Ambitious, multibillion peso Manila-Matnog rail and subway system venture up

AMID a mountain of gripes against traffic bedeviling the metropolis for the longest time is this bit of good news recently about the planned construction of the most ambitious rail project connecting Manila to Matnog, Sorsogon. Costing nearly P151 billion, it will be called the PNR South Long Haul—PNR being the Philippine National Railways.

When completed after its target date of groundbreaking next year, the Bicol-bound rail from Manila will cover a whopping 581 kilometers in a standard gauge railway line.

According to a government web site, the rail will mainly involve the “complete reconstruction of the legacy PNR railway into a single track, at-grade railway”.

The Inquirer’s Miguel R. Camus has quoted Undersecretary Cesar B. Chavez for Rails as saying the project is among the “first basket” of infrastructure deals to be funded and built with China’s help.

So massive is the railway project that it will take years to build, with target date of completion in 2021 and operations to start in the second quarter of 2022.

If plans do not go awry, officials will inaugurate the project by the second quarter of 2022, or before President Duterte’s term ends in July of that year.

A memorandum of understanding to this effect is set to be signed during the Asean summit next month.

“After the loan agreement for the project is signed in 2018,” Chavez said, “the loan proceeds will become available under GAA [General Appropriations Act] 2018 under un-programmed appropriations.”

Said the government’s “Build, Build, Build” online portal, “The railway will connect cities, international seaports and economic zones, allowing for faster transportation of passengers and freight.”

I can’t help but rejoice this early for this project, an upshot of government’s bristling efforts to serve the interest mainly of our commuting public, whether bound for the country or within Metro Manila and its environs.

Actually, actions toward this end had already been in progress, with P800 million and P7 billion appropriated for 2016 and 2017 in pursuit of the project. In the works, too, is a P3-billion outlay for 2018 pursuits.

What usually slows down government’s infrastructure thrusts are right-of-way acquisitions as most laws seem outdated already. Lawmakers now appear supportive of introducing/amending policies toward this end.

A bright spot is that the Manila-Matnog project is but one of three railway systems just recently approved by the National Economic and Development Board headed no less by Duterte. The triple treat on railway surges was approved only on September 12—proof once more of the President’s no-nonsense tack of advancing infrastructure platforms without letup since he took office last year.

Add to the mammoth Manila-Matnog railway scheme is the PNR South Commuter line from Manila to Los Baños covering 72 kilometers, which will also be financed through the official development assistance. When finally inked, the project has a budget of P134 billion and is targeted for completion by December 2021.

But while the Manila-Bicol rail project is absolutely a boon to the economy and a huge relief to train travelers, whatever happened to government plans for the construction of a massive mass-transport system designed to tremendously ease traffic jams, especially at the metro’s main arteries: Edsa and C-5?

Subway system on

ALSO in the horizons is this: Not only are surface railway systems being tabled with dispatch under the Duterte administration’s dispensation but also the long-overdue Manila subway system, as well.

Envisioned to run from Quirino Highway in Quezon City to Taguig City, ending at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Parañaque, this one-of-a-kind venture would cost P355.6 billion. Unlike the Manila-Matnog and Manila-Los Baños projects, the subway system is set to start in 2018 and open in 2025—or three years after Duterte’s reign ends.

When finally operational, it will be the country’s first subway ever, enjoying a funding backup from the globally prestigious Japan International Cooperation Agency as contract signing is pegged in November this year.

The subway system, once it goes into orbit, will make us Jurassic no more in the world’s mass-transport platform.

That will be the day.

PEE STOP Spencer Yu, the No. 1 point-man at Lexus Manila when Danny “Sir John” Isla was Lexus president from 2009 to 2016, will transfer shortly to BMW to occupy another sensitive, if not strategic, position. The shift in turf didn’t surprise industry bigwigs as Spencer is widely known as a close chap of Ramon S. Ang, the San Miguel Corp. top honcho who had recently acquired 65 percent of BMW’s interests in the Philippines. Their friendship goes a long way, starting when Spencer was still with Honda all the way to his transferring to Mercedes before settling down at Lexus. Commenting on Spencer’s hop into a first-rate Lexus rival, Sir John said, and I quote: “Good for him. He’s been consulting with me about it for the past couple of months. It’s a golden opportunity that will haunt him forever if he will let it pass. That’s what I told him.” All the best, Spencer.