By Chino S. Leyco
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced yesterday the approval of its largest infrastructure financing project in history that will fund the construction of a passenger railway system connecting Malolos, Bulacan and Clark, Pampanga.
In a statement, the multi-lateral institution said that it will provide a financing of up to $2.75 billion for the development of a 53.1 kilometer railway in the suburb north of Manila, which would connect the area to Clark economic zone and Clark International Airport.
The Malolos-Clark railway is part of the Philippine government’s North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR) project, a 163-km suburban railway network stretching from New Clark City, Tarlac to Calamba, Laguna and is expected to be completed by 2025.
“The Malolos-Clark Railway Project will provide safe, reliable, and affordable public transport for a total of about 342,000 passengers expected to travel daily along the Manila-Clark corridor and up to 696,000 passengers per day to Calamba by 2025,” ADB said.
Once completed, the railway is estimated to cut the travel time from Metro Manila to Clark International Airport to less than one hour by rail, compared with the current two to three hours by car or bus. The project is expected to be partially operational from 2022.
The Malolos-Clark Railway Project also aims to ease today’s chronic road congestion in Metro Manila, reduce air pollution, cut the costs of transport and logistics, spur economic growth in central Luzon, and encourage a population shift from the capital to growth centers in the north, such as Clark in Pampanga.
“ADB’s partnership with the Philippines has always been strong, and it has become stronger in the last three years,” Takehiko Nakao, ADB president said.
“The government’s Build, Build, Build (BBB) program is clearly steering the much-needed acceleration in infrastructure spending, from less than 2 percent of gross domestic product a decade ago to 6.3 percent now, well on track to achieve the 7 percent target by 2022. One of the key flagship projects of the BBB program is the Malolos-Clark railway,” Nakao said.
The Malolos-Clark railway will be ADB’s single largest infrastructure project financing ever from a development perspective.
Nakao said they are pleased that the bank’s biggest investment is taking place in ADB’s host country.
“The project, combined with other investments in light rail transit, metro rail transit, and subway systems, will bring back the culture of rail transport in Metro Manila,” Nakao said.
ADB’s 2018-2023 Country Partnership Strategy for the Philippines envisages significant and wide-ranging support for the BBB program, among other critical investments in education, financial inclusion, and economic policy reforms.
ADB will be financing civil works of the Malolos-Clark Railway Project, including the stations, bridges, and viaducts for the elevated railway alignment, and a tunnel leading to the underground station at Clark International Airport.
It will also assist the government in using global standards for procurement and environmental and resettlement safeguards.
The project is co-financed with up to $2 billion by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which will finance the rolling stock and the railway systems.
“Our co-financing partnership with JICA allows both our institutions to combine our expertise and knowledge in building a world-class railway in the Philippines,” Markus Roesner, ADB principal transport specialist for Southeast Asia said.
The project includes the construction of two rail segments — a 51.2-km section connecting Malolos City in Bulacan province to the thriving Clark regional growth center and a 1.9-km extension connecting the NSCR to the Blumentritt Station in Manila, where an elevated interchange station for Light Rail Transit Line 1 will be built.
The rail stations will include multimodal facilities, allowing commuters to easily transfer from public buses and jeepneys to the trains. The underground station at the Clark International Airport will provide a short connection to upcoming and future airport terminals.
The project will be built on an elevated alignment, helping reduce the impact on communities, avoid disruption of activities, and mitigate flood risks along the route.
It will use innovative construction methods such as pre-fabricated viaduct segments, which limits the need for land acquisition and accelerates construction. High-quality construction methods will be used to achieve the maximum rail speed of up to 160 km per hour.