Bicol Express will be back: Laguna-Albay PNR project signed

MANDALUYONG CITY – Good news to Bicolanos and those wanting smooth and fast travel to the region.

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) awarded the single largest rail contract worth P142 billion, or about US$2.8 billion, to a Chinese joint venture to build a 380-kilometer Philippine National Railways (PNR) route.

The construction which has been delayed for years will run from Barangay Banlic in Calamba City, Laguna to Daraga, Albay.

The DoTr said the first 380 kilometers of the PNR Bicol project will span 39 cities and municipalities, four provinces, and two regions. It will feature 23 stations, 230 bridges, 10 passenger tunnels, and a 70-hectare depot in San Pablo City, Laguna.

The Department of Transportation (DoTr) is working on four more contract packages of the PNR Bicol line, also known as the South Long Haul Project

Once operational, travel time between Calamba City, Laguna and Legazpi, Albay will be shortened to four hours from the usual 12 hours and will serve 14.6 million passengers yearly. This as the train can travel at a speed of 160 kilometers per hour, reminding observers of the once popular PNR’s “Bicol Express.”

“Passenger trains will run at a speed of up to 160 kilometers per hour, while freight trains will run at a speed of up to 100 kilometers per hour,” it added.

The contract has been signed by DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade and representatives of the China Railway Group Ltd., China Railway No. 3 Engineering Group Co. Ltd., and China Railway Engineering Consulting Group Co. Ltd. (CREC JV).

The contract includes the design, construction, and electromechanical works for the project.

“Listed in both the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock exchange, CREC JV ranked 35th on the Fortune Global 500 list and 5th among China’s top 500 enterprises in 2021,” the DOTr said in an announcement on Tuesday.

PNR General Manger Junn Magno regarded the contract signing as a momentous occasion to restart the railway service and the future of the Philippine National Railways.

Magno said that “this train will represent the first trip for the South Long Haul Project or what we call the PNR Bicol and it would cut down significantly 80 percent of the travel time between Manila and the Bicol region.”

The PNR Bicol project consists of three train sets and car formations. These train sets, which are set to be delivered to the country by June 2021, will be initially earmarked for the “Long Haul” service from Manila to Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, Camarines Sur, and Albay provinces.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines, Huang Xilian, said the project will be the “fastest and longest railway segment so far in the Philippines” and “another milestone” for the relationship between the Philippines and China.

Huang said the project is so far the “highest-funded G-to-G (government-to-government) project” between the two countries.

The project is also expected to create “more than 10,000 direct construction jobs each year” aside from “hundreds of thousands” of jobs in related areas, according to Huang.

“I wish the scenario come true the soonest and the project a smooth progress!” Huang posted.

The PNR Bicol project is a 565-kilometer railway that will connect Metro Manila to the southern Luzon provinces of Sorsogon and Batangas. (Jeanne Michael Penaranda)