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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.

Vehicle development and safety

As I drove to work this morning, I chanced upon a new model Korean-brand SUV along the highway. I couldn’t help but notice the sleek exteriors and was again impressed by what seemed to me, at least from where I was sitting, was a nicely performing vehicle along a road that was already starting to congest with morning traffic and with pavements still under rehabilitation. As I pulled ahead of the vehicle, I was able to appreciate its front design (the snout in particular) and noticed its lights that were very much similar to those already being used by late model German cars. Of course, the initial reaction would be that perhaps the Korean vehicle was a copy of the original European one. However, I was also aware that Korea already had strong partnerships with leading German automakers and routinely benchmarked their vehicles with their German counterparts. In fact, there are models of German vehicles that were and are developed and tested in Korea, which

I believe that much of the Korean vehicle manufacturers’ success in the design and development of vehicles that are at par if not better than its European counterparts may be attributed to Korea’s testing and research facilities. At the head of the effort for vehicle development and testing is the Korea Transportation Safety Authority or TS, and they work closely with other institutions including the very influential Korea Transport Institute (KOTI). It is a good example of a successful working relationship between government, the private sector and the academe.

I was fortunate to have been able to visit the Korean testing and research facilities back in 2009. At that time, I was part of a small party from the Philippines attending the Regional Environmentally Sustainable Transport (EST) Forum in Seoul, and was among those invited by Korean Transportation Safety Authority (TS) to visit the Korea Automobile Testing & Research Institute. We were very impressed with their facilities and perhaps could only dream of having a similar one in the Philippines. We were toured around the different areas where various tests were being conducted and I was particularly interested in the proving grounds where new models were being tested for various operating conditions. I have some photos taken of the research and testing facilities but I defer from posting these here as there might be some restrictions applicable. Also, I’m afraid my photos won’t do justice to the impressive facilities at KATRI. Nevertheless, I have provided the links to the websites of the institutions I mentioned above for easy reference for anyone interested in their activities. The details may be found there and there are many photos and illustrations that would allow anyone who would at least browse their website to have an idea of just how far Korea has made progress in vehicle development and how much effort they put in to ensure safety on the part of the vehicle.