Subway? Dream on!
- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - August 31, 2016 - 12:00am

Every time things got really difficult with the MRT 3 breaking down and the traffic situation in the air and on ground getting unbearable, the Roxas/Abaya Transportation department rolled out plans for a subway system. They probably thought it was a good idea to make the public dream instead.

It is unfortunate that the usec for rails of this current administration seems to be resorting to the same trick. In an ANC forum two weeks ago on the horrible traffic situation, Usec Noel Kintanar announced they would pursue the plan of the Roxas/Abaya DOTC to link the developments of his former employers in Bonifacio and Makati via subway.

It immediately drew a howl from the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). A position paper of the MAP pointed out the Kintanar plan is not only the wrong thing to focus attention on now, the alignment shouldn’t even be the priority.

A subway system is the ultimate mass transport solution that may hopefully make our metro area more livable. But it is such a complicated project that cannot be realized within the term of this current administration.

Sure, let us have some bureaucrats crunch the numbers and draw up the plans. But the senior guys like Kintanar should be focused on deliverables within the shortest possible time.

The MAP is in favor of a subway system. It even urged the issuance of an executive order to study and prepare plans for an EDSA subway.

And that’s the other point… if we are to have a subway, it has to be north to south under EDSA rather than to connect two high end developments of Kintanar’s former employers.

The Makati-based MAP pointed out “EDSA as the priority for subway is supported by findings of the origin and destination study by the then DOTC, which showed that most commutes are in north-south direction in Metro Manila.

“Anecdotal evidence also shows that EDSA, from North Avenue to Makati, is the densest commuter corridor in Metro Manila. The EDSA MRT3 carried over 600,000 passengers per day at its peak. Additionally, there are thousands of buses and other PUVs inefficiently plying the EDSA route.

“Massive mixed use commercial and residential complexes now being developed and being planned must also be considered. No other route has this much commuter demand now and in the future.

“DOT Usec Noel Kintanar announced the revival of the east-west oriented subway to serve BGC-Ayala Center-MOA…

“We suggest that Usec Kintanar seriously study other more cost-effective and doable mass transit options as a subway with this alignment may be very expensive relative to its low ridership count, aside from having to navigate through the legal issue of subterranean rights under private property.

“One viable alternative is by having a spur line from LRT1 Baclaran station to MOA through DM Blvd (or extend MRT 3 to MOA). This would effectively link Ayala Center to MOA and at much less cost, which will eventually be paid by commuters. Another is a bus rapid transit (BRT) system on an east-west loop expressway using existing but upgraded road ways…”

Indeed, Kintanar’s subway proposal is not surprising given the so-called compromise on the North Avenue common station. Sec. Art Tugade was made to believe the compromise location is at the middle ground between SM North and Trinoma.

My sources told me the actual location for the Common Station is after the curved portion and between the EDSA Skybridge walkway and the old North Avenue Station. This would put it partially on the MRT-3 railtrack that they use for reversing the trains. Since this is owned by Sobrepena and company, there should be some interesting new fighting erupting!

My source continues: “It would also make it difficult to see how MRT-7 could connect other than by a fairly long walkway… not very convenient for these passengers and still a violation of the agreement between MRT-7 and DOT. How DOT can say it is midway between the two malls beats me when it is more nearly in front of Trinoma.”

Another rail project Kintanar should be focusing his attention on is the Clark to Manila rail line that President Duterte announced as a priority. Sec Tugade confirmed this in his recent public statements.

It is a good idea and a good project to pursue. But before they can break ground, there are so many things to resolve. What is the route? Will they utilize the old PNR right of way that the ill-fated North Rail took over? This seems to be the same route for the Japanese funded rail line to Malolos.

My guess is… they will use this PNR NorthRail ROW that was cleared of squatters years ago by then Vice President Noli de Castro. I am not sure if the squatters didn’t come back after the original China-back project fizzled out.

Anyway, a source told me the feasibility study of Oriental Consult (JICA) for Tutuban-Malolos is not only gold-plated, it would not be completed in six years. BCDA has a separate plan for the Malolos-Clark section. This should now be integrated.

My source also thinks the Transport department should review the project cost estimated by JICA. “From my initial scan, it is expensive because the proposed train system included all bells and whistles… It will be funded by a landmark 241.99-billion-yen (P97,376,145,568.86) financing deal that was sealed last November with JICA.

“Two things that raised the cost considerably: 1) Elevated viaduct structure for almost the entire stretch, from Malolos to Bulacan. 2) Use of DC (1.5 kva) instead of AC (25 kva) electrification. It was previously determined that 25 kva is more economical for long rail lines. This one is more than 30-km long (Tutuban to Malolos). No economic analysis was done to justify this option.

“Track width is narrow gauge (1.067m wide). Maximum design speed is 120 kph. If you follow their implementation plan, year 2022 is earliest. Probably, to give time to Japanese contractors who have their hands full – at the moment – on Olympic preparation.

“It calls for a completely new entity to implement the project – labeled as Luzon Railway Corporation, under another new entity called Philippine Railway Authority. These two elements alone implies – wait for Congress enactment. It looks unreal to me, most likely because of absence of proper guidance from DOT.

“This is like the earlier study on re-configuration of NorthRail which Roxas pushed, under JICA. Submitted in May 2013, latter was ultimately shelved. A camel (cost>$8 billion) came out, instead of a horse – because Roxas wanted to close NAIA but insisted the rail line connects NAIA and Clark.”

Mindanao railway project? Ho hum. They can’t even fix the MRT3 and the PNR that are urgently needed and have economic viability. How fast do you think they can go on a greenfield Mindanao railway project whose economic viability is yet to be determined? They can’t even protect the NGCP power lines there… railway pa?

We have neglected our railway systems and that’s tragic, given our transport problems today. We should embark on a massive building of railway systems, but government should also be truthful and not just raise people’s hopes only to disappoint them.

The Roxas/Abaya DOTC took out their subway story to overcome their rotten image as do-nothings. It made people dream and salivate for better things. Hopefully, Tugade’s Transport department will be more honest, more down to earth and not raise expectations they cannot deliver on.

Subway? Kumita na yan sa takilya!

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.

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