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What happens now to the DOST’s AGTs?

The Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) vehicles that were used in the research and proof of concept at the previous test site in UP Diliman are scheduled to be transported back to DOST’s MIRDC soon. The vehicles are still in UP Diliman and are usable for R&D if someone decides to come up with a viable proposal for these. Unlike the hybrid electric train that is the AGT’s contemporary in terms of them being parallel projects, the future is unclear for both AGT models (i.e., there is another, higher capacity AGT already at MIRDC and tested using the test tracks there).

The two AGT vehicles are wrapped to protect them from the elements. These are functional and should still have value in case someone proposed to continue in their testing and refinement. It doesn’t need to be an elevated guideway for development to continue.

Here’s a closer look a colleague managed to take before we turned at the intersection.

What’s next for the AGT? Is there a future for these vehicles? Will the DOST initiate something with the DOTr or maybe with an LGU (Taguig?) to come up with a project that will employ these vehicles in what can be a full system instead of one on test tracks? Let’s hope these assets can still be utilised and not be wasted.

The AGT test site at UP Diliman is no more

This is actually a late post considering what has transpired last year that led to the demolition of the AGT test facilities at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus. For one, UP (or at least Diliman) didn’t want it. That was to be expected as Diliman’s Executive Council comprised of the constituent university’s deans and executive staff (Chancellor and Vice Chancellors) already stated that they don’t want an AGT in the campus many years ago and during the last administration when the main proponent, then DOST Secretary Montejo, was still very much in-charge of that department. Here are photos taken by a colleague last year showing the demolition work on the elevated guideway and stations. These were taken as they traveled along C.P. Garcia Avenue towards the University Avenue.

The demo was completed late last year and the AGT vehicle has been transferred to the MIRDC compound in Bicutan. The two prototypes are now there and there is an uncertainty about their futures. One colleague recalled “if only they had listened and had the AGT tested the proper way”. He was referring to the proposal to have an independent evaluation of the vehicle in order to ensure that its technical specifications and capabilities were up to international standards. The AGT proponents didn’t agree and proceeded according to what they wanted despite what we heard was a similar recommendation from then DOTC officials to have the vehicle certified as safe for public use.

I am happy to know that at least one project from that ambitious program during the last administration will finally be operational. A different approach seems to have been undertaken for the hybrid train that was produced for the PNR. Recent news stated that the train has undergone a series of tests and needs to hurdle a few more before going into operation along the PNR’s commuter line. Hopefully, it succeeds and encourage production of more like it and lead to an evolution of Philippine-made trains.

Failed experiments? On the DOST’s hybrid train and AGT

Our staff were implementing surveys in relation to the proposed railway projects supported by the Government of Japan. They came across this scene showing the DOST’s (through its MIRDC) hybrid electric train.

The hybrid electric train at the PNR Calamba Station. It looks like its being maintained or checked although I’m not sure the crude set-up is appropriate for such undertaking.

The DOST had a much hyped program during the last administration about the development of Philippine-made transport. Among these were the two Automated Guideway Transport (AGT) train sets that were developed by the MIRDC – one with two 60-passenger (seated and standing) cars and a test track in UP Diliman, and another with two 120-passenger cars with test track at the MIRD compound in Bicutan. While both had what were claimed as extensive tests, these were mainly done by DOST/MIRDC personnel with no independent inspections or validations. At one time, I recall that we at UP had discussions with representatives of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries who offered to explore arranging for a technical cooperation project to have a full-scale testing of the AGT’s using their facilities in Japan. We referred them to MIRDC and that didn’t turn out well as the agency (or perhaps under the the instructions of a higher official?) was supposed to have rejected the offer preferring it to be tested locally. That was a major problem because there were no suitable testing facilities or qualified persons or institutions to grant certification for the AGT to be used as public transport.

The last time I checked with folks at DOST and UP, the AGT prototype set-up in Diliman was already being scheduled for dismantling. This probably comes as a welcome development for those who opposed the project from the start. However, there is potential here for continuing research if only funding could be secured and proponents kept open minds and objectivity in the way researches could be done. There was the perception before that the people behind the AGT projects were so engrossed with what they thought were their babies that they blocked critical but objective comments and recommendations about the prototypes and their applications.

