Coming Soon: Manila to Bulacan in Just 35 Minutes

The Tutuban to Malolos leg of the PNR North-South Commuter Railway has started construction.
IMAGE Wikimedia Commons - Mithril Cloud

If February, as they say, is the month of love and of hearts, for the Department of Transportation (DOTr), February is the month of launching projects.”

So said DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade, during his keynote speech for the groundbreaking ceremony of yet another big-ticket infrastructure project under the Duterte government’s Build Build Build program.

The first phase of the PNR North-South Commuter Railway broke ground on February 15, 2019, just three weeks after the signing of the loan agreements between the Department of Finance (DoF) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

(The government has also launched several other infra projects since the start of the year, including the MRT-3 Rehabilitation Program, the Unified Grand Central Station and the NLEX Harbor Link Segment 10.)

The first phase is the 37.6-kilometer Tutuban to Malolos leg of the North-South Commuter Railway, which will run a total of 13 train sets that has eight wagons each.

The trains will be running on the new tracks at a maximum speed of 120 kilometers per hour, cutting the usual travel time of one hour and 45 minutes to just 35 minutes. It is expected to be completed by 2021.

“(Once completed, it is) projected to be used by more than 300,000 people per day during its first year of operations alone, with a capacity of having close to one million passengers per day during its first decade in operations,” said Undersecretary for Railways Timothy John Batan.

The first phase of the project is composed of 10 stations: Tutuban, Solis, Caloocan, Valenzuela, Meycauayan, Marilao, Bocaue, Balagtas, Guiguinto, and Malolos. There will also be a 14-hectare railway depot located in Valenzuela City.


The Tutuban to Malolos leg will be linked to the second phase of the PNR North-South Commuter Railway project, which will run from Malolos to Clark. It will also be seamlessly integrated into one railway system with the PNR Calamba.

Displacements abound

But amid the consecutive developments is an ugly side of community displacements. Because of its huge scope, many are forced to leave their homes and relocate to give way to the project.

There are approximately 12,210 families affected by the project—a majority of which are informal settlers, according to a feasibility study reported by JICA in October 2018. A large number of them are in Manila, Calamba, Biñan, and Muntinlupa.

“Given that the project will seek to utilize the existing PNR right-of-way, the majority of the project affected persons were informal settler families who encroached on the existing right-of-way, with a few legal project-affected persons due to additional land acquisition required for the project,” JICA said.

The same report said that based on the conducted census and social economic survey, about 94 percent (or 11,384) of the total affected families are informal settlers. “The bulk of informal settler families are in Manila with 4,964 project-affected persons, Calamba with 2,334 project-affected persons, and Biñan with 2,081 project-affected persons.”

Batan said that 91 percent of the 38-kilometer width alignment from Tutuban to Malolos is already free and clear of obstructions as of February 2019—a “testament to the effectiveness of the strategy that our secretary launched.”

The DOTr for its part said they are working to properly relocate the affected families as part of government social responsibility, moving hand in hand with the National Housing Authority, Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, and local government units.

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To date, however, the agency said they have only provided proper resettlement for approximately 300 informal settler families along the project alignment, particularly in Caloocan, Manila, Valenzuela, and Guiguinto in Bulacan.

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About The Author
Pauline Macaraeg
Esquire Philippines
Pauline is Esquire Philippines’ data journalist. Follow her on Twitter @paulinemacaraeg.
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