From Bulacan to Sorsogon
Touted as the Aquino Administration’s grandest infrastructure project so far, the P287-billion North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR) that will connect the provinces of Bulacan and Sorsogon is expected to be commercially operational by 2020.
Based on the project’s timeline, the NSCR Phase 1 that will run from Malolos, Bulacan to Tutuban, Manila will start operations by the third quarter of 2020 while the NCSR Phase 2 will commence trips from Tutuban to Matnog, Sorsogon by the first quarter of the same year. Phase 2 also covers a spur line linking Calamba, Laguna to Batangas Port.
The NSCR is one of the projects approved by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board last Monday. According to Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, the NSCR project is part of the government’s master plan to improve mass transport systems, which caters to 80 percent of the riders across Metro Manila.
“For a mega city like Manila, it is clearly a consequence of a growing economy is the growing capacity of our people to own their own vehicles. But clearly, with our traffic [congestion], that is not the way to go. [Right now], 80 percent of our riding public use public transportation while 20 percent use private cars. And the solution to that natural tendency is to develop mass transit systems. Thus, government is investing in rails and bus rapid transits, likewise reforming the bus system,” he said.
In a presentation to reporters, Abaya said construction of the 37-kilometer Phase 1 will cost P117 billion, which could be funded either through an official development assistance (ODA) loan from the Japanese Government or through the national budget. Meanwhile, the 653-kilometer Phase 2 will cost P170 billion, which will be implemented under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) scheme.
“We should decide on that soon on the first phase, hopefully within the month, whether we go ODA or GAA (General Appropriations Act),” Abaya said. “We are still meeting with JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) and get a more specific timeline. But according to Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, there is fiscal space in the years to come. We should be in a position to fund the project from the national budget.”
If the ODA loan agreement signing for Phase 1 pushes through as scheduled by the third quarter of the year, construction is expected to commence by the first quarter of 2017. Meanwhile, bidding of the Phase 2 under PPP will commence by the second quarter of the year. If awarded as scheduled by the fourth quarter of the year, construction can start by first quarter of 2016. The semi-elevated, semi-at-grade NSCR will use the Philippine National Railways (PNR) right of way. The PNR currently operates a commuter line from Tutuban to Calamba in Laguna.
“The design could actually affect service but ideally, we want to construct without interrupting [the existing PNR] service but I don’t know up to what year we could extend that kind of arrangement. Ideally, we don’t want to disrupt service while construction is ongoing,” Abaya said.
But as for the operation and maintenance of the NSCR, Abaya said government could tap separate operator for Phase 1 and 2, adding that “our bias is to allow private sector to operate.”
A separate Phase 3 is also planned under the NSCR project that will have long-haul trips from Manila to Tuguegarao. The 575-kilometer Phase 3 will connect Manila, Tarlac, San Fernando City in La Union, San Jose City in Nueva Ecija and Tuguegarao City in Cagayan.
The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) is also in talks with State-run Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) over the possibility of constructing a spur line from Malolos to Clark in Pampanga to serve the Clark Green City.
Manila Bulletin, 17 February 2015
By Kris Bayos