So last March 19, Thusday the DOTC presented (as it always do) to prospective investors some of the big mass transport projects already out of the Feasibility Stage. When I say big, it’s really big, ambitious and costs a lot of money. When I say a lot of money, all of the projects presented bust cost US$ 9 Billion.
Finally, one of these is the Integrated Luzon Railway System.
Well the project consists of rehabilitating the old PNR North and South Mainlines, reviving the Nueva Ecija line (possibly an extension to Cagayan Valley terminating at Tuguegarao City) the Batangas Line and the long overdue extension to the end of Luzon in Sorsogon. See it here http://ppp.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Project-Brief-Invest-Transport-PH-18Mar2014.pdf
My opinion on this is:
- The rail gauge should be all changed to Standard Gauge. The Current PNR South operates on Narrow Gauge, making the track unsuitable for upgrade to the High Speed trains. Changing the gauge to Standard conforms the tracks to the international standards and will make it cheaper for us to upgrade to Bullet trains in the future.
- Everything should be built in double tracks, not in single track. Currently only Tutuban to Alabang is in Double Track, everything else is single track. By double tracking the railroad, more train trips are done, more revenues for the train services and more people and goods are moved.
- I think this is a better plan than during the Arroyo Administration of bidding and building the North and South Lines separately. I like it that the project is more of a unified plan for the whole of Luzon.
- The PNR Charter was last enacted on 1964, and is set to expire this year after a 50 year concession. If not extended, then bye bye to our dreams of a national railway system. As of now, only PNR is mandated by law to establish and maintain the railway system. Maybe this charter renewal of PNR must include the legalization of the private sector to take part in the establishment of the railway system.
- DOTC is so inept at this, so better establish another cabinet position just for railways or yes, transfer PNR, MRT and LRT to DPWH because it’s a mainly engineering thing.
- We still don’t know if a Philippine company has the financial clout to implement this project that costs 250-300 billion pesos unless under the so called PPP scheme there will be sharing of the construction cost between the National Government and the Private Sector partner. (So see how the 60-40 ownership limits of the constitution restricts us to even expand this?)
- Even a layman knows that the possible extension to Cagayan Valley is feasible. The Cagayan Valley and Central Luzon as we know is the main crop producing regions of Luzon. Think of all the volume of agricultural products that will be transferred from these regions to the urban centers of Luzon and how will introducing freight trains reduce the cost of food here in the Metro. The long term gains of railway transport to agriculture must be looked very closely by the NEDA.
Also, we should ask updates from the DOTC regarding the Mindanao Railway System. The growth of Mindanao can’t be stopped by now, so the best way to further extend this growth is to establish their own railway system in the soonest possible time.