Photo: Wikimedia/PhilippineRailways

PNR’s existing Main Line South between Manila and Legaspi is largely moribund, although a limited suburban service operates to the south of the capital.

PHILIPPINES: A consortium of Chinese companies has been awarded a 142bn pesos contract to build the first 380 km of the so-called PNR Bicol line, replacing Philippines National Railway’s moribund Main Line South, the Department of Transportation announced on January 19.

Tendering for the South Long Haul Project began in 2015, with the government inviting bids for a 34-year, 171bn peso PPP concession to reconstruct the 479 km, 1 067 mm gauge Main Line South between Manila and Legaspi, which had been out of use since 2014.

Under the design-and-build contract signed by Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, a joint venture of China Railway Group, China Railway No 3 Engineering Group and China Railway Engineering Consulting Group will deliver the civil and E&M works for a replacement 1 435 mm gauge line linking Banlic, near Calamba to the south of Manila, with Daraga in Albay province. The consortium had been selected as preferred bidder in November.

The project is to be funded using official development assistance, with the Chinese government expected to provide up to 85% of the financing and the remainder to be covered by the national budget.

The 380 km first phase will run through 39 cities and municipalities in four provinces and two regions. The package includes the construction of 23 stations, 230 bridges and 10 tunnels. There will be a 70 ha depot complex at San Pablo, Laguna, around 40 km south of Banlic.

The railway is to be designed for passenger trains to operate at up to 160 km/h and freight trains at 100 km/h. This is expected to cut journey times between the Manila metropolitan region and Bicol from 12 h by road to around 4 h by rail.

A second phase of the PNR Bicol programme would complete a 565 km rail corridor linking Manila with Matnog, serving the southern Luzon provinces of Sorsogon and Batangas.

‘For our kababayans in the south who have dreamt of this project for so long, we are finally seeing the light of day’, Tugade told local media. ‘This milestone is a huge leap towards realising this long-awaited project. We are grateful to our development partners from China for supporting us in this endeavour.’

‘We welcome this development full of enthusiasm, as we will be working with rail experts known for their efficiency and speed in building long haul railways’, added PNR General Manager Junn Magno.

In October 2019 PNR ordered three DMUs from CRRC Zhuzhou Locomotive to operate long-distance services on a rehabilitated section of Main Line South between Calamba and Naga City. The three-car sets were due to be delivered by mid-2021, but PNR cancelled the 921m peso contract in February 2021, after the Audit Commission found that it did not meet procurement regulations. Magno said the rolling stock would be retendered.