Finally, it’s moving!
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - September 30, 2020 - 12:00am

When we first discussed transportation projects with Art Tugade before he assumed office, there was a lot of optimism about moving fast starting on day one. Then all the enthusiasm got buried under political meddling and bureaucratic lethargy.

I have all but given up hope on Tugade. Sayang, I said because he seemed so promising. In fairness to him, I still think he was really determined to deliver on projects, but powerful politicians got in the way.

Now with just about two years to go, it looks like Art is on a roll or maybe wants to be on a roll at last.

Art sat on the EDSA BRT projects for four years. A former DOTr undersecretary told me Art got bogged down on the design of the BRT buses. A group of bus suppliers got his ear. It took a pandemic for Art to realize he can temporarily use existing buses, provided he gets the owners to agree to operate as some kind of a consortium.

Art even agreed to go into service contracting just to jumpstart everything, get rid of the boundary system, and get people used to a more organized bus system on our premier bus route.

It is still make-do now. But thanks to businessman Ed Yap’s persistence, the virtual EDSA BRT is proving what we have been saying that something like this will work. Or at least work better than the chaotic old system.

There is still much to be done for EDSA BRT, but at least DOTr and LTFRB are on the ball now… already convinced that a reform of the old bus franchising system for EDSA is necessary. The road engineering part is a work in progress, but that should be easier than getting fossilized minds to see the need for something better.

Unfortunately for Art, Duterte appointed a policeman and not a professional train system manager for LRT-2. A station burned down over a year ago and it has not been repaired. Commuters from Marikina and Antipolo continue to suffer from the lack of service.

Art should prioritize getting LRT-2 going from the extension that should be completed by now and the damaged station. Then extend it all the way to the densely populated Cogeo area in Antipolo. That’s how to serve the working class.

It is interesting to note that the old tranvia system in the 1930s reached Antipolo from Manila. We are just getting back what we used to have.

The really good news from Art this week is his announcement that the contracts to build the NorthRail all the way from Malolos to Clark have been awarded. The contracts were awarded to highly reputable contractors. They should be able to move as fast as right of way is made available.

The first notice of award was issued for Contract Package N-01, which covers 17 kilometers of elevated rail viaduct, seven balanced cantilever bridges, and two station buildings in the towns of Malolos and Calumpit in Bulacan, and in the towns of Apalit and Minalin in Pampanga.

Contract Package N-01 was awarded to the joint venture of Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co., Ltd., Megawide Construction Corp. and Dong-ah Geological Engineering Co. Ltd.

Contract Package N-02, which covers 16 kilometers of elevated viaduct and one station building in the towns of Minalin, Sto. Tomas, and San Fernando in Pampanga, was awarded to the joint venture of Acciona Construction Philippines and Daelim Industrial Co., Ltd.

Contract Package N-03, which covers 12 kilometers of elevated viaduct and one station building in the towns of San Fernando, Angeles, and Mabalacat in Pampanga, was awarded to the Italian-Thai Development Public Co. Ltd.

Phase 2 of the Manila-Clark railway is funded by the Asian Development Bank with its largest-ever financing package for a single project.

JICA-funded Clark Phase 1, Tutuban to Malolos segment, is reported to be over 40 percent accomplished.

The Clark rail Phase 2 project is part of the 53-km northern segment of the 147-km North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR) System, which will run from Clark in Pampanga all the way to the town of Calamba in Laguna. The NSCR will have 37 stations, spanning 26 local government units, and connecting three regions.

The project will feature the country’s first Airport Express service, which will slash travel time between the Clark International Airport in Pampanga and Makati City from more than two hours by car, to just under one hour via the Airport Express.

The Southern or Bicol line, on the other hand, will be financed by China. CRRC Zhuzhou Locomotive Co. Ltd, a Chinese firm, won the bidding for the delivery of the standard gauge diesel multiple unit trains.

DOTr claims the Bicol line can start partial operations by Q2 2022. But that’s doubtful given that they are only now doing field surveys, right of way acquisition, and procurement of the design build contractor.

The other Chinese-funded rail project is the Subic-Clark freight train line. Experts doubt the line is even needed given the presence of SCTEX and the expanded Gapan-Olongapo highway in the area. It will likely be a white elephant.

As for the Mindanao Railway, it seems even China isn’t too enthusiastic about funding it. Politicians are still fighting over its route, but the economics of the project is doubtful. DOTr claims they are waiting for a shortlist of design build contractors from the Chinese embassy.

DOTr should now focus on completing shorter and more doable projects. They should help San Miguel with ROW issues for LRT7 because that will greatly ease traffic problems on Commonwealth Avenue.

Art should also give San Miguel the help it needs to put up the BRT system over Stage 3 Skyway from Balintawak to Susana Heights.

Another low hanging fruit is the private sector-led rehab of NAIA. Only the private sector can deliver that on time.

Art should stop promising to deliver projects he obviously can’t deliver by 2022. That only reduces credibility.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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