Shooting for the stars? DOTr eyes Mindanao Railway partial opening in March 2022

The planned Mindanao Railway, one of President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign promises in 2016, is being eyed for partial operations starting March 2022.

Transportation Assistant Secretary Eymard Eje, the official on top of Mindanao projects, said the targeted partial operations would cover the Panabo and Carmen stations in Davao del Norte, which are part of the P82.9-billion Tagum-Davao-Digos segment of the railway project.

"Ang target partial operability natin sa ngayon, meron kami sa aming timeline, na March 2022.… Ito ay sa Panabo at Carmen. Ito ay aming tinitignan dahil ito ay napakagandang terrain, flat na flat at isang unat lang patungong Davao del Norte, sa Tagum," said Eje, after reporters pressed for the timeline of the much-delayed project.

(Our target partial operability for now, in our timeline, is March 2022. We are eyeing this in Panabo and Carmen. This is because we saw that these areas have a workable, flat terrain, leading to Tagum in Davao del Norte.)

With partial operations set for March 2022, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) has about one year to finalize the loan agreement with China, complete the detailed engineering design, and construct the initial train stations.

It is unclear if the target is achievable.

The Mindanao Railway will be funded through official development assistance from China. Eje explained that the loan process is quite different from the usual process with other countries, as the government needs to seal agreements with contractors first before the loan is approved.

The procurement process for a project management consultant is ongoing. Eje added that they are awaiting shortlisted bidders for the design-and-build contractor, which was what he also told BusinessWorld in August 2020.

Once the consultant and the contractor are selected, Eje said that is the time when loan negotiations would happen. After that, the detailed engineering design would be created, which will take about 3 to 6 months, according to Eje.

After the design is approved, construction can finally begin.

Eje did not give specific target dates for the loan signing and the actual construction. But he said they are "optimistic" that the loan agreement will be signed this year.

The transportation official also admitted that there have been delays in fulfilling requirements sought by China for the project.

"Masakit man pong tanggapin, nagkaro'n tayo ng delay. Ito lamang po ay dahil sa mga dokumentong nire-require sa atin ng ating counterparts," said Eje.

(It's hard to admit, but there are delays. The project is delayed because of the documents being required by our counterparts.)

Right-of-way acquisition for the project is in varying stages at the moment, but none of the areas needed have been fully acquired.

In 2019, the DOTr said the groundbreaking for the Mindanao Railway was supposed to happen in early 2020. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.

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