P171-B South Rail Line to boost Bicol tourism

LEGAZPI CITY—Albay Gov. Joey Salceda has expressed confidence the Php 171-billion South Rail Line (SRL) of the North-South Railways system, which construction starts next year under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) scheme, will further boost Bicol’s tourism by as much as 30 percent.
PNR in BicolPhoto by Oscar Esmenda/BICOLSTANDARD.COM
The expected boost forms part of the predicted 24 percent economic returns the new railways system will bring to the countryside when fully operationalized.

The 653-kilometer railways project gained traction in the past four years with Salceda’s vigorous push with the PPP Center, the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), the Philippine National Railways and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).

DOTC recently started the bid process for the project, the government’s single biggest undertaking so far under the PPP. In its Aug. 11 advisory to prospective bidders, DOTC has set the pre-qualification conference on Aug. 20 and submission of qualification documents on Oct. 15.

Qualified bidders will be notified on Oct. 30 and DOTC will release the bid documents and draft concession agreement on Nov. 6. A pre-bid conference is set Nov. 20 this year, and submissions on March 28. The notice of award will be issued April 27, next year.

The winning bidder will “design, construct, install, commission, finance, operate, and maintain” the 56-km commuter rail from Tutuban to Calamba in Laguna, and the 478-km long-haul rail from Calamba City to Legazpi City, according to the PPP Center project brief. The long-haul line has two possible extensions -- a 58-km rail line from Calamba to Batangas City and a 117-km line from Legazpi to Matnog, Sorsogon.

Salceda, one of the most ardent proponents of the SRL, said the new railways project completes Albay’s multi-modal transport model -- air, sea, road and rails – and is expected to unlock the huge potentials of Bicol, particularly of Albay, Bicol’s regional center and hub.

“Tourism will receive the biggest boost from the new railways. It will increase tourist flow -- domestic tourism by 30% and foreign arrivals by 10% -- since a train ride from Manila to Legazpi is an attraction by itself,” he said.

This is specially so for Albay, Bicol’s tourism hub, considered among the fastest and hottest growing tourism destinations in the country with a 330,000 recorded foreign arrivals in 2013 from only 8,700 in 2006.

With a faster and more reliable land transport system, Salceda said, more tourists will come to enjoy Albay’s iconic sites and newly discovered ecotourism destinations which are presently selling like hotcakes. The new railways system involves seven train sets, 66 stations and 10 daily trips that will to ferry some 316,000 passengers per day, when it opens in 2020.

The project was proposed by the Bicol Regional Development Council (RDC) and endorsed by the Luzon Regional Development Committee (RDCom), which he chairs for nine and six years, respectively now. It was approved by the Cabinet last February 15, following three years of consultations with DOTC, NEDA, and the PPP Center.

It will reduce by half the present 12 hours Manila-Legazpi travel time and at the proposed P1,300 fare per passenger, it will provide reliable and comfortable transport system for commuters between Manila and Bicol, particularly students, workers, traders and vacationists.

Aside from travel convenience, Salceda said the project will also boost and expand tourism attractions with the fascinating rural and green Bicol scenery starting from Sipocot town in Camarines Sur, and in Naga City where Mayon starts to become visible, up to Albay where the volcano’s majestic splendor grows even more enchanting.

“It will likewise expand trade and open more investment opportunities that will make Bicol’s agricultural and processed products more competitive in the markets of Divisoria, and in bringing in needed inputs to our industries, and basic commodities to our households,” he added.

The massive transport investment, he explained, “will shift the supply curve to the right and would, therefore, provide contestability of the transport markets going to Bicol and the countryside.” (PNA)