P175B China development aid to revive PNR’s Bicol Express

NEW RAILS, NEW WAGONS. USec Cesar Chavez presents the national government’s reconstruction plan for the PNR’s Bicol Express during a forum held at Avenue Plaza Hotel in Naga City. JUAN ESCANDOR JR.

By Juan Escandor Jr. NAGA CITY---With China providing the overseas development aid through P175-B loan, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) will revive the operation of the Philippine National Railway’s Bicol Express through reconstruction of the new railway system from Manila to Bicol, according to a government executive Friday last week. Undersecretary for Rails Cesar Chavez said: “It is not a rehabilitation. It will be a reconstruction. Everything will be new. New railways. New train wagons. New stations. New modalities.” Chavez, who was the resource person in the Bicol Express Modernization Forum held here last October 20, said the revived Bicol Express will take six hours to reach Bicol from Manila with a design speed of 120km/hour and operational speed of P80km/hour. With a timetable from 2018-2022, he said the reconstruction of the new railway system will be undertaken through the Chinese general consultancy services while the determination of the firms to undertake the actual construction is still under negotiations. Chavez said China and the Philippines is set to sign the loan agreement of P175B payable in 20 years at 2 percent interest per annum on Nov. 16-17 at the time of the Asean meeting in Manila. He said there will be 35 train stations from Paco in Manila to Matnog town in Sorsogon, stretching 683 km of newly constructed railways following international standards. But for the Bicol Express he enumerated the nine train stations to be constructed as Paco, FTI, Los Baños, Lucena, Gumaca, Pili/Naga, Legazpi/Camalig, Sorsogon City and Matnog. Chavez said China will bring in and transfer technology and operational expertise to Filipino engineers and operators while utilizing Chinese consultants and contractors. Filipino engineers are to be responsible for the maintenance and operation, he said. Chavez said the Chinese government has agreed to start the reconstruction of the new railway system for the PNR’s Bicol Express after the national government has done with the right-of-way aspect of the trunk line from Manila to Sorsogon. He said by the third quarter of 2018 they target to complete 50 percent of the right-of-way aspect involving payment and relocation of settlers occupying spaces within the 15-meter trunk line from Manila to Matnog. Depending on the situation, Chavez said, the reconstruction of the railway system may utilize the same alignment of the previous railway system of the PNR but whenever practical and necessary a new alignment for the railways will be established. He warned the occupants within the 15-meter right-of-way of the PNR that after due process the DOTr would implement demolition of structures. From Manila to Malolos in Bulacan alone some 443 structures are for demolition, he added. Chavez said from Paco to Matnog about 100,000 families will be affected by the reconstruction of the PNR railways of the Bicol Express of which 60,000 families have to be relocated from Pagbilao, Quezon to Legazpi City in Albay province. He said they have outlined two strategies to hasten the relocation of families living within the railways which include the mobilization of the local government units or the national line agencies. Chavez said P45B of the project cost will be spent for the resettlement of affected families living within the trunk line while some P9B for land acquisition for the new alignment of the railways. He said the civil works will cost P102.72B; station development and depot, P1.4B; electrical and mechanical system, P4.08B; rolling stock (trains), P11.60B; machinery and equipment, P1.37B; and pre-operating expenses, P400M. Though elated by the news of the revival of the Bicol Express with the reconstruction of the railways going to Bicol, businessman Aping Olivan could only believe the good news if it is already in operation. “There are so much opportunities for business and trade but we must first wait and see. Presidents have come and gone and the talks about the revival of the train operation is always raised but not achieved,” Olivan said. Vic Nierva, an environmental activist, expressed doubts about what Chavez has presented to the forum. “I have mixed feelings and reactions towards what took place at the Bicol Express Modernization Forum. Honestly, aside from the picture of a perspective of a DMU, nothing was new in the presentation of DoTr Usec. Chavez,” Nierva posted in his Facebook page. He wrote: “Year after year since the time of Pres. Ramos, we have been presented with the same plans. We have been loaning billions from other countries. We have been rehabilitating the railroad. Yet, we continue to experience the same problems in our railway system.” He said there were no evaluations or assessment about whatever happened to previous (rehabilitation projects).