THE long-envisioned Mindanao Railway System (MRS) will finally come to reality after the P1.5 trillion national budget was approved by Congress on Friday, which included the P13-million proposed operating budget for the Project Management Office (PMO).

Representative Rufus Rodriguez of the second district of Cagayan de Oro said the PMO budget was deliberately removed by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) from the 2010 national budget.

However, he said he and House Speaker Prospero Nograles worked for its reinsertion into the national budget.

“The P13 million budget for the creation of the PMO is already available so the railway project would really push through,” Rodriguez said during a media gathering sponsored by the Cagayan de Oro Press Club on Monday.

Included in the P1.5 trillion national budget, Rodriguez said, is the P500 million allocation for the “right of way” or for the purchase of properties that would be affected by the project.

The Mindanao Railway Project, which was conceptualized as early as the 1930s, is estimated to cost P66.5-billion (US$1.33-billion) and will be built by phase, the first of which will cover the Cagayan de Oro-Iligan Industrial Corridor passing through the on-going Laguindingan International Airport.

The first phase aims to cut travel time from Cagayan de Oro to Iligan from the current two hours to just 15 to 20 minutes, which is estimated to be operational by 2013 complementing the full operation of the Laguindingan International Airport in the third quarter of 2011.

Estimated cost for the first phase is now pegged at $1.3 billion from its previous estimates of $1 billion due to changes in its coverage, which now includes four municipalities in Lanao del Norte and Misamis Oriental covering 124 kilometers from the original plan of 120 kilometers.

Rodriguez, who authors House Bill No. 1855 creating the Mindanao Railways Corporation and providing funds for its operation, said the technical feasibility study for the Cagayan de Oro-Iligan Corridor has already been completed.

“What we are trying to work out now is the funding for the bulk of the project. We are negotiating with at least three funding institutions, one of which is the Saudi Funds because it gives low interest. We are also considering JICA in Japan and China,” he said.

Earlier, Department of Transportation and Communication Undersecretary for Rails Guiling Mamondiong said the Cagayan de Oro-Iligan route is being prioritized since the covered stretch is an industrial gateway.

The initial strategic development plan of the Mindanao railway project will compose of a network of lines that would link Cagayan de Oro to Iligan, Iligan to Zamboanga City, Cagayan de Oro to Agusan and Surigao with extensions to the cities of Davao and General Santos.

article by Terry D.C. Betonio of Sun Star CDO

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