experts, not Noynoy, invited to next Blue Ribbon hearing on dengue vaccine probe
            Press Release
            December 11, 2016

            Senator Richard J. Gordon has clarified that there is no need as yet to invite former President Benigno Aquino III to the investigation of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on the alleged anomalous procurement of P3.5-billion worth of dengue vaccines.

            Gordon, chair of the Committee on Accountability of Public Officers & Investigations or Blue Ribbon, said that invited to the next hearing are medical experts and officials from the Department of Health (DOH) and its attached agencies, the Department of Budget and Management and the Commission on Audit to further clarify on the Dengvaxia vaccine attributes and testing methods/results to date in the Philippines and how the procurement by the DOH was processed.

            “Certain issues have been brought to the attention of the Committee and the Senate concerning a vaccine called Dengvaxia and there are certain issues that have been presented, issues concerning the capability of the product, the manner of testing whether there were sufficient testing that had happened. It behooves us in the government to see to it that when we get this kind of medication, we get the best and we must see to it that we examine the test protocol and results and that we come out with all the due diligence required of a good father to a child,” the senator pointed out.

            “At this point in the investigation, we have not invited President Aquino. We are not trying to judge anybody here. We are just saying, pumapasok ang gamot na bago, dapat tama ba na ganoon ang patakaran natin. Dapat ba baguhin natin? Remember, we are here in aid of legislation. We cannot prosecute anybody here, we can only recommend but we are not even on that aspect yet,” he added.

            On December 6, 2016, the Blue Ribbon conducted its first hearing on the issue following the deaths of two children, who received the first dose of the vaccine in April. The purchase of some P3.5 billion worth of dengue vaccines by the DOH was done during the past administration.

            While no appropriation was made for the purchase, funds were immediately made available toward the end of year. “That was a huge amount of money, which was taken from the savings, no appropriation from Congress… It’s just like DAP [Disbursement Acceleration Program]… We really need to investigate this,” Gordon said.

            Gordon said he was also baffled why the dengue vaccine was given priority when only 250 people per year died from the disease with over 200,000 persons afflicted – this only accounts for 0.01% of the population and dengue not being among the Top 10 health afflictions suffered by the people. He also pointed out that testing for the new vaccine had not been completed yet when the government procured it.

            He also questioned why the DOH started a new immunization program for dengue when the country has not yet satisfied the immunization requirement for the Millennium Development Goal for other more deadly diseases.

            However, while questioning the apparent haste with which the anti-dengue vaccine was procured, Gordon said that the legislature will not stand in the way of the government’s anti-dengue vaccination program that is already underway.


            By Tonyo Cruz
            Dec. 5, 2017

            Before government started vaccinating 500,000 school children with Dengvaxia, Dr. Tony Leachon appeared before the House Committees on Health and on Good Governance, and the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.

            Leachon was among a few, conscientious professionals standing in the way of a P3.5-billion dengue vaccination program. Before members of Congress, he bravely testified and in no uncertain terms questioned the merits and ethics of those pushing to apply the vaccine on one million Filipino schoolchildren.

            Leachon’s four-point diagnosis of the questionable dengue vaccine and the Department of Health’s decision to purchase and roll them out should forever haunt the DOH, both houses of Congress, and the entire government. These were:
            “1. That there is lingering uncertainty about the long-term safety of this new vaccine against dengue fever. Evidence shows that there may be a paradoxical increase in the incidence of severe dengue beginning a few years after children are vaccinated, and possibly continuing for the rest of their lives. This danger especially applies to children who have never had dengue fever before.

            “The clinical trials on dengue vaccine were specifically designed to assess this danger. Sadly, this danger has been confirmed. In one study involving Asian children aged 2-15, vaccination increased the incidence of severe dengue by 400% on the 3rd year after vaccination. The authors concluded that the reasons for the rise in dengue need further investigation. The trial is still going on, specifically to ascertain long term safety. Meanwhile, many groups suggest children should be tested for past dengue infection before vaccination.

