LEGAZPI CITY: Conglomerates San Miguel Corp. (SMC), Ayala Corp., and Metro Pacific Investments Corp. are interested in the P177-billion rehabilitation of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) as a public-private partnership project, Albay Gov. Joey Sarte Salceda said.
The PNR modernization program covers the rehabilitation of the 653-kilometer railway from Tutuban in Manila to Legazpi, and on to Sorsogon.
The governor said Ayala is eyeing to partner with Metro Pacific on the project, and that he personally discussed the matter with SMC President and COO Ramon S. Ang.
Salceda, who chairs the Regional Development Council, wants the PNR rehabilitation to push through and resurrect the Bicol Express, noting that the Department of Transportation and Communication is ready to auction off the project.
The southbound PNR to Legazpi has been damaged since Typhoon Reming barreled through the region in November 2006.
But leaders from the region want to block the DOTC initiative, saying it would only be a waste of taxpayers’ money in its present form.
In a recent Senate hearing, civic leader Melvin SJ del Puerto of Naga City told the Sub-committee D of the Senate committee on public services, chaired by Senator JV Ejercito, the PNR modernization plan has to be revised.
Del Puerto said the rehabilitation plant would not bring significant long-term benefits, as the money will be used merely to repair and refurbish the outdated and slow-moving trains that run on narrow gauge railroad tracks.
Instead, the money should be used to really modernize the PNR by acquiring high-speed trains that run on standard gauge railways, according to the civic leader who was invited by the Senate sub-committee as a resource person.
The modernization and rehabilitation of the PNR must be repurposed to provide shorter travel time and durable and reliable train coaches.
The travel time from Manila to Naga City is at least 12 hours, and 15 to 17 hours to Legazpi City.
In another interview with the Naga City-based Bicol Mail, Del Puerto said the shift towards the standard gauge on the latest trains could cut the travel time by 50 percent.
Of the narrow gauge trains now being used by the PNR, only four units are deemed repairable to service the Manila-to-Bicol route, he said, noting that the constant repairs alone would cost the government so much money.
Such a situation practically renders the narrow gauge trains unfit and unreliable to service the 653-kilometer route.
Del Puerto said the DOTC and the National Economic Development Authority should refrain from bidding the P177-billion modernization plan until his recommendations have been considered and included in the program.