Right-of-way issue derails signing of P1B Manila-Laguna cargo train project

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ID-100359591The signing of the P1-billion cargo rail project that will connect the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) to a Laguna off-dock facility using the Philippine National Railways (PNR) tracks, which has been dubbed a milestone pact, has been delayed for two weeks due to a right-of-way issue.

PNR and MRail, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), were supposed to sign a deal on January 28 to revive the Manila-Calamba cargo train, but this was postponed to give the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and the railway authority time to resolve the right-of-way issue affecting a small track inside MICT.

The non-exclusive track usage agreement will allow MRail to use PNR’s tracks to move cargo between MICT and Laguna Gateway Inland Container Terminal (LGICT). Both MICT and LGICT are run by port operator International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI).

PNR general manager Joseph Allan Dilay clarified there are no legal impediments to the deal and that the postponement “is just to give us time to inform offices such as the PPA about the agreement.”

Dilay added this will also allow PPA officials to join the signing of what he called a “historic accord.”

The deal will allow MRail to operate a freight train service on the existing PNR tracks for a minimum of eight round trips per day, with an average daily container transfer of 600 twenty-foot equivalent units from MICT to LGICT and vice versa. The freight train will run 24 hours a day.

MRail president and chief executive officer Ferdinand Inacay said the system will not interfere with the PNR commuter service plying the Tutuban-Alabang route.

Inacay said the company will build tracks inside the MICT to connect to Tutuban Station on the existing PNR tracks, adding this will be a joint undertaking between MRail and ICTSI. The port operator in 1997 operated a freight rail leading to its inland container depot in Calamba, Laguna, but stopped in 2003 due to losses and competition from trucks.

MRail will be spending P900 million to acquire three cargo trains and P300 million to construct tracks. PNR, on the other hand, has set aside P300 million to build new tracks exclusively for the cargo train.

The freight train service is seen to support manufacturing activity south of the metropolis. – Roumina Pablo