            “2. A cost-effectiveness study assessing potential use in the country was biased and funded by the manufacturer rather than an independent body. There were clear measures to minimize cost (the study did not account for the potential cost of increased disease severity) and exaggerate effectiveness (effectivity was assumed to last 10 years when it is clear that efficacy has nearly disappeared by the third year).

            “3. The program is not a feasible strategy for lowering dengue in the country. The vaccine program costs P3.5-billion, for just 1 million children, representing 1% of the population. Upscaling this program would mean using the entire DOH budget just for dengue vaccine.

            “4. There was lack of community preparation in the implementation of the program. The program was launched within 3 months of approval. There was not enough time to educate the workforce and inform families about potential risks.”

            Reuters cut through Sanofi’s medical mumbo-jumbo in the pharmaceutical giant’s advisory released last week: “For those not previously infected by the virus, more cases of severe disease could occur in the long-term following vaccination upon a subsequent dengue infection.”..


    (Or some things that Senator Grace Poe got wrong in this hearing.)
    Before you read on, you might first want to read this note I wrote last year to understand where all the MRT-3’s problems started. If marami kang time, you can also read this more detailed write-up from JoeAm’s blog.

    Q: Are the 48 new train coaches compatible with the MRT-3 system?

    A: YES. According to Engr. Deo Manalo of the DOTr, the new coaches are compatible with the MRT-3 system. He repeats this multiple times after being asked the question…also multiple times. He further clarified that Dalian, the supplier of the coaches, is working with Bombardier, the signalling contractor, to make sure that everything runs safely and smoothly.

    Q: Why weren’t the coaches tested in China?

    A: The best way to test compatibility is to test coaches on the very tracks they were designed to run on. Seems pretty intuitive, right? DOTr was advised that the 5,000-kilometre testing should be done under conditions resembling normal operations the closest. That’s in Metro Manila, not in China. DOTr did NOT do Dalian a favour by testing the coaches in Manila, as Senator Poe implied. It just happened to be the most logical thing to do.

    Q: Why did the DOTr give Dalian the contract despite it not having experience as a light rail vehicle (LRV) manufacturer?

    A: Contrary to what Senator Poe insisted, Dalian complied with the minimum qualifications laid out by DOTr, including having a similar previous contract. Simply put, this means they should have successfully supplied LRVs to another train system in the past. And they had.
    Perhaps what Senator Poe really wanted to ask was, why didn’t DOTr award the contract to somebody with MUCH MORE experience. Two responses to this:

    (1) There were initially five interested bidders for this contract, narrowed down to two at the actual submission of bids. One of these were disqualified for non-compliance with technical requirements. The other was Dalian. Other “more experienced” contractors didn’t submit a bid. So how could DOTr award a contract to them?

    (2) It would be anti-competitive to set the minimum level of experience too high. Very few contractors in the world would be able to comply and the oldest companies would have an undue advantage over other capable contractors. Since DOTr’s policy in the previous administration was to always have open and fair bidding [as is the spirit of the Government Procurement Law or Republic Act 9184 (RA 9184)], minimum standards were always carefully set to be as competitive as possible, without potentially sacrificing quality.

    Q: Why did DOTr replace Sumitomo as MRT-3’s maintenance service provider in 2012?

    A: This one’s complex! The quick and fast version is that the MRT-3 system had deteriorated over 12 years while Sumitomo maintained it and charged the government very high fees. If you read this note that I wrote last year, you would already know the rest of the details.

    Q: Why did DOTr award a maintenance contract to company that had just been recently incorporated?

