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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Big Calamba-Clark railway project is the quantum leap that PH needs

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” Failure to deliver the ROWs to the contractor on time will change the equation of the project. “

It is a game changer that the government must pursue at all costs. This 147-kilometer, $12-billion railway project that will extend from Calamba, Laguna province to Clark, Pampanga is what a modern economy needs.

The North South Commuter Rail (NSCR) project will act as the major link to the LRT/MRT-lines in Metro Manila and to the planned Metro Manila Subway. It is designed to improve connectivity by providing direct train services for passengers traveling from Calamba and Pampanga to Bonifacio Global City, Ortigas and Quezon City along the Metro Manila Subway.

It is expected to reduce travel time from Calamba, Laguna to Clark, Pampanga from the current 4.5 hours to just less than two hours, and serve 600,000 passengers daily on full operations.

Slated for partial operations by 2025 and full operation by March 2029, the NSCR project will give the Filipino riding public the same experience as the commuters of Hong Kong and Singapore.

The railway project will need a strong team to carry it to the finish line. At the helm of the project are Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary and former Philippine Airlines chief executive Jaime Bautista and Undersecretary Jeremy Regino.

They will need critical support from all sectors of the government to overcome challenges and make the ambitious NSCR project a reality. The project, which had several descriptions under previous administrations, had been shelved a number of times because of various issues.

For a while, it looked like the project would never take off the ground. But Bautista gained public attention when he boldly announced that the project was pushing through under the Marcos administration, and that his rail transportation team was determined to finish the project on time.

It’s all-systems-go now. Philippine National Railways (PNR), a DOTr-attached agency previously headed by Regino, has already stopped the operations of its aging Calamba-Alabang train service to give way to the start of construction work.

PNR has informed the public that its service in the National Capital Region will come to a temporary halt starting this month as construction work in the portion of the PNR line begins.

But the NSCR project will not be smooth sailing as in any major infrastructure jobs. Informal settlers and vested interests are posing serious roadblocks. The informal settlers will have to be relocated for two urgent reasons―they have built structures that have encroached on the railway and they will be exposed to risks if they stay along the railways once the construction goes into full gear.

They are the biggest hurdle to the speedy resolution of the acquisition of the rights-of-way (ROW) for the NSCR. Mr. Bautista is tasked with the responsibility to hand over the ROWs to the contractors of the project soonest. I have learned that close to 9,000 structures in the National Capital Region portion of the project alone—many of them illegal―may have to be demolished to give way to the project.

Most of these structures have housed informal settlers for decades. Many of them have been turned into business and commercial establishments. We can only imagine the resistance the project faces in such areas.  

Failure to deliver the ROWs to the contractor on time will change the equation of the project. The government will face the specter of losing billions of pesos due to the huge costs of delays in the implementation of the NSCR project and payments to contractors.

Mr. Bautista will need the whole-of-government approach to untangle the knot. Other line departments and his fellow Cabinet members like Department of Interior and Local Government Benhur Abalos, Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development Secretary Jose Rizalino Acuzar and Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Manuel Bonoan must lend a hand to resolve the issue.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has stressed this kind of collaboration. At a contract signing for the NSCR project, the President urged “all concerned agencies to address the potential challenges concerning the project’s right-of-way, such as the need for land acquisition and the relocation of utility poles along the area.”

The collaboration of other agencies, he says, is necessary “so that the affected properties are cleared in time for the start of the civil works” for the NSCR project.

The burden of ensuring this project is completed on time does not rest on Bautista’s shoulders alone. All concerned parties must do their share. The railway project is our shot at real economic progress.




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