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P10-B cargo rail system gets go-ahead

Private proponents can start work on the P10-billion cargo rail system linking Manila’s ports to inland container facilities in Calamba, Laguna once they iron out three “minor items” which the government requested to be included in the project, MRail President and CEO Ferdinand G. Inacay told reporters yesterday.
MRail, a subsidiary of Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), has partnered with Enrique Razon Jr.’s International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) for the cargo rail project.

The former is shelling out P2.7 billion for the initial phase to cover the cost of 8 locomotives, 120 flat wagons, construction of the depots and tracks inside the ports.

However, the company needs to sort out three additional items – “not show-stoppers,” he noted, including the repair of the Philippine National Railways’ (PNR) railway tracks and bridges which are part of the 57-kilometer cargo rail system.

PNR owns the tracks and portions of the railway and the bridges need to be rehabilitated, the MRail President disclosed. However, he is confident that the issue will be addressed within one hundred days.

ICSTI operated the cargo trains transporting containers from the port of Manila to Laguna using PNR’s tracks from 1998 until it was discontinued in 2003.

Heeding importers’ and exporters’ call for efficient movement of goods, MRail submitted the railway cargo system project in 2015 to the previous administration. Unfortunately, they were caught in the election ban.

Late last year, MRail, in principle, entered into a Track Usage Agreement (TUA) with PNR to restore the connectivity between the south in Calamba and Port of Manila.

The agreement outlines the payment of Track Access Fees (TAF), train schedules, and the use of the railways and operating facilities as well as the manner of their maintenance, rehabilitation and development.

The railway cargo project will entail rehabilitating the existing PNR tracks, restoring the Tutuban to the Port of Manila tracks that traverse through the center of C.M. Recto Avenue and the construction of the stabling yard in Calamba for the container trains.

It will take two years to implement the project inasmuch as it takes 24 months before the trains could be delivered. Hence, if proponents start in the first quarter of 2017, the freight rail service can be operational by 2018.

This will ease port congestion in Manila and speed up the flow of cargoes into a central trans-shipment hub connected from the port, closer to inland destinations.

The railway cargo project has a huge potential, with over 200,000 companies engaged in exports and imports along its route.

It can boost the country’s competitiveness as the ASEAN region integrates, creating a seamless port to industrial zones and industrial zones to port cargo movement.

Significantly, MRail is also looking at other unsolicited PPPs, such as the Mindanao Rail project which will cater to both cargo and passengers. (E. Abadilla, mb)