    A: First of all, this is not the first hearing to cover the PH Trams issue. This has been brought up again and again, with the same questions being asked and the answers unchanged. Let me again cite the note I posted last year explaining this EXACT, SAME ISSUE:
    “…PH Trams on its own would not have qualified for the maintenance contract. Something people ALWAYS fail to mention is that PH Trams was actually in a joint venture with CB&T, an experienced rail maintenance service provider. Forming a joint venture is not uncommon in business; companies do it all the time, especially when they embark on new projects and need to join forces with other companies. Older companies like CB&T may opt to partner with newly formed companies like PH Trams in order to accommodate new investors or absorb additional manpower.
    Together, CB&T and PH Trams fulfilled all the technical, legal and financial requirements to qualify as a maintenance provider for the MRT. DOTC did not put the fate of MRT passengers in inexperienced hands, as others would claim. They were in very experienced hands, actually. CB&T had been, in fact, maintaining LRT Line 1 for a long time before operations and maintenance of that line was bid out through PPP.
    More importantly, awarding the contract to PH Trams as a JV partner of CB&T was fully compliant with RA 9184.”
    The REAL issue with PH Trams that is worth repeating but Senator Poe hardly ever mentions is that one of its incorporators was an uncle-in-law of then MRT-3 General Manager Al Vitangcol, who did not disclose this conflict of interest at the time of procurement. Vitangcol has since been facing graft charges in the Sandiganbayan for not one but two cases: first for the PH Trams issue and second for allegedly trying to extort $30 million from a Czech railway company.
    By the way, Al Vitangcol is the lawyer of the groups who filed graft complaints against Jun Abaya and other former DOTr officials. I think it’s pretty obvious what’s happening here.
    Q: Why didn’t Jun Abaya know the details of PH Trams incorporation? Is it enough of an excuse that he was new to the job?
    A: In the procurement of PH Trams and its partner CB&T, Jun Abaya acted as Head of the Procurement Entity (HOPE) who, according to RA 9184, awards contracts based on the recommendation of the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC). It was NOT his responsibility to vet each and every contractor to ever bid on a transport project under his watch. His responsibility as HOPE to act on recommendations of the BAC, as long as proper procedures were followed and documented. The HOPE would typically rely on proper documentation submitted by the BAC to decide on the award.
    But even if he had been in DOTr longer, it WOULD NOT MATTER. As I explained above, PH Trams’ inexperience was irrelevant because it was partnered with CB&T. At worst, it’s damning for Vitangcol, who would have been aware of MRT-3 maintenance needs at the time of PH Trams’ incorporation.

    Q: Why are the answers to the questions in this hearing so legalistic? Why did DOTr hire so many lawyers?

    Most of the accusations in this hearing were legal in nature, so that’s why the answers also cited the law. Asking, “Why did you give this contract to x and not y?” is NOT a question of executive judgment, because executives in government are not allowed to select their preferred contractors. Instead, government agencies select contractors following procedures prescribed in RA 9184. That’s why the answer to the question, “Why did you give this contract to x and not y?” will always make some reference to the law.

    And in case you didn’t notice in the last bar exam results, the Philippines has A LOT OF LAWYERS and we get more of them every year. It’s not uncommon to meet people who are licensed lawyers but never practised and/or are working in some other industry. Some of the lawyers in DOTr were hired for their legal expertise, but others were also hired because they had experience in transport or some other relevant field.

    Also, in case you didn’t notice, DOTr gets suits all the time, sometimes for the most ridiculous reasons. Remember when they were told by a court to stop the procurement of the, new LRVs for MRT-3? So why are we surprised that there are so many lawyers in the agency?

    My own questions / additional comments on the hearing:

