ROUGH CUTS| Most grandiose but not the be-all project

INDEED the “Dutertenomics” administration of the Davaoeno President is loaded with ambitious multi-billion infrastructure projects not just in the Luzon and Visayas areas but in Mindanao as well. But of course, what is the President a Mindanaoan for if he forgets the needs of the island in its stride to socio-economic development?

     Perhaps the biggest and most awaited by the entire Mindanao population is the Mindanao Railway System (MRS) which according to plans, will connect the island’s primary economic centers such as Tagum City, Davao City, Digos City, General Santos City, Cagayan de Oro City, Iligan, Zamboanga, Butuan City and Surigao. The reach alone is already nebulous. But based on the feasibility study the MRS can be done. What with several countries willing to undertake and fund the construction.

     Of course this project is still in its early stage of a national dream. A recent announcement by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) said the first phase of the multi-billion peso MRS is to start sometime in the third quarter of next year, or roughly a year and a quarter from now. And if begun as scheduled, the Tagum-Davao City-Digos link is targeted to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2021.

     This early however, there are already suspicions that the MRS would not really end up as MRS. This is because there is no assurance when the succeeding phases would be pursued to its completion.

     And to think that Davao City is not the ”heart” of Mindanao, although there is no arguing that it is the fastest growing city in the entire island. So, how then can such project be called a Mindanao Railway System?

     Somehow, the proponent of this question is insinuating that if this proposed train transportation is to be a Mindanao Railway System then it must start from the “heart” of the island and cuts across neighboring areas towards the different identified economic centers of Mindanao.

     Well, the idea makes sense. After all, isn’t it that rail cars are intended to respond to the need mainly to transport goods and products from their sources to the air and sea ports where supplies intended for the provinces also emanate and need to be moved to where these are intended?

     On the other hand, constructing the Phase 1 of the MRS in the adjoining Tagum-Davao City-Digos route is, without doubt, more beneficial only to passenger travel. And even if the train trips will service an estimated 118 thousand travellers per day, and this number can be realized, is the income from fare collections enough to sustain the railway operation? Indeed there seemingly are plenty of rooms for doubts here.

     On the other hand, we also feel that even if the first phase of the MRS is to be built in the “heart” of Mindanao which the owner of the idea points to Bukidnon, the railway to be more attractive to travellers and shippers og goods and products,should cover the stretch either from Malaybalay to Cagayan de Oro City, or Malaybalay to Davao City where international gateways are located.

     For Phase 1 to be short of this distance, it could only mean growing a white elephant until such time that the next phase is implemented and is able to cover the track that will reach either of the two cities.

     We are however, apprehensive that this megabuck MRS project may not be the be-all for the long-dreamed progressive Mindanao. Why, because if and when realized another sector in the transportation business is likely to be derailed. And we mean the public utility buses which are right now the dominant land transportation carrier for people and products.

     We are hoping that the project feasibility study conducted on the establishment of the MRS has included its impact on the present land transport industry of the island.

     Meanwhile, we seem to be carried away with the magnitude of the MRS project which has been in the government’s drawing board for nearly a century already, according to Inquirer columnist Antonio J. Montalvan II.

     We’d prefer if the national government implement first the Davao mainland-Samal Island bridge that is much lesser in cost, and perhaps faster to implement. The same will most likely be unmolested with thoughts of favoring the imperial seat since it has already been discussed and studied extensively even before the former Davao City mayor became President of the Philippines.

     When will this also important project (at least to Davaoeños) be started? If this cannot take off within President Duterte’s term, then it would be better not to dream of it anymore.

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Posted in Opinion