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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Take a train check

By: Conrado Banal 
March 20, 2017

This one just in: Two gigantic Japanese conglomerates, the so-called zaibatsu, agreed to lend their technical expertise to a critical railway project in Metro Manila.

That would be the Tutuban-Calamba freight train project of the state-owned Philippine National Railways (PNR), owner of the oldest rails this side of Benham Rise.

Its neglected railways

 between La Union province and the Bicol region, passing through Metro Manila, started operations way back in the 1900s.

The tracks between Metro Manila and Calamba (Laguna) happened to be part of the incredible P170-billion infrastructure dream project called the North-South Railway.

The government originally set the bidding for the project in 2015. The bidding never took place. The dream project remained just that—a dream.

And so one group called MRail Inc. submitted an unsolicited proposal to the government, willing to spend a fortune for the rehab of the Tutuban-Calamba tracks. The PNR, in return, will let it use the tracks.

In other words, there will be no cash out from the government.

Specifically, MRail proposed to use the line for freight cargos coming from the Manila port, and the PNR could then use the same line for commuter service.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) actually saw the Tutuban-Calamba railroad rehab project as one of the low hanging fruits in a huge forest of infra projects that the administration of the motorbike riding Duterte Harley dreamt of, particularly in its P8-trillion “golden age of infra” program.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade himself approved the proposal.

It was seen to provide another mode of transport for the millions of tons of containerized cargoes passing through the Manila port. The daily trips of these huge trucks loaded with containers could be part of the terrible traffic affecting the metropolis day in and day out.

Put the containers on trains, according to the wisdom of Tugade, and you could alleviate the horrendous traffic mess.

Moreover, the rehab proposal would jump-start the bigger project, the North-South Railway, which covers some 653 kilometers of tracks between Metro Manila and the Bicol region.

Technical studies already showed that the tracks would need extensive rehab, and the entire project needing dozens upon dozens of new roads and bridges.

The bidding that was originally scheduled for 2015, the one that did not materialize, tickled the financial bones of some 14 local conglomerates such as Aboitiz, San Miguel and Metro Pacific. It also attracted giant groups abroad like Japanese firms Marubeni and Mitsui, US firm General Electric, and South Korea’s Daewoo.
Unfortunately, the project is already delayed by almost three years. Included in it, as I mentioned, is the 56-kilometer commuter line between Tutuban and Calamba.

When Tugade approved the rehab project of MRail, the business sector took it as a sign of “political will” on the part of the Duterte administration.

But not so fast! The project remains on the drawing board, because the PNR and the DOTr took a rain check.

The PNR board has yet to complete the signatures of its members for the “approved” project. The DOTr technical staff is also taking forever to come up with the conditions.

Yet, Tugade already announced that the project would have a “soft opening” within one freaking year.

Meanwhile, Metro Manila remains to coddle the worst traffic in the world, according to traffic planning app Waze.

While big ticket projects like the Tutuban-Calamba railway rehab would always get the media hype, reports rarely note that such large projects would take time to carry out—a long, long time.

The donors from abroad, for instance, would have to evaluate the projects, normally between 12 and 24 months. The detailed design and engineering would then need another 12 to 24 months, while the final financial closing would take 24 to 36 months.

More than eight months now in power, the Duterte administration could still not show some spadework in its P8-trillion “golden age of infra” program.

Before any of the projects could be finished, Duterte Harley would already be on his way out.

Source: Inquirer Newspaper

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