By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
The government’s North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR) project, totaling 147 kilometers from New Clark City in Tarlac to Calamba in Laguna province, received a major boost with the approval of a $2.75-billion financing from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for the construction of the Malolos-Clark railway segment of the big-ticket project.
The 53.1-kilometer passenger railway project stretching from Malolos to the Clark ecozone down to Clark International Airport in Pampanga, and which includes a 1.9-kilometer extension connecting Solis and Blumentritt in Manila, will cut travel time from Metro Manila to Clark Airport in less than one hour by rail compared to the two-three hour travel by bus or car.
According to the Department of Transportation (DOTr), the Malolos-Clark railway – which represents ADB’s single largest infrastructure financing ever – can serve up to 342,000 passengers daily traveling from Manila to Clark and will ease the chronic congestion on existing national and local roads in Metro Manila that are along the railway’s route.
The project will support the construction of two sections, totaling 53.1 kilometers (km), of the North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR), a 163 km suburban railway network connecting the regional center of Clark in Central Luzon with Metro Manila and Calamba, Laguna.
The Malolos-Clark Railway Project comprises: (i) Malolos-Clark section (51.2 km) from Malolos to Clark and Clark International Airport, and (ii) Blumentritt extension (1.9 km) connecting Solis and Blumentritt stations in Metro Manila District I (City of Manila).
Both sections are part of the NSCR and extensions of the Tutuban-Solis-Malolos section financed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The NSCR will be completed during 2022-2025 as an integrated 163 km dedicated suburban passenger railway system comprising four sections: (i) Tutuban-Solis-Malolos, (ii) Malolos-Clark-Clark International Airport, (iii) Solis-Blumentritt-Calamba, and (iv) Clark-New Clark City.
Expected for completion by 2025, the entire NSCR project can accommodate up to one million passengers daily once fully operational.
Co-financing the Malolos-Clark Railway Project (MCRP) with up to $2 billion for the rolling stock and the railway systems is the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Transportation Undersecretary Timothy Batan said the entire NSCR line aimed to serve 700,000 passengers daily once fully operational.
“The North-South Commuter Railway System, or the combined and interoperable PNR Clark and PNR Calamba Projects, demonstrates the scale of what the DOTr, under the strong leadership of Secretary Tugade, is working triple, if not quadruple, time to deliver. It is indeed a most ambitious project that will usher in the Philippines’ ‘Golden Age of Infrastructure,’ and that will deliver our president’s promise of a more comfortable life to every Filipino,” Batan said.
In a study, JICA reported that as early as 2014, losses to the Philippine economy from road congestion in Metro Manila is estimated at $53.6 million per day.
The DOTr said the MCRP is one of the government’s numerous efforts to promote inclusive growth and improve transport and logistics services to underserved areas in the country.
The MCRP will provide a high standard suburban commuter rail from Malolos to Clark with the line commencing at the city of Malolos, passing through the town of Calumpit in the province of Bulacan; the towns of Apalit, Minalin, and Santo Tomas, and cities of San Fernando and Angeles and Mabalacat until the alignment reaches the Clark International Airport complex, all in Pampanga.
Aside from Pampanga, other areas in Central Luzon that will hugely benefit from the rail project include and Bulacan and cities in Metro Manila particularly Valenzuela, Caloocan and Manila due to enhanced connectivity resulting in lower transportation expenses, more productivity and lesser cost for products and goods. All these will lead to more investments which can accelerate economic growth and expansion while creating more jobs.
Among the industries that are expected to benefit from the construction of the MCRP include the real estate sector, with Central Luzon becoming more attractive to developers as property prices are expected to appreciate as a result. The tourism industry is also expected to receive a boost, with an upsurge in tourist arrivals recorded at 4.1 million in Central Luzon last year.
The government has embarked on an ambitious “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program composed of 75 flagship projects with a total required investment of $180 billion. This is also aimed at raising public spending on infrastructure from less than two percent a decade ago to seven percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2022.
The ADB noted that the “Build, Build, Build” program is aligned with the government’s National Spatial Strategy which seeks to “address wide income disparities across the country by connecting regions to markets and attracting more investments, generating jobs and spurring improved regional economic growth in a country that is already one of Southeast Asia’s fastest growing economies. The strategy aims to decongest Manila and cut poverty by ensuring the benefits of growth reach the marginalized.”