    Where was Undersecretary Chavez during the hearing? The claim of incompatibility came from him. Engr. Manalo said he was probably misquoted. Senator Poe was probably embarrassed when it was made clear that the premise of her hearing was wrong, so she had to shift the discussion to old issues that have been covered by previous hearings, such as the issues about PH Trams.
    Why didn’t Senators Poe and Ejercito seem to understand the Government Procurement Law? I get it, they’re Senators of the Republic and they’re busy. So why didn’t their staff explain RA 9184’s Implementing Rules and Regulations to them before this nationally televised hearing (and every other hearing DOTr has ever had where procurement was an issue) so that THEY WOULDN’T SOUND LIKE THEY WANTED DOTR TO VIOLATE THE LAW? I’m especially disappointed in Senator Ejercito, who served 9 years as mayor of San Juan and had experience in public procurement, as he himself admitted in this hearing. As for Senator Poe, this just shows how much of a neophyte she really is. (Remember when she ran for President?)
    Why doesn’t just Senator Poe invite Mar Roxas to a hearing? I read somewhere that she doesn’t want to appear to be politicising this issue. With all due respect to the good Senator and the office she holds, that shipped sailed the moment she pressed Jun Abaya to admit that he was taking the cudgels for someone else because “sundalo ka”. It’s common knowledge that Mar Roxas and Jun Abaya served in the same past admin and are members of the same political party. The Senator’s leading question–that was the point when it became clear that this whole hearing, funded by Filipino taxpayers, was really about exacting revenge om a political opponent. After all, the hearing lasted 4 hours when the issue of the train cars’ incompatibility with MRT-3 system (supposedly the primary issue and the subject of Al Vitangcol’s complaint against Abaya) was addressed within the first 30 minutes of the hearing.

    Final word

    In the final minutes of the hearing, Senator Poe asked, “Kapag nakikita niyo araw-araw ang mga pinagdadaanan ng mga sumasakay diyan sa MRT na ‘yan, hindi ba kumikirot sa puso ninyo na ang laki rin ng naging pagkukulang niyo?”

    I know that from the perspective of an ordinary commuter, Senator Poe seems like their champion. But here’s what she fails to consider. The people she says na malaki ang pagkukulang are the same people who:

    Kept the MRT running despite MRTC’s abandonment of its maintenance responsibility
    Finally bought new LRVs even if MRTC should have done it a decade ago
    Started capacity expansion and rehabilitation projects for the system that are now being continued by the current admin
    Established a new single ticketing system for MRT-3 and the two LRT lines, which has reduced ticket queues and has also been adopted by P2P routes
    Speaking of P2P, developed P2P routes along EDSA as an alternative to taking the MRT-3
    Obviously, none of these are enough because commuting via MRT-3 is still a struggle. I’ve never denied that. But the problem started long before these people ever set foot on Columbia Tower, where DOTr is housed. Since blaming the previous admin seems to be the theme, maybe next time the Senate can invite people from FVR’s and GMA’s time to their hearings.
    More importantly, why is this blame game dragging on anyway? What is the value of these politicised public hearings? Why are we taking engineers and other technical staff who are supposed to be fixing the Metro Manila’s transport system away from their day job–on the days before the hearing when they have to prep for interrogation, on the day of the actual hearing when they have to show up in the Senate, and on the days after when they need to fulfil long lists of requests for documents and reports?
    Kung ordinaryong komyuter ka na nakapila sa tren, gusto mo ba na nasa hearing ang mga inhinyero o nasa depot at nagta-trabaho?


      The reasons why the MRT 3 is a mess will boggle your mind
      Regular commuters of MRT3 will tell you – it’s a mess. Long queues, broken rails, oven-hot train interiors, stations with non-working elevators and escalators, toilets that stink, constant train breakdowns. The MRT was meant to alleviate traffic and provide commuters another option at convenience. Now, it’s more an inconvenience than a comfort.

      What’s wrong with the MRT3?


      The ownership structure limited the government’s ability to act on the problems of the MRT 3

      The MRT 3 was designed as a build-lease-transfer project. The private sector proponent was a convoluted confusing haze of corporate vehicles really, but let us reduce these to two – MRT Corporation (the signatory to the MRT Agreement), which in turn is owned by MRT Holdings. In this Sobrepeña propaganda site, it listed down the owners, but it’s ownership is unclear, so let’s assume it’s MRT Holdings. The BLT agreement calls for the private proponent to design, construct, and turnover the system to government, while the government will operate the system and pay MRTC rental fees.

