Alvarez files bill creating national railway regulator
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has filed a bill that will consolidate the regulation of the country’s train systems into a proposed Philippine National Railway Authority and set up government corporations in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao to operate railways.
The bill will also require all railway operators to secure a legislative franchise from Congress before constructing and operating a system.
This was one of the proposals Alvarez earlier laid out as part of the “great reorganization of the government bureaucracy” that the House of Representatives plans to prioritize in the second year of the 17th Congress.
House Bill No. 6593 seeks to mandate the PNRA to “regulate all aspects of the Railway Corporations” that are presently operating and may be established in the future.
The current rail regulators — the Philippine National Railways (PNR), the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA), the Panay Railways, Inc., and the North Luzon Railway Corp. (Northrail) — would be abolished and absorbed into the PNRA under the bill.
The PNRA’s functions will include entering into contracts, acquiring real properties, fixing the schedule frequency and route of railway services, privatizing any part of the system with prior approval by Congress, formulating a master plan for a national system with environmental standards, and ordering the cessation of any related activity.
Construction of railway tracks and changes in structures and methodology will not be allowed “without the prior approval of the Authority.”
Its five-man board of directors will be headed by the Transportation secretary and composed of three general managers of the railway corporations and one private sector appointee.
The board, which will meet at least once a month, will be tasked with creating railway standards and drawing up rules on tariffs and fees, as well as security and safety.
The PNRA’s operations, meanwhile, will be run by an administrator, who should have recognized executive ability and competence in the field of transportation.
Three railway operators
The bill would also create three government corporations – the Luzon Railway Corp. (LRC), the Visayas Railway Corp. (VRC), and the Mindanao Railway Corp. (MRC) – to operate the systems in their respective island groups.
These companies would respectively be based in Clark in Pampanga province, somewhere in Panay island, and in Tagum City in Davao del Norte province. The government corporations would have a 50-year life span that could be renewed for another 50 years upon the president’s approval.
The corporations will have the power to exercise the right of eminent domain, borrow money and transact business, and construct public utilities and infrastructure.
Each corporation will have an authorized capital stock of P30 billion, with P6 billion being initially paid-up and the balance paid through continuing appropriations of at least P2 billion annually.
Each corporation will be headed by a seven-member board of directors chaired by the Transportation undersecretary and co-chaired by the Finance secretary.
The railway corporations would be exempted from “all taxes of any kind” by both national and local governments on its earnings and properties, as well as import duties on its railway materials, rolling stocks, spare parts and other supplies.
Each corporation would also be allowed to put up a power plant to ensure the continuous operation of the railways, as long as a cost-benefit analysis is done by PNRA first. PNRA would also be tasked to put up waste-to-energy plants in cooperation with local government units and the private sector.
Within three years of the bill’s enactment, PNRA will be required to identify the alignment of the National Railway System in consultation with the railway corporations.
The bill also lays down provisions regulating the construction of railways.
For one, project proponents will be required to provide access roads between lands crossed by the railway, and operators will have to put up fences if the need is determined by the PNRA.
Every railway line will also be required to have a maintenance group to ensure efficient operations, and PNRA will also have a railway safety or security officer to carry out inspections.
The bill also seeks to establish a Railway Training Center, which will issue license to train drivers. It also proposes a four-year baccalaureate course in the state-run University of the Philippines or the Polytechnic University of the Philippines to ensure the transfer of railway technology.
The railway system will be insured from natural and man-made disasters by the Government Service Insurance System.
Each passenger will also be covered by accident insurance of P200,000 in case of death or P100,000 in case of injury, to be adjusted every five years based for inflation.
Under the bill, only the Supreme Court can issue a temporary restraining order or an injunction to stop the implementation of “any contract or project” of PNRA.
Illegal entry and occupation of railway properties will be punishable with imprisonment of six months to two years or fined at least P10,000. Obstruction, meanwhile, will be penalized with imprisonment of two to three years.
Theft of railway property will be punished with imprisonment of six to 12 years or a P1-million fine or even both.
Exceeding authorized speed limits, failure to properly maintain the system, failure to comply with safety and sanitation regulations, or failure to maintain a maintenance and accident record will also be punishable with a fine of P100,000 to P500,000.
Besides Alvarez, the other authors of the 27-page bill are Reps. Rodolfo Fariñas, Cesar Sarmiento, Juan Pablo Bondoc, Emi Calixto-Rubiano, Renato Unico Jr., Juliet Marie Ferrer, Alfred Vargas, Bayani Fernando, Anna Katrina Enverga, and Winston Castelo.
The explanatory note blames the deficiencies in the country’s railway system on “regulatory chaos since there is no central authority regulating the Philippine railway system.”
It notes that the lack of any such system in Visayas and Mindanao have “hampered the potential for economic growth and development.” /atm
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