PHILIPPINES: Completion of the protracted Northrail project is at the heart of a five-year infrastructure investment package worth 565bn pesos unveiled by Transportation & Communications Secretary Mar Roxas on October 6.

Plans to build an 80 km standard gauge line from Caloocan, on the northern edge of the capital, to the Clark Air Force Base were first put forward in 2004 when a loan worth US$400m was agreed with China’s Import-Export Bank. However, difficulties in securing the alignment and changes to the scope of the design led to a series of delays and cost escalation which ultimately led to the suspension of work in 2008.

Although some civil works were undertaken the following year, the incoming Aquino government last year called another halt to investigate claims of irregularities in the original contracts agreed with China.

Announcing the revival of Northrail, Roxas said that some previous infrastructure projects ‘simply did not fit the standards of a sound deal, either by dint of corruption or technical fault. This time, we want to rewrite the lopsided contract to our mutual advantage. We are determined to get the biggest bang out of every peso spent.’

The Department of Transport & Communications expects the line to be completed in a single package rather than in two phases as previously planned. One major imperative is the need to move civilian flights to Clark, which would become the country’s main international aviation hub, relieving the congested Nino Aquino airport in Caloocan.

The investment package also calls for a number of extensions to lines 1 and 2 of Manila’s light rail network from Baclaran to Bacoor in Cavite City and from Santolan to Masinag in Antipolo district.