As for the hybrid electric train, there is now supposed to be a cooperative project between the MIRDC and PNR. I recall a few months ago that they even had some test runs to show the hybrid train to be running on PNR tracks; even hyping that this could be part of the future of a rehabilitated PNR. Is this true or just PR? Hopefully, the DOST could get the context right, and the DOTr and PNR can support such initiatives for Philippine-made transport. This is especially as the current administration continues to pursue its Build, Build, Build program that has as major features several railway projects.

Some updates on DOST’s AGT

Passing by the DOST compound last week, I saw that the newer of the two AGT prototypes the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has funded through the Metals Industry Research and Development Centre (MIRDC) is already atop the test track along Gen. Santos Ave. in Bicutan, Taguig City.

IMG10193-20150226-0743The Bicutan AGT is larger than the prototype in UP. The former is a 120-passenger capacity train while the latter is a 6-passenger vehicle. 

There are four on-going pre-feasibility studies on proposed AGT lines – UP Diliman in Quezon City, Litex in Quezon City, Gen. Santos Ave., Bicutan in Taguig City, and Baguio City. I am familiar with the first three, which is being implemented by UP but know little about the 4th, which is being implemented by a private consulting firm. The transport aspects (i.e., ridership estimates) of the Litex and Bicutan AGTs are almost complete and the estimated riderships are not encouraging considering the competition from road-based public transport comprised of jeepneys and tricycles along the proposed alignments.

There is a similar dilemma for the loop option proposed for UP Diliman that will be competing with the jeepneys operating in the campus. That is why another option is currently being studied, i.e., a line connecting Philcoa – the UP Town Center and Aurora Boulevard via UP, C.P. Garcia Ave. and Katipunan Ave. This line presumably would have significant ridership as it passes through major traffic generators in 3 major schools (UP, Ateneo and Miriam) and a commercial area (UP Town Center). It will likely become the mode of choice for people usually passing through the UP campus from Aurora Blvd. to get to Philcoa and beyond, and vice versa. And with the traffic congestion along Katipunan, a transit system with its own right-of-way should have better travel times compared with road-based transport.

A big issue about the AGT vehicles is the certification required before these are allowed to carry passengers in a real system. The current vehicles are prototypes so these will be subject to more refinements towards the model that would actually go into service in the foreseeable future. There is no update on this and the MIRDC and DOST don’t seem to be seeking more rigid and independent tests to certify the safety and integrity of this Philippine-made system. Perhaps the DOTC can help them on this through the LRTA or the PNR?

Updates on the DOST’s AGT project

It’s been a while since I’ve written about the Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) system being developed by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through its Metals Industry Research and Development Center (MIRDC). Instead of “reinventing the wheel” in writing an update article, I will just point my readers to the “official” item from the DOST’s Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD). The following link provides a very detailed update on the AGT project including the pre-feasibility studies being undertaken for where the system might be deployed:

Filipino-made Automated Guide-way Transit System (AGT) Eyes to Curb Air Pollution and Traffic

Unfortunately, there is no information on the locally-developed AGT undergoing rigorous testing towards certifying its being safe for public use (i.e., as public transport). There are few testing facilities for such vehicles including those in the US, Japan, Korea and Europe. The DOST needs to collaborate or engage a legitimate testing center that will objectively conduct the strict tests required to ensure the AGT is technically sound and therefore safe for use. Leap-frogging for these technologies does not mean one also can bypass certain requirements for standards and the DOST owes it to the people who will ride this transit system to have it certified – validating its motto “proudly Philippine-made.”

120-passenger capacity AGT prototype

The DOST-MIRDC has built another prototype vehicle for its Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) project. The vehicle is larger than the one at the University of the Philippines Diliman as each vehicle would have a capacity of 120 passengers (seated and standing). They are also building another elevated test track at the MIRDC compound across from the main DOST compound in Bicutan, Taguig City, and along Gen. Santos Avenue. This is a significant upgrade from the 30-passenger capacity vehicles at UP Diliman (60 for a 2-car train) as a 2-car train with 240 passengers means much more capacity for a real line using such vehicles. To compare, 5-minute headways along one direction could carry 720 passengers per hour for the UP Diliman prototype while the Bicutan model can carry 2,880 passengers per hour.