      When two of the major owners of the MRTC – the Agustines and the Sobrepeñas – suffered financial difficulties, they (together with other owners like the Ayalas) created another company, MRT III Funding Corporation (MRTFC). MRTFC basically issued asset-backed bonds (assets meaning the guaranteed rental payments) and sold them to private companies.

      Back in 2007, the government was behind in rental payments, and to avoid default it decided to buy these bonds through DBP and LBP. Despite owning these bonds, government did not acquire ownership of MRT3. Remember, these bonds only represent the income from rental payments, not the system itself. MRTC still owns the MRT3.

      Do you know why the PPP framework was created? To avoid issuing sovereign guarantees, with government providing financial guarantee to private companies in case the project doesn’t earn as expected. The MRT Agreement provides for such a guarantee. Not only is there a sovereign guarantee, the Agreement also calls for “an after-tax, after-debt-service, after-expense return on their investments of 15 percent per year.”

      Not only is the government paying MRTC rental fees, it is also subsidizing passenger fares – Php 5.7 billion back in 2009 alone. The subsidies basically cover the real fare passengers should be paying; since the passengers do not (thanks to former president Estrada’s populist decision to reduce the original MRT3 fare price).

      Why is ownership an issue and a reason why the MRT3 is in this mess?

      Again, the government, through DOTC (now DoTr) operates the system without owning the system. Government pays MRTC guaranteed monthly rental payments. So the problems with the MRT – maintenance, new trains – are the responsibility of MRTC, not the government. The problems that commuters are facing were already apparent back in 2007. MRT3 has been operating beyond capacity since 2004. It is not clear if MRTC was remiss in its responsibility; it claimed it sent 3 proposals to DOTC since 2006, but DOTC did not act on them, or so MRTC claims. It is also unclear if DOTC did receive such proposals, nor if it decided not to act on them, why. This dispute is something for another day. But this much is clear – the MRT3 is owned by the MRTC, and it has the responsibility for capacity expansion and maintenance, being the owner of the system. The hands of the government are tied by this little piece of paper called the MRT Agreement.


      Poor maintenance and problems on maintenance provider and maintenance responsibility

      It is quite obvious that maintenance has been poor. Sumitomo had been the maintenance provider since the MRT3 began operation, and in 2010 MRTC abdicated its maintenance responsibility, throwing the problem back to the government. The contract with Sumitomo does not contain provisions for “penalties for malfunctioning elevators and escalators, and setting a minimum requirement of 19 trains running during peak hours between 7 am and 9 am.” The government was paying Sumitomo US$ 1.4 million per month (when MRTC should have been paying them instead). There had been no improvement since the problems became apparent in 2007, and Sumitomo has been accused of cannibalizing parts.

      As stated earlier, MRTC abdicated its responsibility regarding maintenance, and government took over the maintenance aspect of the system. This is the reason why the government, and not the MRTC, made decisions regarding selection of maintenance providers.

      There had been much controversy and noise on the decision to replace the MRT3’s maintenance provider, even leading to the sacking (or, as he claimed, voluntary resignation) of MRT3 General Manager Al Vitangcol (who is facing charges for extortion). To be clear, he was axed for conflict of interest (his uncle was one of the incorporators of the maintenance provider PH Trams).

      The current maintenance provider, Busan Universal Rail (BURI), has managed to restore the MRT3 to its maximum number of operational trains to 22 within a year after it got the maintenance contract. However, at the onset of the 2017 summer season, a series of breakdowns hampered operations and once again reduced the number of maximum operational trains to less than 20. This (and politics, see part III) lead to questions regarding BURI’s contract.

      There’s only so much a maintenance provider can do. Not only is the system old, it is also operating beyond its design capacity, reducing the life span of the trains. Sometimes the only solution is to replace the old one with the new.

      Operating beyond capacity with previous maintenance providers failing to maintain the system and not being held accountable for such failures, it is no surprise that the MRT 3 is in this confusing mess. It is actually quite surprising that it is still running despite these problems. All this has been worsened through politicking by politicians.


