Revival of Manila-Bicol rail link a gov’t priority, solons say
LIGAO CITY, Albay, Philippines — The “Bicol Express” may leave the station, after all.
Ako Bicol Rep. Elizaldy Co, chair of the House committee on appropriations, on Monday said the Philippine National Railways (PNR) project for long-haul rail trips to Bicol region would soon be revived as the national government started renegotiating with the Chinese government for its resumption despite the earlier cancellation of a P147-billion loan.
“Since there is an economic [rebound], there is a very huge chance that [President Marcos] will push through with the project even though he lost in Bicol during [the 2022 national] elections. For him, there’s no politics; if that’s for the betterment of the lives of Filipinos and if the PNR project will materialize, it will easily connect the provinces [in] Luzon and the Visayas,” he said.
Co said once the trains start running again between Metro Manila and Bicol, the trip from Legazpi City in Albay to the national capital would be significantly shortened from the usual 12 hours that the buses take.
He said the resumption of the operation of the PNR’s Manila-Bicol route “would boost economic activities like tourism, agriculture and many more.”Co said he had followed up with President Marcos the status of the negotiations for the PNR project and was told that it was one of the topics discussed with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the President’s recent visit to China.
The PNR stopped train operations along the Manila-Bicol route in 2014 due to rail damage caused by typhoons, right-of-way issues and lack of coaches.Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said the Marcos administration was serious about pursuing the PNR South Long-Haul project.
Salceda said he was assured that the project was a priority of Mr. Marcos as soon as Secretary Jaime Bautista was appointed by the President to head the Department of Transportation.
“I appealed to [Finance] Secretary [Benjamin] Diokno to reverse the withdrawal made by the past administration. The interest rates negotiated then, at around 3 percent, would have been very attractive now given higher global interest rates,” Salceda told Inquirer in a chat message Tuesday.
At a recent briefing, Bautista said the Department of Finance wrote to China Eximbank in December, signaling they were “ready to reopen the discussion for the loans” for the project.
The project’s first package, worth P142 billion, links Calamba City, Laguna, to Daraga, Albay, via a 380-kilometer railway
The PNR Bicol project, along with the Subic-Clark Railway Project and Mindanao Railway Project, was supposed to be funded by China before the Duterte administration scrapped the funding plan due to the inaction of the Chinese state bank.
Salceda said Mr. Marcos’ discussion with Xi about the project should help stress its urgency.
“Of course, other financing options are available but the loan from China is the fastest avenue since the preproject stages have already been completed. The moment the loan proceeds are received, we can award the project and lay the rails,” he said.
The PNR South Long-Haul project, Salceda said, is part of a series of multimodal big-ticket projects to make Bicol a more convenient gateway to the Visayas and Mindanao.
Bicol has an international airport in Daraga and ports operating in Legazpi and Pantao, all in Albay. The region will also be linked by the 417-km Quezon-Bicol Expressway (South Luzon Expressway Toll Road 5).