Railways, at last
Last September, the administration unveiled a P1-trillion program to build 14 railway projects, many to be located in Luzon and Metro Manila where traffic congestion is at its worst, and the rest in urban centers in Cebu and Mindanao, from where President Duterte hails. The list was submitted by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to Sen. Grace Poe, who chairs the committee on public services, which was then hearing the government’s request for special powers to address the traffic crisis in the metropolis. According to the timeline then, all but one — a 14-kilometer subway line linking business districts in Metro Manila — would be finished by the time Mr. Duterte ends his term in 2022, assuming special powers were granted.
Of the train projects, 11 are in Luzon, many aimed at providing easier access to and from Metro Manila. These include the 19-km LRT Line 4 from Taytay to Ortigas Avenue; the 19-km LRT Line 6 from Niyog in Cavite to Dasmariñas also in Cavite; the 35-km PNR North Commuter line from Tutuban to Malolos, Bulacan, and another 55-km PNR North extension from Malolos to Clark, Pampanga. There is also a 72-km PNR South Line from Tutuban to Los Baños, Laguna, as well as the LRT-2 East and West extension lines. The DOTr also listed a 25-km Cebu rail project costing P98 billion, a 25-km Central Philippine Rail with a total cost of P86 billion, and a 20-km component of the Mindanao Rail project worth P79 billion.
Back then, it was easy to dismiss this ambitious plan as simply that — a plan with little prospect of moving forward, especially considering that it was tied to Congress granting the President emergency powers to deal with the traffic crisis. However, nine months later and still without emergency powers, the administration seems to be making headway in many railway projects.
Last week, the DOTr announced that it was set to tap a loan from the Chinese government to build the railway linking Manila to Bicol. The project, previously in the public-private partnership pipeline before the shift to official development assistance funding, consists of the 581-km South Long Haul project, a P151-billion train line that will pass through the provinces of Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, Camarines Sur, Albay and Sorsogon, and a short-haul component called the PNR South Commuter, a P134-billion, 72-km train line linking Manila to Los Baños.
Also last week, the DOTr marked five of the 17 stations for the P255-billion Manila-Clark railway project: Marilao and Meycauayan in Bulacan, and Valenzuela, Caloocan and Tutuban in Metro Manila. The 106-km railway project, once completed in 2020 or a year earlier than scheduled, will cut down the two-hour travel time from Manila to Clark to just 55 minutes.
Likewise in June, the DOTr said it wanted the ambitious subway project for Metro Manila operational before the end of the President’s term, or two years earlier than initially planned. The subway will have 13 stations starting from Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City and ending at the Food Terminal Inc. complex in Taguig. The subway project will cost P227 billion, span 25 km, serve an initial 370,000 passengers a day, and cut the usual one- to two-hour travel time between Quezon City and Taguig to just 30 minutes.
Last May, the Duterte administration also announced that it would fast-track the rollout of the P120-billion initial phase of the Mindanao Railway project connecting the southern island’s major cities. The DOTr has submitted to the National Economic and Development Authority the feasibility study for the 100-km “high priority” first phase of the railway that will run through the cities of Tagum and Digos in the Davao provinces.
As Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia has pointed out, these are exciting times as the country will witness a major infrastructure boom. Doubtless, a network of railway lines is indeed the long-term answer to the traffic congestion plaguing not only Metro Manila but also other urban centers across the country.
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