LEGAZPI CITY—The Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Long Haul Project, spanning some 581 kilometers from Manila to Matnog, Sorsogon, is now on track for its target opening by second quarter of 2022.
“Dagos po an Bicol Express [the Bicol Express pushes through],” Rep. Joey S. Salceda of the Second District of Albay 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 P171 billion originally, and later P185 billion, it is now allocated with a P299.4-billion budget, one of the government’s biggest infrastructure investments.
Salceda, who is senior vice chairman of the House Committees on Appropriations and Ways and Means, said some P800 million and P7 billion have been appropriated for the project in the General Appropriations Act for (GAA) 2016 and GAA 2017 budgets, respectively.
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.
Based on recent changes, the project’s 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 is 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.