2014-03-14 15.57.30Two prototype AGT vehicles with maximum capacity of 120 passengers at the MIRDC compound in Bicutan, Taguig City.

2014-03-14 15.58.07The design is very much the same as the first prototype vehicle, with its distinctive look including the snout, headlights and skirt.

2014-03-14 15.57.05The vehicle looks like it was inspired by the large provincial buses that, if seats are configured as benches and the body is stretched to be longer, can accommodate more passengers.

2014-03-14 15.58.16The MIRDC is also building a test track in Bicutan within their compound and parallel to Gen. Santos Avenue.

I don’t know how long this elevated test track will be but to be able to have substantial tests for the new vehicles this should be longer and would need to be extended beyond the MIRDC compound. That means the tracks would pass through land occupied by the Polytechnical University of the Philippines (PUP), which is a state university, and Camp Bagong Diwa, which is under the Philippine National Police. Can this line serve the areas along Gen. Santos Avenue? I think so but it will be competing with tricycles and jeepneys. Tricycles are the dominant public transport mode here despite Gen. Santos being a national road. Taguig City would have to find a way to address issues pertaining to a reduction or phase-out of tricycles as the communities in the area might be dependent (unfortunately) on these for their livelihood.

Some updates on the AGT prototype and test site at UP

Passing by the test site for the Automated Guideway Transit (AGT) prototype at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus, you will notice the ongoing work on the construction of three platforms for the AGT. These are the latest improvements to the test track and I assume involves faculty members at the UP’s College of Architecture in the design (based on previous discussions pertaining to this project). Nevertheless, the station at Jacinto Street end of the test track already has a mock-up of a ticketing office and I learned from the staff there that there will also be turnstiles once the station is completed. These would allow for a simulation of passenger operations for the AGT system, which is part of the R&D for this locally-developed transit system.

We were back at the AGT test track last Monday to show the prototype and related works to Prof. Fumihiko Nakamura, Professor and head of the Transportation and Urban Engineering Laboratory at Yokohama National University. He is also currently the Dean of YNU’s Institute of Urban Innovation. Prof. Nakamura is an expert in public transportation and has done extensive work on bus and bus rapid transit (BRT) systems. He was Visiting Professor at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok, Thailand as well as at the Pontifical Catholic University of Parana in Curitiba, Brazil. Previously, we have taken other Japanese professors to visit the site and have a first-hand look at the AGT prototype. These include Prof. Tetsuo Yai, Dr. Daisuke Fukuda and Dr. Hirata of the Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech).

2014-01-06 14.13.42Prototype AGT stopped at the University Avenue end of the test track, where a platform is currently under construction.

2014-01-06 14.14.27Prototype running along the test track with the photo also showing the unfinished platform at the midpoint of the track. On the background is the CHED building.

2014-01-06 14.14.53AGT running along the test track towards the Jacinto Street end of the line.

2014-01-06 14.15.10AGT leaving the Jacinto “station.” In the photo is the station under construction near Jacinto Street and the entrance to the College of Fine Arts and Veterinary Hospital.

IMG07599-20140106-1408Our guests, Prof. Fumihiko Nakamura, Dean of the Institute of Urban Innovation of Yokohama National University, and his students rode on the prototype and took photos of the ongoing work at the Jacinto station platform.

IMG07605-20140106-1418The Jacinto Station will have a ticketing station and turnstiles to simulate passenger operations. These were demonstrated last year during the test runs conducted in conjunction with the UP Diliman Lantern Parade.

The prototype is now being run at faster speeds (30+ kph?) and this was noticeable for me considering I have taken the test runs several times already including the initial ones when the vehicle was only topping 10 kph. Unfortunately, other tests/assessments have not performed yet including those for stability that will be critical to ensure the safety of the system for actual use. We look forward to the succeeding work including the determination of the AGTs suitability for application along several alignments/corridors identified by the DOST. There is also the current work on another test track at the MIRDC compound in Bicutan, Taguig where they hope to test a larger AGT vehicle. I hope to see that one soon…