The urban rail network in the Philippines is mostly located in the cities of Manila, Luzon, and Mindanao. However, several of these rail systems are outdated and do not have the required capacity to address the growing problem of congestion in the major cities, which incur substantial losses due to these bottlenecks. For instance, Manila alone is estimated to lose roughly PHP3.5 billion per day due to traffic congestion. The city has a total urban rail line of 50 km which serves less than 10 per cent of daily trips.

The condition of the national urban railway network declined in the 1970s after the government’s priorities shifted to the development of roads and highways. By the 1990s, the rail network was suffering from dated systems and failing infrastructure. Multiple lines, including the North Main Line and the South Rail, were closed during this period. Rail infrastructure on the existing lines has not been updated since the late 1990s and has deteriorated further due to the effects of frequent typhoons. Overcrowding on the light rapid transit (LRT) lines is common during peak hours, with overall load factors exceeding 60 per cent. The existing facilities are not sufficient to support the increasing demand. In 2019, the Philippines National Railways (PNR) cancelled 18 per cent of trips on urban lines due to unavailability of train sets as well as accidents on the lines. The aging rail systems across the country have resulted in significant delays in services, a fall in transport capacity, and a decline in ridership.

To address this situation, the Government of the Philippines along with the Department of Transportation (DoTr) has launched several projects in the past five years to revive old lines on which services had previously been halted as well as modernise existing lines. Some of the rehabilitation projects are the rehabilitation of Manila’s mass rapid transit-3 (MRT-3), the reconstruction of PNR South, and upgradation works on Manila’s light rail transit-1 (LRT-1). Once completed, these projects are expected to significantly increase ridership and to expand capacity across country’s rail systems.

Manila MRT-3 rehabilitation

 The Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT-3) is an LRT system operating in Metro Manila. The mostly elevated line spans over 16.9 km and has 13 stations, with one of them located underground. The line was initially proposed during the 1970s as part of the Metropolitan Manila Strategic Mass Rail Transit Development Plan and was the second rapid transit line to be built in Manila.

 Owing to train delays, system and engine failures, as well as faulty cooling systems, MRT-3’s daily passenger carrying capacity declined from 500,000 passengers in 2012 to 388,000 passengers in 2017. Since 2006, the Metro Rail Transit Corporation (MRTC) has been putting forward various capacity expansion proposals to the DoTr. In 2014, after poor performance on the line, experts from MTR Hong Kong were commissioned to review the system. They declared that the MRT-3’s performance was compromised and required a major overhaul of the essential systems.

The rehabilitation of Line 3 is currently underway, with completion scheduled by the end of December 2021. Once the rehabilitation works are completed, the MRT-3 will be able to accommodate 600,000 passengers per day.

Scope of works

The scope of work includes replacement of tracks, deployment of 72 light rail vehicles (LRVs), and upgradation of the signalling system and the associated rail infrastructure, including depot equipment, power supply, and closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras.

Table 1 provides details about the rehabilitation project.

Table 1: Modernisation works on Manila MRT-3

Infrastructure system

Scope of work

Replacement of rail tracks Rail replacements (4,053 pieces) were delivered by Nippon Steel Corporation in August 2019. These new rails will replace the old and degraded tracks of MRT-3.
Rolling stock upgrade The project involves extensive repairs to the original fleet of 72 LRVs, whose operating rates dropped due to aging. In addition, a new maintenance system will be devised to maintain high operating rates once the repairs have been completed. CRRC Dalian Company Limited (CRRC Dalian) will finance the cost of repairs.

Renovation will increase MRT-3’s speed to 60 km/hr from 30 km/hr and reduce waiting time between trains from 7.5 minutes to 3.5 minutes.

Power system upgrades Works will include rehabilitation of power and overhead catenary systems; upgrade of the signalling system, communications, and CCTV systems; and repair of all MRT-3’s escalators and elevators. The contract is yet to be awarded.

Source: Global Mass Transit Research 

Funding

On November 8, 2018, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) signed a loan agreement with the Government of the Philippines to provide an official development assistance (ODA) loan of PHP13.7 billion to partly fund the MRT-3 Rehabilitation Project. The remaining PHP2 billion will be provided from local sources.

Contractors

In January  2019, DoTr awarded a joint venture (JV) comprising Sumitomo and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Engineering Limited (MHIER) and TES Philippines (TESP) a PHP1.71 billion contract for maintenance works on the MRT-3 line. Under the terms of the contract, TESP will repair the rolling stock (comprising 73 trains) and the associated equipment whereas MHIER will construct the new lines, expand and renovate the existing network, and enhance the capacity of the line.

