Manila: Construction will start next month on a new 147-kilometre railway network, connecting Central and Southern Luzon, after the Philippines and Japan signed a loan agreement for the project.

The North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR) Extension Project in Luzon is the biggest project to be undertaken so far under the ‘Build, Build, Build’ government programme.

To be constructed at a total cost of P628.42 billion (Dh43.76 billion), it is one of the key railway infrastructure projects supported by Japan.

The Metro Manila Subway and the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 Rehabilitation programmes are other key projects.

Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said the project will benefit some 550,000 passengers daily when it goes into full operations by 2023.

The NSCR Project will be a giant leap in connectivity and mobility between Central Luzon in the north, Metro Manila in the centre, and the Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon (CALABARZON) Region in the south.

“The economic benefits of improved mobility for our commuters in this very large urban sprawl will far outweigh the total investment,” Dominguez said.

During the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, the Philippines restored its commuter railway service run by the Philippine National Railways (PNR).

The country had a railway service as far back as the Spanish colonial period during the 1800s. During the American commonwealth period during the early 1900s, Manila and its suburbs had the “Tranvia.”

In the period after that, the PNR had been a major connection between the Northern and Southern Luzon provinces. However, the construction of superhighways had left the rail service in a state of disrepair as more people opted to take buses.

With a booming populace and growing demand, the government revived the commuter rail service.

According to the Department of Transportation (DoTr), the NSCR Project will showcase top-grade Japanese railway technologies, including energy-efficient and reliable trains, platform screen doors, signalling, rolling stocks, flood resilience, and anti-seismic designs, among others.

“We are working closely with stakeholders in the Philippine transport system to boost the country’s competitiveness, and distribute growth to nearby areas outside Metro Manila,” said Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Southeast Asia and Pacific Department Director General Shigenori Ogawa who signed the loan agreement in behalf of the Government of Japan.

The construction of the north-south rail line aims to significantly reduce travel time through a safe, reliable, and convenient means of transport.

Through PNR Clark, commuters from Manila will reach Clark International Airport in the province of Pampanga in Central Luzon in less than one hour, less than half of the current travel time of two hours by private vehicle via expressway.

PNR Calamba in Laguna, meanwhile, will reduce travel time from three hours to just one hour from Manila to Calamba. The combined PNR Clark and PNR Calamba systems (a.k.a. the NSCR Project) are expected to benefit up to 350,000 passengers per day when partial operations begin in 2022.

Project construction is scheduled to begin this February with PNR Clark Phase 1.

With enhanced mobility and connectivity, more livelihood and business opportunities are poised to arise, spurring the development of growth