The Philippines is probably one of the few countries in Asia with the least developed railway system. Its elevated rail tracks in Metro Manila are the most visible, but neglect and poor management have resulted in poor service much to the chagrin of Filipino commuters.
The rails operated by state-owned Philippine National Railways are worse and, in essence, reflect the sad state of infrastructure in the country.
Thailand, in contrast, puts a premium on the train system.Bangkok has made rail development and construction its top transport priority. The Thai government wants to double the country’s tracks and modernize the 120-year-old railway networks by increasing the existing 4,000 kilometers of rail infrastructure to 10,000 kilometers over the next decade.
Thailand is expanding Bangkok’s rail mass transit systems, with plans to build 10 new lines, two of which have already been completed. Plans are also afoot to expand the rail transit systems in Thailand’s other big cities and towns.
Thailand has tapped the private sector and foreign investors as well to undertake the ambitious infrastructure plan. It does not matter if the partners of the government are private sector consortia with tie-ups with Chinese, Japanese or European companies. Bangkok goes out of its way to make sure the playing field for investment is level and free from political shenanigans that could cause debilitating delays in project implementation.
The government of President Rodrigo Duterte
is not wanting of an infrastructure program, anchored on a genuine private sector-government partnership and a catchy “Build, Build, Build” slogan.
President Duterte envisions to spend some P8 trillion to build high-impact infrastructure projects to boost economic growth. The projects include new roads and mass transport systems aimed at solving the country’s traffic problems and unlocking the Philippines’ growth potential.
Conglomerate Metro Pacific Investments Corp. is one of the Philippine companies that have responded to the partnership call of the government. It has just submitted an unsolicited proposal for a joint venture with the Bases Conversion Development Authority and Clark International Airport Corp. for the expansion, operations and maintenance of Clark airport. The proposal includes the development, operations and maintenance of express rail services from Buendia Ave, Makati to Clark, or CRK.
Metro Pacific plans to build the commuter railway infrastructure on the alignment of PNR and incorporate a new express railway service between Makati (Buendia) and CRK, along an existing PNR alignment, which will enable travelers to reach CRK from Makati within one hour at an average speed of about 107 kilometers per hour.
The proposed express railway service will complement the current plans of the government to develop commuter services from Tutuban, Manila to Malolos, Bulacan, and eventually to CRK, using the PNR alignment through the payment of track access charges.
Dual airport system
Metro Pacific’s proposal will enable BCDA and CIAC to develop CRK into a complementary dual airport system with Ninoy Aquino International Airport, thereby solving the growing air traffic congestion in the capital region.
Developing a modern linkage from Makati to CRK makes sense. It is the most doable, cost-effective solution to address the growing air traffic in all four international airports currently servicing Metro Manila. CRK, in addition, provides maximum capacity to serve the predicted air traffic demand for the next 30 years with no constraints.
It has a flexible and modular airport layout that can accommodate up to approximately 115 million passengers a year, according to aviation experts.
Metro Pacific’s joint venture proposal, meanwhile, will not require any financial contribution from the BCDA and CIAC. The company plans to finance the estimated total cost P336.6 billion for the entire project through internal sources and loans from banking institutions.
The proposed project mirrors the plan of Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade to ease air traffic at the Naia through the transfer of several domestic and international flights to CRK, and the establishment of a train connection from Makati to CRK in Pampanga,
New Clark City
Tugade’s fixation on CRK is understandable given his department’s thrust to lead in efforts to decongest Metro Manila by being the first government office to move its main office to the former US air base in Pampanga.
BCDA president Vince Dizon
said other government agencies were also expected to eventually transfer to Clark, specifically to New Clark City, in the coming years. New Clark City holds much economic growth potential, and is envisioned to be a smart, green city that will rise on 9,450 hectares.
The government is ostensibly hoping to make New Clark City more viable by, among other things, improving access to it and encouraging more use of the CRK.
The planned PNR North Railway, meanwhile, is expected to cut travel time from Manila to Clark to 55 minutes. Another train project, the Subic-Clark Cargo Railway, will make it easier to transfer goods to Clark.
The Philippines is the only country in Asia which still does not have an airport express train service that runs from its main international airport and connects to the commuter or main railway system, and eventually to the premier business districts in the cty.
Major cities such as Hong Kong, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok and Jakarta now have these linkages, providing world-class services to both visitors and residents of these cities.
Metro Pacific’s proposal is an opportunity for the Philippines to soon join these countries in the march to modernize its intermodal transport system.
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