      Politics and revenge messing things up

      The previous administration made two crucial decisions based on MRTC’s inaction: first, to replace Sumitomo with another maintenance provider, and second, to acquire new trains. However, with the change in administration, there seems to be a rather suspicious, concentrated effort by a certain politician and a certain party list (see 1, 2, 3, 4) to discredit such decisions.

      For example, PBA party list representative Jericho Nograles claimed the Dalian-manufactured trains are unusable, which led Senator Grace Poe to call for another hearing. In the Senate hearing, it was proven that Nograles was wrong – the only things remaining to be resolved are the feedback signal and response time issue.

      And with the recent breakdowns plus Nograles’ rants that the contract is onerous, DoTr threatens to terminate the maintenance contract with BURI. It remains to be seen if they will replace the maintenance provider. To be fair to BURI, it was handed a system in such terrible shape it is near impossible to fix these numerous problems. It is quite obvious the reason is not due to breakdowns (it happens most during summer, look it up). Folks, politics is rearing its ugly head.



      The MRT3 is a build-lease-transfer project, owned by MRTC and operated by government through DoTr.
      MRTC gets guaranteed rental payments with guaranteed annual return of 15%.
      MRTC has capacity expansion and maintenance responsibility, but it is unclear if it has shirked its responsibility regarding capacity expansion.
      MRTC turned over the maintenance responsibility to DoTr.
      DoTr bought new trains despite this not being a responsibility.
      DoTr wants to replace BURI with Sumitomo as maintenance provider.
      Current administration and its allies are bent on derailing current solutions to the mess.

    • karlgarcia

      Kat Usita’s article mentioned on her faq

      A lot of people want to blame MRT problems on Mar Roxas because it’s election time and he happened to be DOTC Secretary for about thirteen months. Here are some things about the MRT that I’m sure Mar is responsible for:

      1. He sought budget and NEDA approval for the purchase of new train coaches to add capacity to the MRT system. He was the FIRST government official/DOTC Secretary to do this despite the fact that the need to buy new train coaches was known early on in PGMA’s term.

      2. He was the FIRST to call out Sumitomo on their poor maintenance of the MRT system for over a decade.

      3. He got the ball rolling for the Automatic Fare Collection System (now known as beep) that created a single ticketing system for the MRT and the two LRT lines.
      Still, misinformation about his role in MRT problems continue to spread. I previously shared a blog entry on the MRT that I found online because it was incredibly detailed and informative. But the false info continues to go around and it just irks me because it’s unfair not just to Mar but to the hardworking people in DOTC who are trying so hard to keep the train running, even if it was such in bad shape when it was turned over to this administration. (And believe me, with all the suits left and right that they have to contend with, plus the constraints of the Government Procurement Law, plus the never-ending but understandable public bashing, it is SO. HARD. TO. KEEP. THE. TRAIN. RUNNING.)
      Case in point:….
      DOTC will probably reply to it. But I don’t work there anymore, so I don’t know that for sure. For now, I will just write about what I know.


      (This is lengthy but important to understand my rebuttals to the article that follow.)

      The MRT was built through a partnership between the private sector (MRTC) and the government (DOTC). This partnership was formed in the 1990s, when the Philippine government did not have enough budget to build infrastructure such as railways. (I wonder whose fault is that? I think the family of someone running for VP is to be blamed.) This was also at a time when the government was still quite unfamiliar with how Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) should be structured so that taxpayers would not be on the losing end of the deal.

      Under that partnership, the MRTC is supposed to build and maintain the MRT system. They contracted Sumitomo to maintain the system, although it was discovered later by an independent audit that Sumitomo’s performance had a lot of critical lapses the MRTC failed to act on. It is also MRTC who is supposed to expand the MRT when ridership goes up and exceeds original capacity, unless they waive this responsibility. (They never waived it.) Most important of all, MRTC OWNS THE MRT SYSTEM.

