By Johnny C. Nunez
LEGAZPI CITY, April 9 (PNA) — Albay, together with whole Bicol Region, gets a big boost from Ayala Corp.’s expressed interest in the Php 170.7-billion Philippine Railways South Line project, which would cut travel time from Manila to this city by 5 to 6 hours, and pave the way for more investments into the area.
The proposed 653-kilometer South Railways project was approved by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) board chaired by President Aquino last Feb. 16 under the public-private partnership (PPP) scheme.
Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, who chairs the Bicol Regional Development Council (RDC), said the South Railways was among the most monumental development projects of the Aquino administration and seen to unlock the huge potential of Bicol, particularly that of Albay, the regional center and hub.
Philippine conglomerate Ayala Corp.’s infrastructure unit recently said it intended to bid for the Php 170.7 billion (USD 3.8 billion) government railway project and had started talks with potential partners.
A report said AC Infrastructure Holdings Corp. had not identified its potential partners and the government has yet to set a specific date for the tender, which it said would likely be within the year.
Salceda, who also chairs the Luzon Area Development Coordinating Council, has been “working relentlessly with the PPP Center, Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), NEDA and Philippine National Railways to ensure the South Railway Project will be prioritized.”
The South Railways line will compliment the Bicol International Airport (BIA) in Daraga town, which is targeted to be completed and operational in two years time. The BIA and South Railways transport was a package that should attract a deluge of private investment into Albay, and the whole of the Bicol Region, said Salceda.
“By this, our ‘Albay Boom’ economic battle cry will surely now be realized,” he said. The South Railways line is a component of the North-South Railway master plan; the North-South Commuter Railway project, estimated at Php 117.3 billion; and the Php 170-billion North-South Railway Project.
“To us, it is the most interesting, one out of those big ticket projects. If and when that is bid out, it is something that we would like to take a serious look at,” said AC Infrastructure President John Eric Francia in a recent news conference.
The project involves rehabilitating the old railway line between Manila and Albay and adding new lines in between and to other adjacent areas. The Philippines, Asia’s second fastest growing nation, has so far awarded nine projects worth Php 130 billion since it launched the PPP scheme in 2010.
Salceda said the construction of the South Railways line had long been awaited in Luzon, and was expected to further boost economic development of the Bicol Region, Albay most particularly, which has a lot of potentials to offer.
He said he had repeatedly “reiterated his position that the Manila-Bicol railway is critical to development as it promotes rural tourism, empowers Bicol labor to compete in the labor markets of Metro Manila and elsewhere in Luzon, and provides a multi-modal transport means for bringing agricultural products and manufactured goods of Bicol to the rest of Luzon.” (PNA)