Salceda: PNR South long haul project on track for 2022 opening

LEGAZPI CITY — The Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Long Haul Project, spanning some 581 kilometers from Manila to Matnog, Sorsogon, is now on track towards its target opening by second quarter of 2022.

“Dagos po an Bicol Express (the Bicol Express pushes through),” Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda announced here last week.

He based his announcement on the project's revised funding structure approved by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) board recently.

The project, originally proposed years ago by Salceda, now forms part of the Duterte administration's flagship projects under the massive infrastructure “Build Build Build” program.

It is envisioned as a backbone of economic development designed to enhance the connectivity of major airports and seaports in Southern Tagalog and Bicol Region.

From a proposed budget of PHP171 billion originally, and later PHP185 billion, it is now allocated PHP299.4 billion, one of the government's biggest infrastructure investments.

Salceda, who is senior vice chair of the House committees on appropriations and ways and means, said some PHP800 million and PHP7 billion have been appropriated for the project in the GAA 2016 and GAA 2017 budgets, respectively, of Department of Transportation’s (DOTr), not PNR’s as announced previously, and another PHP3 billion has been requested by DOTr for FY 2018.

The project is also included in the first basket of projects to be financed and built with the assistance of China. A Memorandum of Understanding setting out the scope of China's assistance for the project will be signed during the ASEAN Summit in November 2017.

Proceeds from the loan will become available under GAA 2018’s ‘Unprogrammed Appropriations’ in addition to the PHP3 billion DOTr has already requested for 2018. Implementation works for the project are ongoing, especially for right-of-way acquisition.

Consultations have already been held with Bicol local chief executives and lawmakers, and the DOTr have been working with HUDCC, NHA, SHAFC, and PCUP towards implementing the resettlement of the families that will be affected by the project.

Based on recent changes, its Commuter Line segment which spans 72 kilometers with 23 stations, now starts from Solis-Hermosa in Manila to Los Baños, Laguna. The Long Haul segment picks up from Los Baños and runs through Batangas, Quezon and the Bicol provinces of Camarines Sur and Albay to Sorsogon.

Salceda said the PNR South Railways is now “a priority investment project of the government” and ia a vitally urgent infrastructure for Southern Luzon. It was approved and strongly recommended by the Bicol Regional Development Council in 2015, during Salceda’s term as chairman.

When completed, it will vastly improve connectivity and efficiency among Southern Luzon’s urban centers and regional growth hubs and thus enhance productivity in the industry, services and agriculture sectors.

It is seen to further boost Bicol’s tourism industry by as much as 30 percent which forms part of the predicted 24 percent economic returns it will bring to the countryside when fully operationalized, he added.