Recognizing the detrimental effects of an inefficient public transport system, Vice President Jejomar Binay on Wednesday said the next President of the Philippines should make a priority the repair and rehabilitation of the country’s railway systems.
According to Binay, the Philippine National Railways (PNR) should be revitalized so that people from the provinces of Quezon and Laguna and the Bicol Region can again avail of the service.
“[Let’s suport the rehabilitation of the PNR]. It is just unfortunate that after a hundred years, the national railways have degenerated. From 1,300 kilometers, it has shrunk to 28 kilometers,” he said.
“This 28-kilometer track between Tutuban [in Manila’s Divisoria area]and Alabang [in Muntinlupa City in Metro Manila]pales in comparison with countries that have long found the economic and social benefits of the railways,” the Vice President added.
Binay noted that the world’s most developed nations all have a traditional railway system: the United States has 224,792 kilometers and China has 112,000 kilometers.
“Transport continues to play an important role in enabling economic development and poverty reduction. We plan to revive the Manila-Bicol line gradually, first starting with the Alabang-Calamba line, then Calamba to Matnog,” he said.
Calamba City is in Laguna and Matnog is in Sorsogon in the Bicol Region.
Binay said the return of the “Bicol Express” would be good for the tourism industry, and that this approach could be adopted by other provinces to boost local tourism.
“We will restructure the corporation financially to isolate the financial problems inherited from the past, and organizationally, to address a renewed PNR toward a sustainable railways system with a regular formal evaluation versus performance standards over an agreed control period,” he added.
The Vice President cited a need to appoint a competent manager to take charge of PNR, whose priority task should be to check the deteriorating infrastructure and rolling stock, and implement a regular maintenance check.
“The new manager should also be tasked with negotiating for a bigger budget for the PNR to improve its services and facilities, while the national government, through the Finance department, can look for concessional loans to help the PNR with its bigger financing requirements,” he said.
Meanwhile, pointing to various problems encountered by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), Binay said his administration might consider splitting the department into two: one will focus solely on transportation and the other on communications.
“The MRT [Metro Rail Transit] 3 is in a sorry state, with regularly stalled operations, lack of coaches and slow run time resulting in a loss of productivity,” he noted.
“Add to that the danger to the lives of Filipino commuters due to the dilapidated trains and unbearably long lines, and it is a foregone conclusion that the next President must prioritize fixing the railways to ease the suffering of our people,” the Vice President said.
According to Binay, ordering a new public bidding for a new maintenance contractor for MRT 3, suspending all officials liable for the line’s failures and initiating talks with private shareholders Metro Rail Transit Corp. on cooperating for better services would be among immediate measures that his administration can take.
The Vice President said construction of a subway line running through the length of Edsa could also serve as a flagship infrastructure project.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has recommended a subway as part of its year-long study on mass-transportation requirements of Metro Manila.
According to JICA, building the subway is the best solution to the longstanding issues of traffic congestion and overcapacity of MRT 3.
It estimated that even if the capacity of MRT 3 is enhanced, this could only boost potential ridership by 20 percent.
On the other hand, underground heavy rails are designed to carry more passengers at a faster throughput than a light rail, monorail or even a fast-moving highway.
“The project is doable within a six-year time frame and can be built while keeping the operations of MRT Line 3 intact and ongoing,” Binay said.
He added that if built and completed, this would be the first subway line for the country with a proposed length of 75 kilometers.
It will connect San Jose del Monte, Bulacan in the north, traversing the central business districts of Cubao, Ortigas, Makati, Fort Bonifacio and Alabang, and is expected to end in the southern town of Dasmarinas, Cavite.
The Vice President outlined plans for the Light Rail Transit 1 and LRT 2 lines, also noting the need to fast-track the extension of the lines.
The government can initiate talks with other countries for possible concessional loans for the funding of the project, Binay said.
He underlined the need for the Secretary of Transportation to be a civil engineer to ensure that he or she understands the scientific and engineering aspects of all the projects that have to be supervised and fast-tracked.