DOTr says 5-year halt in PNR operations cost-efficient, safer
MANILA, Philippines —In support of the North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR) project, Undersecretary for Railways Cesar Chavez of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) has defended the suspension of Philippine National Railways (PNR) operations.
Chavez noted that a study has revealed that the continuous running of PNR is the cause of delay for the NSCR — a system connecting Malolos, Bulacan to Manila and Manila to Calamba. He also mentioned that suspending PNR operations would be a cost-effective and secure approach for workers.
“In the spirit of transparency, we confirm that,” Chavez told House of Representatives Committee on transportation chair Rep. Romeo Acop on Thursday, when asked if PNR operations would stop. “Let me explain. We need to stop the operation of PNR if we want to finish this project. One of the causes of the delay for the South Commuter project and of Manila to Malolos is because of PNR’s continuous operations.”
“Second, there are utilities — the big reason why we are spending big in the previous administration is that we continuously operate PNR trains while the project is being constructed. A study said that we can save P15 billion by stopping the operation of the PNR so that you would not relocate utilities, and you would just construct rails at the center of the PNR line,” he added.
Unlike the PNR, which was built entirely on the ground, the NSCR will be built primarily on elevated structures.
Doing so means that electrical poles and other utilities may be impacted, but it saves the government money by reducing the need for right-of-way.
“As of now for example, the NGCP [National Grid Corporation of the Philippines] has 78 lines, 78 posts, erected right outside the PNR line,” Chavez said.
“If under the previous policy, we need to relocate that […] if you stop the operation, other posts you need to relocate, you would just need to reposition it or increase its height so that you can use the rail system,” he added, noting that it would no longer need to be transferred to an area near Laguna de bay.
If DOTr insists on constructing during train operations, Chavez said there is also a higher risk of falling debris.
Chavez said the suspension of the PNR operations would happen within the year, probably this coming summer season. However, he assured commuters that sufficient time would be allotted before the operations are suspended.
Based on their estimates, the suspension may last up to five years.
“We would stop the PNR operations in due time, and we will inform the public in due time about the operation’s stoppage within this year, possibly during this summer season,” Chavez said.
“Again, based on our experience now? Procurement of ROW (right-of-way) is two to three years. But construction is much faster, based on the experience of Ho Chi Minh, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia, Jakarta, including us, as long as you have the right of way, that’s three years,” he added.
But the DOTr executive clarified that train operations would be in a better state once the project is finished.
“So I think five years, but after five years, it would be more convenient — five years from now, we would have substantial completion, so it would be a more comfortable trip aboard an elevated, electrified, double track (rail system,” he added.
The NSCR project is seen to connect the provinces north of Luzon to areas south of it, through the PNR line. Last January, DOTr extended the target completion date for the depot of the trains, pushing it to June 2025 instead of October 2024.