LEGAZPI CITY: Gov. Joey Salceda of Albay believes the P171-billion South Line of the country’s North-South Railways System will give a 24-percent economic return to countryside development in Bicol and Southern Luzon.
The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) recently started the bidding process for the 653-kilometer rail line that will connect Manila and Albay’s capital, Legazpi City. Formerly known as the Bicol Express, the link is the oldest rail system in Southeast Asia.
Salceda said the South Rail Project, which he pushed hard in the past three years to become a reality, stands out presently as the biggest single project investment in countryside in Philippine history. It is seen to offer massive growth opportunities for Bicol, particularly Albay, the regional center and hub.
The South Rail Line is Salceda’s pet project, coursed through the Bicol Regional Development Council (RDC) and the Luzon Regional Development Committee (RDCom), which he has chaired for nine years and six years now, respectively. It was approved by the Cabinet on February 15, 2015 after many consultations with DOTC, the National Economic Development Authority and the Public-Private Partnership Center.
Salceda is elated that the project now is nearing implementation stage “finally after three years of pushing hard by RDC V and Luzon RDCom. This is the biggest investment by the central government in countryside development,” he noted.
“I am privileged as RDC and Luzon RDCom chair to have contributed to this game changer infrastructure for countryside development,” he said. The RDCom has endorsed the South Rail project during its recent meeting in Legazpi City, before the publication of the prequalification and bidding invitations.
Also respected economist, Salceda said based on market soundings, Ayala, Metro Pacific and San Miguel Infrastructure have expressed strong intents to participate in the bidding. The project is also the government’s most monumental PPP project yet.
The South Rail project is expected to unlock the huge potentials of Bicol, particularly of Albay, the regional center and hub. It completes the multi-modal transport model – air, sea, road and rails – for Albay. At the proposed fare rate of P1,300 per passenger, it will provide reliable, comfortable and affordable transport system for commuters between Manila and Bicol, particularly students, workers, traders and vacationists.
Aside from travel convenience, Salceda said the project will also boost and expand attractions with the fascinating rural and green Bicol scenery starting from Sipocot town in Camarines Sur, and in Naga City where Mayon starts to become visible, down to Albay where the volcano’s majestic splendor grows even more enchanting, viewed from Pulangui town up to Legazpi City.
It will also “expand trade and open more investment opportunities that will make both agricultural and processed products more competitive in the central markets of Divisoria, bringing in the needed inputs to our industries, and basic commodities to our households,” he added.
Shorter travel time
In economic parlance, Salceda said, “this massive transport investment will shift the supply curve to the right and would, therefore, provide contestability of the transport markets going to Bicol and the countryside.” The project is expected to cut the 10-12 hours travel time to the Bicol region by half.
“It will provide an ideal transport system when rains are heavy, and an alternative to air flights or during flooding or traffic in the Bicol River Basin, aside from shortening travel time between Manila and Bicol,” he noted.
The DOTC explained that with seven train sets that would pass through 66 stations in 10 daily trips, the 653-kilometer railway system will ferry around 316,000 passengers per day on its opening in 2020.
The Bicol International Airport, which Salceda also strongly and worked hard for through the RDC and the Luzon Area Development Coordinating Council (LADDC), is scheduled for completion in 2017. The governor has chaired the LADCC for three years now.