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GMA wants NorthRail Project completed in two years’ time

Thursday, July 31, 2008 [ manilatimes.net ]
By Mark Louie P. Roxas, Correspondent

Pamintuan starts discussions with concerned government agencies

CLARK FREEPORT, Pampanga: Newly designated chairman of North Luzon Railways Corp. (NLRC) Edgardo Pamintuan has started discussing with concerned government agencies the completion of the $1.008-billion railway from Metro Manila to this free port by the end of 2010.

Secretary Pamintuan, also chairman of the Subic-Clark Advisory Development Council (SCADC) bared here last week that the President has given him full authority to work on the north railway project and the fate of the government’s deal with China.

The President has ordered the construction of the NorthRail Project (NRP) from Caloocan City to Clark Freeport to continue after the Chinese contractor begged off from pushing through with it due to the increase of necessary rail construction materials and delay in the relocation of squatters along the rail-right-of-way.

Pamintuan, former Angeles City Mayor, said in an interview that the President wants the said railway project repackaged immediately, and also refinanced. The project was originally started in 2003 with a loan of $400 million from China’s Import-Export Bank and $100 million from the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA).

This amount is for the first phase of the project, consisting of the 32-kilometer segment from Caloocan City to Malolos City in Bulacan.

The Chinese government without the benefit of a public bidding chose the contractor of the NRP, China’s National Machinery and Equipment Group (CNMEG).

However, CNMEG begged off from pushing through with the project due to the escalation of prices of steel and other rail construction materials, according to Pamintuan.

The Chinese contractor also complained that there was a delay in the clearing of the railway right-of-way with informal residents or squatters, as well as their relocation to resettlement areas.

Pamintuan said that following the President’s 2010 timetable for the railway, he would likewise work to extend the project to Cabanatuan City.

Some big-time and professional squatters have been blocking the construction of the rail project by constructing permanent commercial establishments on the former Philippine National Railway (PNR) tracks in Malolos City and other Bulacan towns, with some establishment owners claiming that they were granted permits by a son of former President Estrada.

There are big commercial establishments in Malolos City and Calumpit, Bulacan that extend to portions of MacArthur Highway, thus preventing the widening of the highway.

Department of Public Works and Highways authorities have been urging squatters in the MacArthur Highway pavements in Bulacan to transfer to relocation sites that the government has prepared for them.

Arsenio Bartolome, the predecessor of Pamintuan at the NorthRail Project, earlier recommended the termination of the contract with the Chinese firm as it was reportedly demanding some $300 million in additional cost to continue the project.

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