Amid spiraling fuel prices, trains are a great alternative to road-based, gas-powered transportation. But even setting aside the issue of oil price hikes, a modernized and reliable railway system is an efficient, fast, and cost-effective mode of mass transportation.
Prior to World War II, our rail transportation spanned 1,100 kilometers. The Philippine National Railways (PNR) used to run from La Union to Bicol, linking the north and south provinces of Luzon. In 2016, however, we only had about 77 kilometers of rail routes left. What was left would oftentimes be a bane rather than a boon due to frequent technical glitches and other service interruptions. As Asian megacities were developing their rail systems, ours was on the decline.
According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), our lack of rail infrastructure has increased pressure on road transport, which carries about 98 percent of passenger traffic and 55 percent of freight in the country. Consequently, this led to road congestion especially within Metro Manila.
As part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” program, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) under the leadership of Secretary Arthur Tugade has been working non-stop to transform the country’s transportation system into one that will provide better mobility and connectivity across all regions.
In a span of six years, the DOTr reported 1,200 kilometers of completed and ongoing railway projects. This includes the completion of the Light Rail Transit Line 2 (LRT-2) East Extension, benefitting commuters from Manila to Antipolo and vice versa; and the ongoing construction of the Metro Rail Transit Line-7 (MRT-7), which will run from North Avenue Station to San Jose Del Monte in Bulacan and will cut travel time from two-three hours to just 35 minutes; the Metro Manila Subway, the country’s first-ever underground mass transport system that will stretch across 36-kilometers from Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City to NAIA Terminal 3 in Pasay City; and the Common Station, a 13,700-sqm. concourse area that will connect MRT-3, MRT-7, LRT-1 and the Metro Manila Subway. These three ongoing projects are set to be partially operational this year.
Meanwhile, the massive rehabilitation of MRT-3 has been completed last March. There are now 22 operational trains with operating speed of 60 kilometers per hour (from the previous 25 kph). Train interval was reduced to 3.5 minutes from the previous 8-10 minutes, while ridership capacity was expanded from 200,000 to 600,000 passengers per day.
Other ongoing rail projects include the PNR Clark Phase 1, the PNR Bicol, and the Mindanao Railways. These three are seen to have partial operability by 2025.
The PNR Clark Phase 1 will connect Tutuban, Manila to Malolos, Bulacan, reducing travel time from approximately one hour and 30 minutes to just 35 minutes. This is part of the North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR) Project, which also includes the PNR Clark Phase 2 that will connect Malolos, Bulacan to Clark International Airport; and the PNR Calamba that will run from Solis, Manila to Calamba, Laguna.
According to the ADB, PNR Clark Phase 2 alone is expected to create 23,900 construction jobs. Moreover, with the expected switch from private vehicles to rail transport, the project is also seen to contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 60,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent annually.
Our railway system has greatly improved in the last six years, thanks to the strong political will and commitment of the Duterte administration. In the years to come, with the commitment of the incoming administration to continue these projects, we will feel and reap the economic benefits of a reliable, safe, efficient, and seamless rail transit system that will provide more sustainable transportation, reduce travel time, and allow greater connectivity between provinces and regions.