PNR South reconstruction

The South Main Line will be reconstructed under the new Luzon Rail System’s (PNR Luzon’s) PNR South railways programme.

The scope of works includes reconstruction of two existing lines:

–       The PNR South Long Haul/PNR Bicol project connecting Metro Manila with the Bicol Region

–       The 56-km south section of the North–South Commuter Railway, which connects Metro Manila to Central Luzon

The Government of China will provide a PHP175 billion loan, payable in 20 years at a 2 per cent annual interest for the project.

PNR South Long Haul/ PNR Bicol

The original PNR Bicol line spanned 479 km from Manila to Bicol, before operations were halted in 2014 due to right-of-way issues and a shortage of trains. The initial concept for the line’s restoration proposed a basic narrow-gauge restoration with a maximum speed of 75 km/hr. The new proposal, however, calls for a complete restoration of the railway and conversion to standard gauge, as well as replacement of the old route. The line will be developed as a single-track system at first, with options to upgrade to double tracks or electrified tracks in the future. Stations will have passing sidings to ensure ongoing express train service.

The PNR Bicol revival project will connect the National Capital Region (NCR), Region IV-A, and Region V, thereby boosting economic growth in these areas. Once completed, the new PNR Bicol line will have a ridership of 100,000 passengers per day and will reduce travel time from Manila to Bicol from 12 hours to just six hours. Partial operations on the line are expected to commence in April 2022. The PNR Bicol revival project is a key project under the Government of the Philippines’ Build, Build, Build programme.

Alignment

According to the current configuration, the South Long Haul line will run from Sucat in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila, to Matnog station in Luzon. There will be two branch lines—the Batangas branch line and the Legazpi branch line. The Batangas branch will split between Laguna’s Los Baos and San Pablo stations and head to Lipa, where it will follow a new right-of-way to Batangas International Port. This section will revive the Batangas line which has been inoperable since 1986. The Legazpi line will run from the new Daraga station outside of Daraga’s poblacion (the principal community of a district; a town that is an administrative centre) (where Phase 1 ends) to the Legazpi station in Legazpi, Albay, using the existing right-of-way.

The project will also rebuild the remaining section of the Metro South Commuter line between Tutuban and Sucat after the line is completed in 2025. Plans for a workaround with the existing rolling stock are yet to be announced. Figure 1 shows the alignment of the PNR Bicol line.

Figure 1: Alignment of the PNR Bicol line

Source: Department of Transport of the Philippines (DoTr)

Construction of the line will be carried out in multiple phases. The details are provided in Table 2.

Table 2: Construction phases of the PNR Bicol Line

 

Phase Section Stations Length (km) Status*
Phase 1 Banlic–Daraga 23 380.4 Construction underway; to be completed by Q2 2022
Phase 2 Daraga–Matnog 5 10.25 The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) is re-evaluating the proposal due to an increase in cost.
Phase 3 Batangas branch line 6 44.8 NEDA is re-evaluating the work plans for this phase due to an increase in cost.
Phase 4 Sucat–Banlic 2 38 Consultant-led revision of the feasibility study

*As of December 2021

Source: Global Mass Transit Research

Station design

Most of the South Main Line will be built at-grade. The restored line will have full grade-separation instead of level crossings. The total length of all bridges and viaducts is 51.3 km, accounting for 12.94 per cent of the proposed right-of-way. Embankments of up to 332 km in length will make up the majority of the right-of-way.

The European Rail Traffic Management System and ETCS Level 1 will be deployed on the new line. The rail line will also utilise two different types of rail, with 60 kg/m rails for the mainline and 50 kg/m rails for the passing sidings.

Rolling stock

In December 2019, China-based CRRC Zhuzhou Locomotive Company Limited was declared as the winning project bidder for the delivery of standard gauge diesel multiple unit (DMU) trains to the PNR. The DMU trains will feature business class, first class, and second-class accommodation. The trains can accommodate 168 passengers, with 36 seats for business class, 52 seats for first class, and 80 seats for second class.

 Others

The right-of-way originally had a planned maximum speed of 120 km/hr, but revisions were made, and the maximum speed was increased to 160 km/hr for express trains, comparable to higher-speed rail in other countries. This reduces the overall travel time of the old Bicol Express to Legazpi from 14–18 hours to only a maximum of 4.5 hours, allowing the PNR to compete with air and highway travel. The new system can handle up to 100,000 passengers per day.

