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No two-track electric railway, only single-track locomotive for Mindanao

Looks like Mindanao’s railway transport progress will be stuck in locomotives.

From the original two-track electrified railway, NEDA-Investment Coordination Committee (NEDA-ICC) instead approved the reversion of the first phase of MRP or the Tagum-Davao-Digos (MRP:TDD) segment to single-track diesel-powered railway. 

Whatever caused National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board sudden change of heart is a step backwards instead of pushing forward to modernized railway transport.

Assistant Secretary Romeo Montenegro, deputy executive director of Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), affirmed to media in Wednesday’s Habi at Kape that what was approved by the NEDA-ICC last year when it went up to for valuation, was the one-track diesel-powered railway. 

“No one proposed that it be reverted, it came about following evaluation of viability done by NEDA-ICC. It was in the course of looking at that financial viability of a two-track electric design versus a one track locomotive,” Montenegro said.

According to Montenegro, it was the basis of assessment and evaluation that NEDA-ICC finally came to a decision to approve a one-track locomotive.

“All big projects go through evaluation and review by NEDA technical comittee that elevated to NEDA-ICC cabinet level and then final approval at the NEDA Board or NEDA-CAB. It had gone through that process and the decision,” he said.

Flexibility of the costs and the results of the Right Of Way (ROW) acquisitions are likewise among the factors for NEDA approval.

It is very different from what MinDA have been espousing especially during the time of former MinDA chief, the late Datu Abul Khayr Alonto, who was advocating for a high-speed and two-track electrified design railway.

Following the approval of the single-track rail, Montenegro said bidding is expected to start soon assuming the ROW issue had already been sorted out for the entire TDD stretch.

“It means implementation na siya. One is implementation in terms of roll-out . The Tagum-Davao-Digos is a combination of GAA allocation increased to P85 billion from P35 billion but later on may combination katong aspect of a possible ODA kana pa ang gina-work out. But in terms if there is budget, may allocation na ang GAA for its initial implementation,” he said. 

The railway was part of those projects that had been approved last year including the Davao-Samal connector and the High Priority Bus System (HBPS) by the ICC-Cabinet Committee (ICC-CabCom). The first phase or the TDD stretch was approved to be one-track locomotive. 

Montenegro said they are making reference now up until there are changes that can be seen in the next or anything forthcoming related to bringing it back to two-track arising from reactions of Mindanao constiutents, leaders, private sectors, and business communities. 

“We have yet to see if anything forthcoming arising out of that translating into final design which is two-track,” he said.

The Regional Development Council 11 (RDC 11) has sent a letter to the Department of Transportation (DoTr) appealing to revert is to two-track electric designed railway.

Montenegro said they are still waiting for the progress of the appeal.

“Hangtod wala pa gisugdan ang project and there is still an opportunity to expect change on that, there is still an opportunity to get that decision from national government through NEDA’s recommendation,” he added.

Meanwhile, Montenegro also reacted to DoTr’s pronouncements that the MRP-TDD segment will be operational by second quarter of this year. 

“We were quite surprise also with that. I don’t know how it came about whether or not such information need to have further context but definitely if you look at it on a reality that particular timeline is not possible given the current situation wherein nothing is concretely moving yet,” he said. 

He cited that the bidding itself will take months if not years depending on how it will proceed. 

“Whether or not it will run trouble with all other issues and losing bidders opposing a decision, etc. as we have seen in many projects that entangled with legal disputes because of a certain issues surrounding such as bidding process,” he said.

“Supposing everything proceeds according to timeline definitely the second quarter timeline is not realistic,” Montenegro added. 

The MRP:TDD is expected to reduce travel time from Tagum City, Davao del Norte to Digos City, Davao del Sur. The first phase will have eight stations located in Tagum, Carmen, Panabo, Mudiang, Davao, Toril, Sta. Cruz, and Digos.