Tuesday, June 20, 2017

P285B Manila-Bicol railways project pushes thru under Duterte admin


President Rodrigo Duterte is set to officially approve by the end of this month the PHP285 billion South line of the North-South Railway Project (NSRP) that will provide reliable rail system between Bicol and Manila.

After several hitches in the past, and after being reportedly stricken out of the Department of Transportation’s Public Private Partnership (PPP) list due to funding and investment problems, Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda said the project will finally push through under the Duterte administration.

Salceda said the project will start this year, this time under a different procurement method, since it “remains a priority investment project of the national government” and a vitally urgent infrastructure for Southern Luzon.

It was reclassified under direct expenditure scheme, which means the national government and Congress “would find ways to look for the needed financing to implement it, said Salceda, senior vice chair of the House ways and means committee.

The project which will be completed by 2021, within the term of President Duterte, involves new sets of railway tracks from Tutuban to Legazpi City in Albay, then to Matnog in Sorsogon, crossing the Southern Tagalog region and mainland Bicol.

He said Japan and China have both recently pledged commitments to the project.

“As I have been advised, the Tutuban-Los Banos line would be financed (and therefore implemented) by Japan and the Los Banos-Matnog would be financed by China. This is a critical and central project of President Duterte,” said Salceda who recently had consultation meetings with Socio Economic Planning Sec. Ernesto Pernia, Budget Sec. Benjamin Diokno and National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Deputy Director General Rolando G. Tungpalan.

The NSRP south line was one of three railway projects approved by the NEDA-Investment Coordination Committee (ICC) during the joint technical board and Cabinet Committee meeting last June 1. It was approved in 2015 by the Bicol Regional Development Council which Salceda chaired, and endorsed to the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Inter-agency Coordinating Committee for PPP. It was approved by the NEDA Board on February 16, 2015.

Salceda said the South Railway Line, when completed, will vastly improve connectivity and efficiency among urban centers and regional growth hubs and thus enhance productivity in the industry, services and agriculture sectors, and will further boost Bicol’s tourism by as much as 30 percent which forms part of the predicted 24% economic returns it will bring to the countryside when fully operationalized.

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

It is also expected to cut by half the present 12-hour Manila-Legazpi travel time and at the same time provide commuters a comfortable and reliable transport system. Its proposed PHP1,300 fare per passenger is deemed reasonable enough.

“The project 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. Tourism will receive the biggest boost from it, hiking tourist flow -- domestic tourism by 30% and foreign arrivals by 10% -- since a train ride from Manila to Legazpi is an attraction by itself,” Salceda added.

The new railways system involves seven train sets, 66 stations and 10 daily trips that will ferry some 316,000 passengers per day, when it opens in 2020.

Rail transport between Manila and Bicol is considered practical and convenient for students, vacationists, traders and workers. (PNA)
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