MANILA, Philippines – After more than two decades and several feasibility studies, construction of the 830-kilometer Mindanao Railway Network will finally begin in 2018.
The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte – who is the first president from Mindanao – will start off with the commuter line from Tagum City in Davao del Norte to Digos City in Davao del Sur.
The big-ticket infrastructure project has seen 4 presidents come and go. Since its conceptualization in 1992, the much-needed railway network was either delayed or discontinued by the country's former chief executives.
Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had even created the Mindanao Railways Office under the transportation department, but it was abolished by her successor Benigno Aquino III.
When Duterte assumed the presidency a year ago, he announced the Mindanao Railway Network would be his first big project. (READ: Duterte: My first major project is a railway)
The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board on June 28 approved the P35.26-billion Mindanao Railway Project (MRP) Phase 1 Tagum-Davao-Digos Segment. The NEDA Board green light is the last hurdle before a government agency can implement an over P1-billion project.
"By 2nd quarter of 2018, we will finally start with the construction of the first leg of the Mindanao Railway," Transportation Undersecretary for Rails Cesar Chavez said on the sidelines of the Philippine Transport Forum in Pasig City on Monday, July 3.
This first phase of the 830-kilometer Mindanao Railway Project loop will be implemented by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) through local financing. This phase involves the establishment of a 102.28-kilometer commuter railway from Tagum City in Davao del Norte to Digos City in Davao del Sur.
"Between now and December, we are organizing the project management office. Former president Arroyo created it during her time for the Mindanao Railway and Davao and Cebu. We want to unbundle that and we are doing that right now," Chavez said.
He added that the government has readied the P6.5-billion budget for land acquisition and engineering for the Tagum-Davao-Digos segment.
"Now, we are doing the land acquisition. We need 340 hectares of property to cover the 103 kilometers. Mostly agricultural land. Substantially, it is clear how much this is. By 1st quarter of 2018, we will buy the land because the budget is [allocated] for next year," Chavez told reporters.
The railway project will connect key Mindanao cities including Davao, Zamboanga, Butuan, Surigao, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, and General Santos.
Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said the government is creating a Philippine Railway Institute, which will serve as a training center for staff of all public railways.
Tugade said his department is in talks with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to put up the institute.
"We are now trying to formulate the curriculum as we are trying to formulate the structures that will be in that institute," Tugade told reporters. – Rappler.com