      Government, on the other hand, is supposed to operate the system and pay MRTC, the OWNER, for its use. Payment is pegged on a fixed schedule over 25 years that basically comes down to a 15% return for the investors who financed the construction of the MRT. Ask anyone who works in banking or investing and they would know that a guaranteed 15% return is a very lucrative deal today. The government is also supposed to pay MRTC maintenance fees–because, again, maintenance is MRTC’s responsibility; government just foots the bill.

      The contract for this partnership is a very poor one because it gives government very little control over the quality of the system. More importantly, the MRT Corporation has reneged on many of its responsibilities over the last decade and government had very few options on how to penalize them. Some of these failures started out as small ones, such as failing to buy new coaches when ridership was just around 250,000 daily–maybe they were complacent because they never thought it would double so quickly? But today’s MRT passengers bear the brunt of these failures that grew and grew over time.

      Now, let’s look at some of the inaccurate statements quoted in the news article.

      “The first mistake of the DOTC that caused the damage to the MRT occurred when then Secretary Mar Roxas did not initiate bidding procedures in January 2012, the last time they renewed the Sumitomo contract,” Sobrepeña said in a statement.

      Mar Roxas or DOTC was not supposed to initiate bidding procedures for a contractor in the first place. It would have been a violation of the contract because MRTC is the one obliged to bid out the maintenance contract. DOTC just pays.

      After the 4th contract extension of Sumitomo, DOTC became wary of letting MRTC renew them again because they were charging so much for poor services. If you look back, 2011-2012 was the time when service interruptions and breakdowns started becoming regular. This was the effect of years of poor maintenance in the hands of MRTC and Sumitomo. Mind you, DOTC discovered that instead of buying spare parts, Sumitomo started cannibalizing a spare train coach! (NKKLK.)
      What MRTC should have done was to immediately procure a different, more reasonable and more competent maintenance contractor. They did not. At this time, DOTC was already thinking of and preparing for taking over maintenance from MRTC, but it was clear that it was still MRTC’s responsibility.

      DOTC was forced to speed up this process and initiate emergency procurement (an alternative to bidding prescribed by the Procurement Law under certain conditions) in October 2012 when MRTC decided to abandoned its obligation to bid out the maintenance contract AT THE LAST MINUTE–days before the 4th contract extension of Sumitomo was about to expire. That’s an emergency because the alternative was stopping train operations completely, because a train cannot run without a maintenance provider, and that would have been a horrible situation for hundreds of thousands of people in Metro Manila. So, no, DOTC did not invent an emergency situation. IT WAS REALLY AN EMERGENCY. The Procurement Law agrees and allows it. The Ombudsman agrees. And I bet you would agree too if the MRT completely stopped operations for anywhere between six to 12 months, which is the typical bidding duration for big government contracts (if you’re lucky and the bid doesn’t fail the first time).

      From that time onwards, DOTC has taken over maintenance of the MRT. Surprisingly (or not), no one has sued DOTC for (justifiably) violating the contract in this regard. I guess when things get difficult, nobody wants to raise their hand and say, “Oh, hey, that’s actually my responsibility!”

      [You might be interested to know that in 2014, MRTC sought a Temporary Restraining Order on DOTC’s purchase of new train coaches for the MRT. (NKKLKTLG.) Similar to maintenance, buying the new coaches was MRTC’s contractual responsibility but DOTC decided to take over in 2012, again because of MRTC’s inaction. This is probably even worse because the need for new coaches was apparent as early as 2003 or 2004!]

      Note: The Philippine government is in the process of acquiring ownership of the entire MRT system through what is called an Equity Value Buy Out. This is to avoid all legal complications that may hamper DOTC’s rehabilitation and capacity expansion efforts.

      Sobrepeña said the department’s second mistake occurred was when it negotiated with PH Trams Inc. and questionably incorporated it as contractor on the same date it submitted its proposal. PH Trams’ contract was submitted last August 6, 2015, within Roxas’s term as secretary.

