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P175-B South Railway project to start Q2 2019

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LEGAZPI CITY—Construction of the P175-billion Philippine National Railways South Railways project, a 639-kilometer standard gauge railway line from Manila to Matnog, Sorsogon, and a component of the PNR Luzon System program, will finally push through next year.

Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda said the PNR Luzon System is among big-ticket infrastructure projects to be funded under an Official Development Assistance (ODA) agreement to be signed by President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is set to visit Manila this month.

“Finally, the PNR South Railways project which we have tediously designed as a key that will unlock the economic potentials of the vast Southern Tagalog and Bicol areas, is now finally coming to realization, said Salceda, the project’s original proponent.

The PNR South Railway segment cuts Manila-Legazpi travel down to less than five hours. It runs from Manila to Matnog in Sorsogon with nine major stations—Manila, Los Baños, Batangas City, Lucena, Gumaca, Naga City, Legazpi City, Sorsogon City, and Matnog.

Salceda said the modern railways project will be a major backbone of economic development in Southern Tagalog and Bicol with spillover benefits to other regions of the country. Its construction is set to start in the second quarter of 2019 and will be partially operational by the second quarter of 2022.

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 Originally proposed years ago by Salceda, the PNR South Railways project now forms part of the massive “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program of the Duterte administration. Relocation of affected families for ‘right of way,’ and procurement of project management consultant services which cost about P14.8 billion, are presently on-going.

When finished, Salceda said, the project will enhance the connectivity of major airports and seaports in Southern Tagalog and Bicol regions, and provide a fast and reliable alternative transport system for untapped areas along its route.

The PNR Luzon System includes the following component sections: PNR North 1 (Manila – Malolos) worth P10. 3 billion; PNR North 2 (Malolos-Clark), P211.4 billion; PNR South Railway Commuter (Manila-Los Baños), P124 billion; and the PNR South Railways Long-haul (Manila-Sorsogon), P175 billion.

The National Economic Development Authority said the ODA contract will be signed during President Xi’s November visit. High-level economic talks on the project between Chinese and Philippine economic and infrastructure managers were held in Beijing earlier this year.

Salceda said the PNR Luzon System’s 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.

It is seen to further boost Bicol’s tourism industry by as much as 30%, which forms part of the predicted 24% economic returns it will bring to the countryside when fully operational, Salceda added.

From Manila, its new railway tracks will traverse Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, Camarines Sur and Albay provinces before it reaches Matnog in Sorsogon. The Department of Transportation and the PNR, along with government housing agencies, have already signed last year a memorandum of agreement for a P54-billion relocation project for some 100,000 informal settler families who will be affected by the project.

The PNR Luzon system completes Albay’s multi-modal transport model — air, sea, road, and rails — and reaffirms the province’s role as Bicol’s regional hub and economic radiation center.

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