“TAMA na. Nagkasundo na. Gawin na!” A rephrasing of a political chant that became popular in the 1980s, this succinctly expresses the sentiment of thousands of Metro Manila commuters regarding the implementation of the long-delayed government plan to interconnect three key light rail transit lines. First envisioned in 2009, the plan calls for the building of a station on the Edsa-North Avenue-West Avenue junction, where two giant shopping malls are located: SM City North Edsa and TriNoMa of the Ayala Group.
Serving as the northern terminus of Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT 3), the rapid transit system that runs along EDSA, it will also interconnect with Light Rail Transit Line 1 (LRT 1), Metro Manila’s first light rail transit line, and MRT 7, a currently under construction rapid transit line that will link Quezon City to San Jose del Monte in Bulacan.
The construction of the station, which, after a series of name changes, is now simply called the “Common Station,” is a public-private partnership (PPP) project that involves the departments of Transportation (DOTr) and of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA), SM Prime Holdings Inc. (SMPHI), Universal LRT Corp. (BVI) Ltd. (ULC), Light Rail Manila Corp. (LRMC) and North Triangle Depot Commercial Corp. (NTDCC).
ULC is a subsidiary of San Miguel Holdings Corp., which have been awarded the contract for MRT 7. LRMC, on the other hand, holds the contract for the extension of LRT 1 to Cavite. It is a joint-venture company of Metro Pacific Investments Corp.’s Metro Pacific Light Rail Corp. (MPLRC), Ayala Corp.’s AC Infrastructure Holdings Corp. (AC Infra) and the Philippine Investment Alliance for Infrastructure’s Macquarie Infrastructure Holdings (Philippines) Pte. Ltd. (MIHPL). NTDCC, meanwhile, is the subsidiary of Ayala Land Inc. (ALI) that owns and operates TriNoMa.
Involving as it does huge business conglomerates with competing interests, the Common Station project, as expected, hit a number of snags which resulted in its delay. The latest of these was the temporary restraining order (TRO) that the Supreme Court imposed on SMPHI following the planned transfer of the proposed station from the front of SM City North Edsa to a site nearer to TriNoMa.
The good news is that all the parties concerned have finally come to an agreement that will result in the lifting of the TRO and allow the project to proceed at last. A memorandum of agreement (MOA) among all the stakeholders was signed on January 18 to mark the first step in making the Common Station a reality.
Present during the signing were Ramon S. Ang, San Miguel Corp. (SMC) president and CEO; Manuel V. Pangilinan, Metro Pacific managing director and CEO; Hans T. Sy, SMPHI executive committee chairman; and Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Ayala Corp. chairman.
Under the MOA, the common station will be built between SM City North Edsa and TriNoMa. This new site was chosen, because it is nearer to more passenger destinations. It is also closer to more government land, whose property value will be enhanced when the station begins to operate.
In addition, the new location, according to Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade, will allow the project to accommodate higher passenger traffic in the future. “Most important of all, we get to move forward from the current stalemate, begin construction by the end of 2017, and have a completed and operational common station by the middle of 2019,” he pointed out.
The MOA also contains the design parameters for the common station, which will be the basis of the detailed designs that are currently being drafted. Based on the agreement, the station will have three main components. Area A will have the platform and concourse for LRT 1 and MRT 3. Area B will have the two common concourses connecting Area A and Area C, and it will be made up of an atrium and secondary walkway. Area C will have the platform and concourse for MRT 7.
Construction of the three components will be funded by three different entities. The cost of Area A will be shouldered by the government at an estimated budget of P2.8 billion. It will be bid out according to government procurement rules. This cost includes additional track works for LRT 1 and MRT 3.
Area B will be built and financed by North Triangle Depot Commercial Corp. at an estimated cost of P150 million. It will also be operated and maintained by NTDCC at no cost to the government. Area C will be the responsibility of ULC. The company is still recomputing the cost, considering the common station’s new location. Based on the design stipulated in the MOA, the common station will be bigger than initially planned. It will have a common concourse area of 13,700 square meters, which is bigger than the concourse area of the original SM City location, which was approximately 7,200 sq m, and of the TriNoMa location, which was about 2,500 sq m.
The MOA, Tugade noted, also obliges NTDCC to ensure a “defined level of service for the common concourse at all times. “This means,” he said, “that when the current capacity of the common concourse is breached by actual passenger traffic, NTDCC has the obligation to expand it.”
A larger concourse area is deemed crucial to the station’s design, since passenger traffic is expected to sharply increase when the extension of LRT 1 to Cavite and the construction of MRT 7 to Bulacan are completed. According to government estimates, the common station will be used by approximately 478,000 rail passengers daily by the year 2020.
A more spacious station will also enable LRT 1 passengers to transfer to both MRT 3 and MRT 7, and vice versa easily. With the shorter distances between the platforms of LRT 1, MRT 3 and MRT 7—plus the larger concourse area—transfers between the three lines will be more convenient and comfortable.
The planned seamless train operation between LRT 1 and MRT 3 may also finally push through. After all, the tracks connecting the two lines have been finished since 2011, but have not been used because there is no connecting station yet.
The new common station design also has fewer columns, which means it will open up the Edsa-North Avenue-West Avenue junction, and allow smoother and safer traffic on the road level. Meanwhile, the ground level of the atrium itself can accommodate a public-utility vehicle-railway intermodal facility, which will significantly reduce traffic congestion in this busy portion of Edsa that results from the loading and unloading of passengers along the road curb side.
“Enabling commuters to go from one place to another conveniently and comfortably will greatly improve their riding experience,” Tugade noted. Enabling them to commute based on a predictable schedule will raise their productivity while, at the same time, allowing them to have more quality personal and family time outside of work. This, he said, may finally convince car owners to shift to public transport.
“The Filipino people deserve a more dignified way of commuting,” Tugade added. “Building the common station is an important first step to achieving this.”