      People like ranting about PH Trams. I want to rant about PH Trams too, but not for the reasons that people think. More on that later.

      First of all, PH Trams on its own would not have qualified for the maintenance contract. Something people ALWAYS fail to mention is that PH Trams was actually in a joint venture with CB&T, an experienced rail maintenance service provider. Forming a joint venture is not uncommon in business; companies do it all the time, especially when they embark on new projects and need to join forces with other companies. Older companies like CB&T may opt to partner with newly formed companies like PH Trams in order to accommodate new investors or absorb additional manpower.

      Together, CB&T and PH Trams fulfilled all the technical, legal and financial requirements to qualify as a maintenance provider for the MRT. DOTC did not put the fate of MRT passengers in inexperienced hands, as others would claim. They were in very experienced hands, actually. CB&T had been, in fact, maintaining LRT Line 1 for a long time before operations and maintenance of that line was bid out through PPP.

      Second, “negotiations” may sound like a fishy term, but it’s a completely legit mode of procurement that the law allows under certain circumstances, in this case the emergency situation resulting from MRTC’s sudden abandonment of its maintenance obligations. While PH Trams may have submitted a proposal in August 2012, this was probably just because they found out that government had plans to take over MRT maintenance in the future. (Again, we didn’t know yet then that MRTC was about to drop the ball–but DOTC was already planning on taking the ball away from them.) Companies submitting proposals to a government agency is not a big deal because submission does not equate acceptance or approval. Ultimately, PH Trams together with CB&T still had to follow the correct negotiated procurement process beginning October 4, 2012, which was when DOTC initiated it.

      My beef with PH Trams is that one of its incorporators turned out to be the uncle-in-law of then MRT General Manager Al Vitangcol, who was head of the negotiating team and a member of the Bids and Awards Committee for this contract. This was a clear conflict of interest but one that Vitangcol never disclosed. For this non-disclosure, Vitangcol is now facing graft charges.

      If you want to read more about the PH Trams issue, I suggest you read the Ombudsman’s decision dated June 26, 2015. To people who still think that DOTC or Jun Abaya is being investigated over this—tapos na po ang investigation. Inbox me if you want a copy because I can’t find one online to link here.


      To conclude, on a slightly more personal note–

      This ended up longer than I want it to be. As always when I’m writing about the MRT, I don’t intend to make excuses for the many difficulties that commuters face. Among them are friends and relatives, and I feel bad for them. I wish we could turn back time all the way to 2003 or thereabouts so that we can correct the many mistakes made along the way, but we can’t. That doesn’t mean, however, that today’s government is insensitive. A new maintenance contractor with international experience has taken over, new train coaches are being delivered every month, and improvements have been made to escalators and elevators in some stations. The beep ticketing system is already in place and friends have told me about its convenience. Various works behind the scenes are also being done to improve the MRT’s safety and reliability.
      I write about this because I want us to learn from what past administrations have done wrong so we don’t make the same mistakes again. Thankfully, today’s government agencies, with assistance from the PPP Center and the DOF, craft tighter PPP contracts that genuinely look out for the public’s interest—unlike the MRT Build-Lease-Transfer Agreement.

      I write about this because it is wrong to take a very complex thing like the MRT, which has become what it is because of the selfishness and inaction of some people over a long period of time, and blame its problems on a single person who actually worked very hard to correct them. Rant about the MRT all you want, but stop lying.

      I write about this so that we can have a bit more compassion for our friends who are still in the every day battlefield that is DOTC. It’s not easy, what they do, and friends and family judge them all the time for serving a government agency that is so publicly maligned all day, every day, every damn day. But they keep doing it, probably for the same reason I did for four years: You can’t just sit around complaining about a problem and pointing fingers, often at the wrong people. You have to be part of the solution.


      If you want to learn more about what the DOTC is doing to fix the MRT problems, I suggest you visit the website or this Facebook page put up by a concerned government employee…#.

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