Manila-Clark bullet train pushed

Ric Sapnu, (The Philippine Star) - January 6, 2014 - 12:00am

MALOLOS CITY , Philippines  â€“ The Regional Development Council (RDC) is eyeing the construction of the first rapid train system in the country patterned after the bullet train of Japan, Bulacan Gov. Wilhelmino Alvarado said yesterday.

Alvarado said the RDC would either push for the bullet train system or revive the mothballed Northrail project that would link Metro Manila to the Clark international airport in Pampanga.

He said the proposed bullet train system would boost the economy of Central Luzon, particularly in the provinces of Pampanga, Bulacan, Zambales, Bataan, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac and Aurora.

“The lifestyle of the people in Central Luzon will be revved up and travel time will be lessened,” the governor said.

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If the plan pushes through, the train will have coaches for economy class, business class and executive class aside from its freight lines.

During a meeting with RDC officials in Bulacan recently, Alvarado said that Deo Manalo, director of project development service of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), disclosed that the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) had expressed interest in rehabilitating the Northrail project.

He said the RDC would recommend to President Aquino to make the bullet train project a priority this year.

Other railway projects underway

Meanwhile, the DOTC is confident it would get the green light from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) to pursue two major railway projects in Luzon, connecting Cagayan in the north and Bicol in the south.

Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said the feasibility studies for the proposed 900-kilometer Integrated Luzon Railway (ILR) and the 90-km commuter rail link (also known as airport express rail) would be completed early this year.

“If we get NEDA’s clearance on both integrated Luzon railway and the commuter railway, we can bid that out early this year,” Abaya said.

He said that JICA is helping the DOTC to determine if the railway projects could be placed under the government’s public-private partnership scheme.

“We are about to finish the feasibility study and JICA is helping us on this. We will present to NEDA board within the first semester of the year to get the procurement on this much-awaited project under way,” he added.

Abaya said CPCS Transcom Ltd. of Canada is set to complete the feasibility study for the ILR that would run from Cagayan in Isabela to Sorsogon in Bicol.

The proposed railway will cover the entire north and south networks of the Philippine National Railways (PNR). The north network runs from Manila to La Union, including a line from Tarlac to San Jose, Nueva Ecija, and a possible extension to Cagayan. The south network traverses from Manila to Legaspi City, including a line from Calamba to Batangas City.

Another option being considered for the ILR, Abaya said, is to put up a connecting rail to Clark airport as the international gateway in Pampanga is being developed under a twin airport system.

On the other hand, the commuter rail would run from Malolos in Bulacan to Calamba, Laguna.

Abaya said the proposed elevated commuter rail would be built above the existing rail of the PNR. Initial cost of the commuter rail is about $5 billion.

“There is the integrated Luzon railway and the commuter rail, which is elevated. Instead of building high-speed rail, you use the same rail to have an airport link. But at least you have a decent rail system that could serve the airport,” the DOTC chief said.

Abaya said it would take five to six years to complete both projects.

“So at least from our end, we will get this going and hopefully the people who would replace us at the DOTC will find this a viable project that will serve the people,” he added.

Dr. Vic Abola, an economics professor at the University of Asia and the Pacific, is urging President Aquino to transfer the railway and mass transport functions to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) from the DOTC.

“We need seamless inter-modal land transportation system. These should not only be designed and built on a parallel basis but on an efficient seamless transfer from one mode to another,” Abola said.

He added that mass transport facilities would help address the worsening traffic situation in the country, particularly in Metro Manila.

A study conducted by JICA stressed the need to put up at least 200 kilometers of railroad and over 100,000 kilometers of roads to solve traffic congestion in the metropolis. 

 â€“ With Lawrence Agcaoili

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