By Lara Climaco | FilAm Star Correspondent
Eco-friendly trains developed by Philippine government engineers can be the once elusive solution to Metro Manila’s traffic mess. State-owned Philippine National Railways (PNR) launched the country’s first locally designed and fabricated hybrid electric train last June 25 at its main station in Manila. Outgoing Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Sec. Mario Montejo emphasized during the launch that with abundant engineering and technical talent, the country need not rely on imported mass transport systems.
Designed by a multi-disciplinary team of about 10 engineers at DOST’s Metals Industry Research and Development Center (MIRDC), the hybrid electric train combines fuel and electricity, and uses regenerative braking technology to generate savings of up to 30 percent in fuel consumption. The five-car, air-conditioned train can accommodate more than 800 passengers.
“It is computed to run at a maximum speed of 80 kph but we will control its speed up to 60 kph only due to the rail condition,” Engineer Jonathan Puerto, deputy executive director for research and development at MIRDC and program leader of its Advance Mass Transportation Program, told FilAm Star via email. “It’s a hybrid system—it can run by the generator system alone, but of course it uses fuel. The batteries are charged during operation of the gen-set and especially during braking. The charge of the batteries will now supply the power needed by the electric motors. Usually, we operate 50 percent sharing between the gen-set and the batteries.”
Puerto added that the hybrid electric train was designed as an alternative to the existing old trains of PNR. The project began in January 2013 with a target to localize fabrication of the entire train. This posed a challenge to the project team because the steel wheels could not be manufactured locally due to limitations in local steel forging.
“It took us three years to develop the prototype hybrid electric train,” Puerto said. “One of the strategies the team implemented is to partner with a credible foreign company that has years of experience in this line of business (steel forging) to produce the bogie for this project.”
The project team for the hybrid electric train was led by Engineer Pablo Acuin.
Fabricated at a cost of 120 million pesos, the hybrid electric train is a viable alternative to expensive imported coaches. Daily test runs of the prototype will be done over the next few months to ensure its safety for millions of passengers of PNR’s Metro South Commuter Line, which runs from Tutuban in Manila to Alabang, Muntinlupa. About 50,000 to 60,000 passengers take this line every day, with ridership reported by the PNR at more than six million during this year’s first quarter and at a full-year level of about 19 million last year.
“Prior to its commercialization, a certification for safety and reliability must be obtained from a certifying body such as TÜV Rheinland among others,” Puerto said. MIRDC, which will supervise the test runs at PNR, will also try to combine different parameters of the system to raise fuel savings to 50 percent.
Two other mass transit modes have been developed by MIRDC to address the traffic crisis in the nation’s capital. These are a hybrid electric road train and an automated guideway transit (AGT), both of which are fitted with rubber tires rather than steel wheels.
The hybrid electric road train is a 40-meter-long, train-like bus that can carry 650,000 commuters daily upon full implementation, according to the DOST. Prototypes of a regular-sized and light road train have been tested around the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga since June last year. The Clark Development Corporation is eyeing the light road train as its mass transport system in the industrial zone. The road train also had a demo run around the SM Mall of Asia complex in February this year.
Meanwhile, prototypes of an elevated AGT system have been built within the DOST complex in Bicutan, Taguig and inside the main campus of the University of the Philippines in Quezon City. AGT is purely electricity-powered and has zero greenhouse gas emissions. As such, it is compatible with the existing LRT and MRT systems although AGT has slimmer dimensions as it is designed for Metro Manila’s narrow streets and intended as an inner city rail link.