DOTC still eyeing rail-over-NLEx to improve access to Clark airport
A high-speed rail over the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), an existing toll road, remains one of the alternatives the Transportation Department is eyeing to make Clark in Pampanga the Philippines' main gateway

MANILA, Philippines – As the Philippine and Chinese governments deal with the scandal-driven and long-delayed Northrail project, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) is still eyeing alternatives to make the airport in Clark, Pampanga more accessible.

A high-speed rail over the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx), an existing toll road, remains one of the alternatives, a DOTC official said.

“We are undertaking a study on the airport express to connect Metro Manila to Clark through a high-speed rail, using the old PNR (Philippine National Railway) alignment or the NLEx alignment to connect Metro Manila to Clark,” explained DOTC undersecretary for planning Rene Limcaoco.

Most parts of the PNR alignment are currently the same tracks meant for the scuttled roll out of the Northrail project, which was hounded by legal and regulatory issues.

Several groups questioned the financial agreement for the Northrail project between former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the Chinese state-owned contractor Sinomach (previously called China National Machinery and Engineering Group or CNMEG).

The continuation of the Northrail project remains uncertain following heightened territorial dispute between the Philippines and China over areas in the South China Sea.

China has also called on the Philippine government to pay the US$500 million loan supposedly extended by China to Northrail following the Supreme Court decision handed down in March giving a lower court the go-signal to hear the case calling for the annulment of the allegedly overpriced contract.

Clark as main airport

The Northrail project is crucial in the planned transfer of the main international airport from the congested Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in capital Manila to Clark in central Luzon, a sprawling location ideal for the fast-growing aviation industry.

Former DOTC Secretary Mar Roxas has previously gave assurances that the Philippine government is pushing through with the development of the Northrail project in line with plans of making the Clark Airport as the country’s major gateway.

Roxas had said that a rail project is the “necessary ingredient” in making the former US aviation base the new gateway.

Clark is located around 80 kilometers from Metro Manila. Metro passengers taking budget airlines flights in Clark travel via buses or private cars that take the NLEx.

New passenger terminal

The surge in passenger traffic at the Clark International Airport (CIA) in Pamapanga is expected to hit 2.4 million each year starting 2013, Limacaoco said.
Speaking before the 38th Philippine Business Conference on October 10, Limcaoco said that the Clark airport is expected to handle up to 1.2 million by end of 2012.

“By 2013, it expects 2.4 million passengers per year,” he said, adding that passenger traffic may even hit 4.5 million by 2020.
The DOTC is assisting the Clark International Airport Corp. (CIAC) for its plan to construct a new passenger terminal by financing a feasibility study-worth P100 million-aimed at transforming the airport as the country’s main international airport, replacing the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) in Manila.
“Clark International Airport is being expanded to accommodate growth. We will be building an annex next to the terminal,” said Limcaoco. –