Philippines to expand railway network as key economic policy

30, Jan. 2019

MANILA, NNA – The Philippine government is pressing ahead with a plan, dismissed by critics as unrealistic, to expand the national railway network from just 77 kilometers currently to 1,900 km in as little as three years as a core plank of its economic stimulus policy.

The government plans to complete six of 10 railroad projects by June 2022, the end of the six-year term of President Rodrigo Duterte, and “partially” finish the other four, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) announced Monday.

The Duterte administration has been investing heavily in public infrastructure for the country to reach what it terms “the golden age of infrastructure.”

The budget department said the government is estimated to have increased its infrastructure spending to 6.2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2018, the highest since 1993.

Work has so far begun on three of the projects: the 22-kilometer MRT line 7, an extension of the 3.8-km LRT line 2, and the Common Station Project that would connect four major rail lines in Metro Manila. Construction for the remaining seven will begin this year.

DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade said the work on the Metro Manila Subway, the government’s biggest-ever infrastructure project, will begin in the first quarter of 2019 and will be “partially” completed by 2022.

The first-tranche of the subway is funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency worth 104.5 billion yen ($935 million). JICA has committed a total loan financing requirement of 573.7 billion yen ($5.3 billion) for the project, according to the Department of Finance.

A Japanese consortium including Oriental Consultants Global Co. and Tokyo Metro Co. won the 11 billion pesos ($209 million) contract for the construction of the first three stations of the subway.

“The target is the Filipinos will see, will hear and will feel the comfort of the first subway station before end of the term of the President,” Tugade told reporters Monday.

Rail transportation expert Rene Santiago says the government’s target is unattainable.

“That’s a lot of hot air: the best that could be done is 100 km, and that is being optimistic on rail projects on the implementation pipeline,” Santiago, president of Bellwether Advisory Services, told NNA.

“The network scale shouldn’t be the goal, since the Philippines is an archipelagic country where railway has a limited role” in congested urban areas, he added.

Still, the Philippines lags behind its southeast Asian peers in terms of rail infrastructure, Santiago noted.

“Our rail infrastructure will compare poorly - in scale and quality - to other Asian countries. It will remain so for years to come, until systemic and institutional issues are resolved,” he said.