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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…

Locally made AGT

I got my first look at the vehicle currently being developed by the DOST-MIRDC at the DOST complex in Bicutan. This was the same vehicle that was shown on some news programs a couple of days ago when there was some buzz about a MOA being signed between UP and DOST for the development of an automated guideway transit (AGT) prototype and test track at UP Diliman. The DOST Secretary was supposed to have said that it would cost somewhere between a fourth or a fifth of those developed elsewhere (read: other cities abroad) and that it would have a capacity of 60 passengers. The Secretary also was reported to have said that the AGT would eventually be travelling at 100  – 120 kilometers per hour! That’s quite fast for something that’s being packaged as an urban mass transit system.

Together with the reports, both on TV and print (I haven’t heard anything from radio.), were images of a transit vehicle used by DOST in publicizing the project. What appeared was an artist’s impression (or so it seems) of what looked more like a monorail than an AGT. But coming to Taguig for a meeting, I made it a point to ask our friends at DOST to give us a brief tour of the test track they constructed at the complex where the MIRDC with a little help from another agency involved in rail transit was testing a prototype vehicle that was shown on TV. I wasn’t able to catch those news reports so I was a little excited to see the vehicle being developed and by local engineers and scientists. Below are a few of photos of the vehicle together with the test track.

I’m sure a lot of pundits out there were disappointed with what they saw after getting all the hype about the UP AGT. However, it turns out that this won’t even be what will run along the test track to be constructed at UP Diliman. Our friends at the DOST say that this was just a practice vehicle of sorts that DOST staff experimented on just to prove that we (Filipinos) are capable of  developing a transit vehicle and the track that will carry it. Of course, the future track and the proposed loop in UP Diliman will be overhead. Also, there will be other challenges pertaining to the superstructure (foundations, columns, girders, stations, etc.). Then there is the vehicle itself that should be safe and comfortable with designs adhering to ergonomic standards, an efficient motor and controller (it will be electric), and a suspension system that should give a smooth ride. Needless to say, the vehicle should also look good to be able to attract people and for it to be marketable. These are tremendous expectations indeed and it could really use all-out support from the government and maybe the private sector. I would not be talking about the funds and other resources required for this undertaking. Info on these are already available from the DOST and UP, and there are already initiatives to attract the private sector into having a look at the project and perhaps provide support in whatever way they can.

I can’t help but be proud of what has been accomplished and what is still to come in as far as the project is concerned. I believe we should be eager to pitch in what we can in order to ensure the success of this collaboration between UP and DOST. Who would not want to be involved in a project where Filipino engineers and scientists will come together to come up with a product we can not only showcase as home-grown but something that would have a significant impact on public transportation in this country.

Meanwhile, it would be better for DOST and UP to temper expectations so as not to put undue pressure on those who will be involved in the project. Pronouncements claiming that the system will replace the IKOT jeepneys are at this stage premature and only raises flags that would not be in the interest of the project. Claims, too, that the vehicle will run at 100 kph is unfounded and unnecessary considering, for one, that the average running speeds of such systems would be between 30 and 40 kph and probably top at 60 kph if there were sufficient distance between stations. I understand that the statements made were probably words of encouragement but I guess we have our work cut out before us and the challenges have been revealed on the way to the development of a home-grown AGT.

Technology-driven transit system development

The proposed UP transit system, whether it will be an AGT or a monorail, is a technology-driven project. As such, it can be argued that it does not need hard studies to establish the need for the system. Indeed, it is packaged as a prototype and one which, if implemented properly, will hopefully be a good example that can be deployed elsewhere where such a system is necessary. Such places may include CBDs like the rapidly emerging one in Bonifacio Global City or in small cities where there is a need for a more efficient form of mass transportation but could not afford the conventional MRTs or LRTs that have been constructed in Metro Manila. Also, a significant part of the initiative is the development of the vehicle, which is being undertaken by the DOST’s MIRDC. Their design and their production process should be replicable and they should have been able to bring down the costs according to the marching orders of their Secretary. After all, this system is being touted as something that would cost a fifth of a conventional system.

The conventional way of planning, designing and building transit systems require a lot of studies including the so-called ridership studies that would establish the demand for the system. Of course, there are also considerations pertaining to the stations and analysis of the superstructure that will also cost something. It is no joke that the best examples of AGTs or monorails in other countries are priced so because of all the effort and expertise that went into their developments. We should not kid ourselves by claiming this will cost much less because we did not take into consideration just compensation to people who will be devoting their time and expertise to develop a “home-grown” version of what has been built in other cities. We shouldn’t also sacrifice the quality of the superstructure that includes the stations just because we want to reduce costs. We have to keep in mind that the infrastructure should be able to resist typhoons and the possibility of earthquakes. The foundations for the columns, in fact, should be designed well considering UP’s soil characteristics.

On Wednesday I might just get my first look at the prototype vehicle when I visit the DOST for a meeting not quite related to the proposed transit system although it would be about customized vehicles. The vehicle that is the rolling stock for the proposed system is supposed to have already been built and being tested on a very limited basis at the DOST compound. Perhaps I can see for myself if it is something that will eventually be an impressive piece or something that will need much work once it is brought to UP.

An AGT at UP

The signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and groundbreaking for a proposed prototype transit system at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus is scheduled for the morning of July 18, 2011, Monday. The site will be at the open lot near the corner of Lakandula and Jacinto Streets just across from the College of Fine Arts and near UP Diliman’s Campus Maintenance Office (CMO). The prototype system is a pet project of the DOST Secretary and was originally billed as the system to replace the IKOT jeepneys of UP Diliman. It will be a major undertaking for the university considering that its expertise (i.e., faculty, staff and students) will be tapped to undertake the studies and designs for the system. It will be a multi-disciplinary project that would involve architects, engineers and planners as well as social scientists who will be assigned with the unenviable task of securing social acceptability of the project.

The prototype system will have several phases in order to complete a loop. It is to be designed as a one-track, and therefore likely a one-way system. The “rolling stock” of modified buses each with a capacity of 60 passengers are supposed to have already been finished and are being tested at the DOST compound in Bicutan. It is still not known what the capacity of the system will be since there have been no studies to support demand (i.e., ridership), which will be affected by factors such as the route, direction and headways. among others. The project is one that is technology-driven rather than demand-driven. It is going to be an experimental system and one that will probably have to be tweaked from time to time given that it will be “home-grown” and attempting to reduce costs commonly associated with existing systems in other countries. Below is one of the proposed alignments for the system showing the initial phase from Philcoa (in yellow). The circles indicate the 2-minute walking distance radius although this is a crude concept considering people will be walking along the roads or sidewalks and not necessarily along a straight line leading to the proposed stations.

Whether it will eventually replace the jeepneys is still up in the air but the stakes are high considering that a locally made AGT may be transferable or feasible in other settings. Perhaps areas such as Bonifacio Global City, the reclamation areas along Macapagal Boulevard and even the Batasan can have their own AGTs in the future. My only hesitation for the prototype at UP Diliman is that it is still unclear who will be shouldering the operations and maintenance costs of a system that is sure to have revenues that won’t be able to cover such. Then there is the issue of aesthetics that cannot really be addressed now considering most plans are still in the minds of the proponents and have not been transferred unto the drawing boards or computers. We hope to be able to answer these questions and answer them correctly and appropriately. Otherwise, our legacy for the campus would be a white elephant that nobody would have wanted in the first place.