NSCR South/ PNR Calamba

A 56-km section of the South Main Line, currently used for the Metro Commuter service, will be reconstructed as part of the North–South Commuter Railway (NSCR). This segment of the line, known as the NSCR South or PNR Calamba, will have 13 elevated stations and a 22-hectare train depot. While the system’s maximum speed is 160 km/hr, it will operate at a surface speed of 120 km/hr and at an underground speed of 80 km/hr.

The project is currently in the final phases of the government procurement procedure, and the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB’s) Board of Directors will consider funding support for the project by the end of 2021.

Rolling stock

Rolling stock for the line includes a total of 360 electric multiple units (EMUs). Out of the total, Japan Transport Engineering Company (J-TREC) will provide 104 eight-car EM10000 class train sets. The remaining train sets, including commuter cars and airport express trains, are yet to be procured.

Future plans

Once the PNR Calamba line is operational, there are plans to extend the line to Batangas City in the future. This will take over the Bauan line’s old right-of-way. This extension will be 220 km long, including the northward expansion to Tarlac City.

Manila LRT-1

The LRT-1 is a rapid transit system line in Metro Manila and is part of the Manila Light Rail Transit System. The fully elevated line spans 19.65 km across 20 stations. The Light Rail Manila Corporation (LRMC) operates the rail system, which is owned by the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA). Daily ridership on the line varies between 300,000 and 500,000 passengers.

Multiple systems modernisation work is currently underway on the LRT-1 as the LRMC aims to increase daily ridership to more than 800,000 passengers by 2027.

Signalling system

In November 2021, the LRMC commenced the deployment of the new Alstom signalling system on LRT-1, replacing the line’s current signalling system. The new signalling system is expected to reduce the time between trains from 3.5 minutes to 2.5minutes. The agency plans on conducting tests along the transit line to verify the feasibility of the new system.

Rolling stock

The LRMC will also undertake upgradation of the line’s current rolling stock to fourth-generation trains. The upgraded signalling system is expected to support the operation of the new train sets. The new train sets will be supplied by Mitsubishi–CAF, a JV of Japan-based Mitsubishi Corporation and Spain-based Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF).

Each Gen-4 train features four LRVs with a total capacity of 1,300 passengers per trip. These trains will be used to replace the first-generation trains used in the entire LRT-1 line by 2022. Some of these trains will also be operational on the Cavite Extension project. Compared to the first-generation trains, the fourth-generation trains are more efficient, faster, and more accessible to people with disabilities.

As of October 2021, delivery was completed for 12 out of the 30 trains. The remaining 18 train sets are undergoing the 5,000-km testing trials at CAF’s facilities in Mexico and Spain.

Ticketing

In December 2020, the LRMC announced a partnership with the LRTA to launch the ikotMNL mobile application (app) for LRT line commuters. The ikotMNL app uses features like contract tracing using Bluetooth technology and connection with other ride-hailing apps to provide seamless tracking of transportation systems. These features are expected to improve trip planning as well as enhance the overall travel experience of passengers on the LRT.

Users will be able to track train arrivals and departures as well as follow real-time information about the LRT-1 via the app. The software also allows for crowd monitoring and customer service. The LRMC will provide all data-collection equipment and will forward all feedback to the LRTA.

In November 2021, the LRMC and AF Payments Incorporated proposed a quick response (QR) code-based ticketing system to the DoTr and the LRTA. Once authorised, it will be a feasible alternative to single-journey tickets and will be available for purchase through mobile apps. This ticketing system will be implemented in 2022.

Conclusion

 The population of many cities in the Philippines is expected to burgeon in the coming years. However, the existing urban rail systems are overstretched, and significant capacity improvements are required to accommodate the demands posed by rising ridership. In 2020, the Government of the Philippines announced that it had earmarked approximately PHP106.3 billion to modernise the country’s railway network.

LRT-1, for example, is being widened and the signalling system is being updated to handle 40,000 passengers during peak hours compared to the current capacity of 18,000 passengers during peak hours.

Modernisation projects in the Philippines are facing a roadblock due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The timelines for most projects have been delayed due to unavailability of labour and resources. However, the pandemic has also spurred a digital shift in the country’s rail lines, with the DoTr currently exploring the feasibility of a large-scale deployment of cashless ticket payment systems to adhere to social distancing measures.

Apart from the completion of these modernisation projects, appropriate operation and maintenance of the existing rail lines and their components on a daily basis is critical to ensuring efficient and seamless passenger transport, as well as the safety and security of both passengers and personnel. Because these transportation systems are used by millions of people every day, they are prone to degradation and/or destruction. Thus, systems and facilities need to be maintained and upgraded at regular intervals to ensure that the trains are operating at their maximum capacity and efficiency.