DARAGA, Albay – Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda said the recent signing of the design-build contract for the P142 billion Philippine National Railways (PNR) project signals the revival of the “Bicol Express” into a modern railways transport that is expected to “expand Bicolandia’s economic frontiers” and bring more jobs, economic opportunities, and cheaper goods to the region.
Salceda, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said the 380-kilometer PNR project forms part of a multi-modal, intermodal transport system – air, land, and sea – a vision he developed when he was chair of the Bicol Regional Development Council (RDC) for nine years until 2016.
“The vision was to connect the Bicol Region with not only the rest of the Philippines, but the rest of the world. That means making Albay the transshipment hub of South Luzon,” said Salceda, who also co-chairs the Economic Stimulus and Recovery Cluster of the House of Representatives.
He added that by having train facilities proximal to the Legazpi Sea Port and the Bicol International Airport (BIA) facilities will help make Albay 2nd district “the cargo and transport capital of South Luzon, and could cause an economic boom similar to what Clark is experiencing.”
The PNR project segment, which runs from Calamba City to this town, was signed last January 17 by Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade with representatives of the Joint Venture of China Railway Group Ltd., China Railway No. 3 Engineering Group Co., Ltd., and China Railway Engineering Consulting Group Co., Ltd. (CREC JV).
The contract signing, Salceda stressed “is a concrete development, that this is no longer just a dream but a real government funded priority.”
As Bicol RDC chair when he was Albay governor, Salceda pushed for a multi-modal transport system involving 1) Air transport with the BIA; 2) Rail transport with PNR Bicol; 3) Road transport with the Quezon-Bicol Expressway or QuBEx and TR-5 Matnog-Allen Bridge, and; 4) Sea transport through the transformation of Pantao Port in nearby Libon town into a Bicol Regional Port.
“Rail is still the cheapest form of cargo transport. So, if you can do long-haul trips with PNR, connect it with BIA and Bicol’s ports, you can transport goods to and from Bicol, to and from anywhere in the world,” he explained.
“That means well for our export industries, as well as for prices of goods in the region, since we observed this year that inter-connectivity almost always correlates with lower inflation,” he added.
The PNR project will cut travel time between Metro Manila and Bicol from 12 hours by road presently, to as brief as four hours. Passenger trains run at a speed of up to 160 kilometers per hour, while freight trains travel up to 100 kph.
The contract covers the design, construction, and electromechanical works for the railways tracks from Banlic, Calamba City to Daraga, Albay. It will involve the construction of 23 stations, 230 bridges, 10 passenger tunnels, and a 70-hectare depot in San Pablo, Laguna, based on a DOTr release.
Once fully operational, the PNR will further benefit Bicol’s trade and tourism by as much as 30% which forms part of the predicted 24% economic returns it will bring to the countryside. It is expected to generate more than 5,000 direct jobs per year.
Salceda added that his district is now also preparing for trade and tourist through infrastructure programs that complement the railway project. Daraga recently broke ground for the construction of the Daraga Integrated Market, Commercial and Transport Complex (IMCT) at Barangay Kimantong.
The major train station is just a kilometer away from the BIA terminal. Salceda also envisions this air-rail transport hub in Daraga to link through an Intermodal Road System to the ports of Legazpi, Donsol, Castilla, Pioduran and Pantao and to AH 26 (Pan Philippine Highway).
In anticipation of the rail project and the airport project completion, Salceda has worked out funding from the DPWH for an Intermodal Road System which has been implemented since 2018. “Once all these projects are completed, Metropolitan Legazpi, including Daraga, will cement its position as the economic heart of South Luzon,” Salceda emphasized.