LEGAZPI CITY—The Philippine National Railways South Long Haul Project, spanning some 581 kms from Manila to Matnog, Sorsogon, is on track to its target opening by the second quarter of year 2022.
“Dagos po an Bicol Express (the Bicol Express will push through),” Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda announced here last week, basing it on the project’s revised funding structure recently approved by the National Economic Development Authority board.
Originally proposed years ago by Salceda, the project now forms part of the Duterte Administration’s flagship projects under the massive “Build Build Build” infrastructure Program. It is envisioned as a backbone of economic development designed to improve the connectivity of major airports and seaports in Southern Tagalog and the Bicol Region.
From a proposed budget of P171 billion originally, and later P185 billion, the project is now allocated P299.4 billion and is one of the government’s biggest infrastructure investments.
Salceda, the senior vice chair of the House committees on appropriations and ways and means, said some P800 million and P7 billion have been earmarked for the project in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) 2016 and 2017 budgets, respectively, of the Department of Transportation, not PNR’s as announced previously.
Another P3 billion has been requested by DOTr for fiscal year 2018.
The project is also in the first basket of projects to be financed and built with the assistance of China. A Memorandum of Understanding setting out the scope of China’s assistance for the project will be signed during the ASEAN Summit in November.
Proceeds from the loan accord will become available under the GAA 2018’s “Unprogrammed Appropriations” in addition to the P3 billion DOTr has already requested for 2018.
Implementation works for the project are ongoing, especially for right-of-way acquisition.
Consultations have been held with Bicol local chief executives and lawmakers, and the DOTr has been working with national housing agencies to resettle families that will be affected by the project.
Based on recent changes, the project’s Commuter Line segment, which spans 72 kilometers with 23 stations, now starts from Solis-Hermosa in Manila to Los Baños, Laguna. The Long Haul segment picks up from Los Baños and runs through Batangas, Quezon, and the Bicol provinces of Camarines Sur and Albay to Sorsogon.
Salceda said the PNR South Railways is now “a priority investment project of the government” and is a vitally urgent infrastructure for Southern Luzon. It was approved and strongly recommended by the Bicol Regional Development Council in 2015, during Salceda’s term as chairman.
When completed, it will vastly improve connectivity and efficiency among Southern Luzon’s urban centers and regional growth hubs and thus enhance productivity in the industry, services and agriculture sectors, the lawmaker said.
“It is seen to further boost Bicol’s tourism industry by as much as 30 percent, which forms part of the predicted 24 percent economic returns it will bring to the countryside when fully operationalized,” he added.
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