PHILIPPINES: Ceremonies were held in Manila on February 15 to mark the start of work on the first phase of the North South Commuter Railway serving the capital’s northern suburbs.

Broadly following the alignment of PNR’s moribund Main Line North, the 37·6 km line will run north from the national railway’s main terminus at Tutuban to Malolos in the Bulacan district. The line is to be built by Sumitomo Mitsui Construction under a contract signed by the Department of Transportation on January 23. The 149bn peso project is being supported by Japan International Cooperation Agency, and Japanese ambassador Koji Haneda said during the groundbreaking ceremony that it solidified the ‘strong bilateral relations’ between the two countries.

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said the line would be completed by 2021. It will initially serve 10 stations at Tutuban, Solis, Caloocan, Valenzuela, Meycauayan, Marilao, Bocaue, Balagtas, Guiguinto, and Malolos, although earlier proposals envisaged up to 15. The contract includes construction of a new rolling stock depot at Valenzuela to accommodate the planned fleet of 13 eight-car trains.

With trains running at up to 120 km/h, the journey time between Manila and Bulacan is expected to be around 35 min, compared with almost 2 h on the congested road network. DOTr anticipates that the line will be carrying more than 300 000 passengers per day on opening, rising to 500 000 by 2023.

The NSCR is seen as the first stage of a planned 147 km north-south corridor with 37 stations, running across the conurbation from Clark International Airport to the north with the town of Calamba in Laguna province, southwest of the capital. Provisionally costed at around 780bn pesos, this ‘seamless’ commuter railway would be worked by a fleet of 58 eight-car trains, according to Under-Secretary of Transport Timothy Batan.

On the same day, DOTr invited tenders by May 10 for three civil works packages on the long-planned rail link between Malolos and Clark International Airport, which would form the northern section of the corridor. Running for 50·5 km with three stations, this phase is now to be elevated throughout. The three packages cover 17 km, 16 km and 12 km sections of viaduct with two, one and two stations respectively.

According to DOTr, the airport line would be completed by 2023. A future extension could add a further 18·2 km north of the airport to the Capas district.

At the southern end of the corridor, PNR is responsible for reconstructing and upgrading its Main Line South between Tutuban and Calamba as a separate project.

The government says interchange will be provided between the NSCR and other urban rail lines in the Manila area, including LRT1 and 2, MRT 3 and metro Line 7. It would also connect with the 25 km Metro Manila Subway (Line 9) linking Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City to Ninoy Aquino International Airport, on which construction is expected to start by the end of February.