The North-South railway project (NSRP) is a part of the Government of Philippines’ objective to catalyse economic and urban growth in the most populous regions of the islands by providing critical connectivity through a world-class passenger rail service.
The rehabilitation and development of the NSRP is aimed at revitalising a substantial portion of the national railway network to provide long-distance and rapid transportation in Luzon, the largest and most populous island in the Philippine islands.
The NSRP includes two lines, NSRP North and NSRP South. A key component of the project is the North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR), a 147km urban rail transit system being built on the island of Luzon. The estimated investment in the NSCR project is approximately $11.9bn.
The Philippines’ Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Philippines National Railways (PNR) are jointly implementing the project.
Approvals and construction of the North-South Railway Project
The NSRP South Line was approved by the National Economic and Development Agency (NEDA) Board in February 2015.
In November 2018, an extension of the NSCR was approved to develop a 147km commuter rail, with an estimated investment of PHP777.55bn ($15.1bn).
Construction on the first phase of the commuter rail project, between Tutuban in Manila and Malolos in Bulacan, extending over 38km, started in February 2019. The Tutuban-Malolos section was 55.42% complete as of 31 January 2022.
The NSCR Malolos-Manila and Clark Extension sections are expected to be completed in 2024.
A partial operation of the Clark extension section is planned for the third quarter (Q3) of 2023, with full operation planned for the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2024.
North-South Railway Project (NSRP) background
The North-South railway project was officially launched by the DOTr and the PNR in July 2015, marking the start of the bidding process for the South Line, the Manila-Legazpi section.
The project is aimed at providing better transportation and logistics services between two rapidly growing urban regions in the Philippines. Metro Manila, where the project originates, is the country’s largest city in terms of urban density, with a population of approximately 12 million. With 48 million residents, the island of Luzon is the biggest and most populous island in the country.
The PNR’s long-haul commuter service between Tutuban and Legazpi has been suspended since October 2012 due to integrity issues along the line. The 56km commuter rail service from Tutuban to Calamba, Laguna, was also temporarily halted before operations were resumed in 2015. The rail service also includes a 35km-long daily commuter rail from Naga City to Sipocot. The completion of the NSRP South Line, which establishes a long connection in the region, is essential to resolving the connectivity issues on the corridor.
The initial feasibility study conducted on the project concluded that executing the entire project in a public-private partnership (PPP) method would not be feasible. An additional study on the southern section of the NCR was conducted to find out the viability of the commuter rail project, when combined with the Mainline South of the NSRP.
The combined NSRP South Line project, consisting of more than 650km of commuter and long-haul railway lines, was found to be viable in a PPP format.
North-South Railway project details
The NSRP North line will link Manila to the north and north-eastern regions of Luzon though a 266km long-haul line from Manila to San Fernando city in La Union Province, an extension line and a branch line.
The extension line will connect San Jose city in Nueva Ecija to Cagayan province while the 55km-long branch line will connect Tarlac Province and San Jose city.
The first phase of the North line project includes the commuter line connecting Tutuban and Malolos, with funding from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
The NSRP South Line, which is among the major infrastructure projects of the Philippine government’s ‘Build! Build! Build!’ programme, is expected to be the primary rail backbone, linking Metro Manila to the regions in southern Luzon.
The project is divided into two sections, namely the South Commuter Railway Project (SCRP; formerly NSRP South Line – Commuter Line), which runs from Tutuban to Calamba, and the South Long-Haul project (SLH Project; formerly NSRP South Line – Long Haul Line), which will run between Muntinlupa city in Metro Manila and the Matnog municipality. The SLH Project will also expand to other parts of southern Luzon.
The SLH Project will have a route length of 561.1km, connecting various cities, municipalities, economic zones, and international seaports.
The NSRP South Line also includes the repair and replacement of more than 420 bridges and the development of 15 stations and three depots. The new line will be served by diesel-powered multiple unit rolling stock, comprising six eight-car trains with additional spares.
North-South commuter railway details
Backed by Japan, NSCR is a flagship project of the Philippine government. It will link the growth centres of Clark and New Clark city in the north, with central Manila and Calamba city to the south of the capital.
The NSCR project is being built on the Philippine National Railway’s legacy track (PNR). The Department of transportation is the lead agency in charge of implementing the NSCR project.
The project comprises the 38km-long section between Tutuban and Malolos, the 53km Malolos-Clark section, and the 55km southern corridor between Blumentritt and Calamba.
The Malolos-Clark corridor is split into two parts, namely the 51.2km section between Malolos and Clark and Clark international airport, and the 1.9km connection to the existing Blumentritt station in Manila, with an interchange to the elevated LRT1 light rail line.
An 18km-long northern extension between Clark and New Clark City is also planned to be built to increase the length of the NSCR project to 163km. The Malolos-Tutuban line will include more than 30km of viaducts and seven river railway bridges, along with a 7km-long elevated embankment.
A total of ten rail stations are being developed, along with provisions for five more stations. A depot, workshop, and control centre are also part of phase one.
The stations in the phase will include Tutuban, Solis, Caloocan, Valenzuela, Meycauayan, Marilao, and Bocaue, Balagtas, Guiginto, and Malolos.
The NSCR will feature double track along the entire route from Tutuban to Calamba, with a design speed of 75kph, an axle load of 15t, as well as modernisation and expansion of 19 stations and depot facilities in Calamba.
Financing for North-South Commuter Railway project
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) signed an agreement to provide advice to the DOTr on the PPP structure and the bidding process. In May 2019, ADB approved $2.75bn in financing for the Malolos-Clark section of the Philippines commuter railway project.
In November 2015, the government of the Philippines and JICA signed a JPY241.99bn ($1.99bn) loan agreement for the phase one construction of the commuter line between Malolos and Tutuban.
JICA also provided funding for the detailed engineering design of the commuter line.
JICA signed an agreement in January 2019 to provide the Philippines with a loan of approximately JPY167.19bn ($1.52bn), which was the first tranche of Japan’s financing commitment for the NSCR project.
ADB awarded a loan worth $4.3bn (P227.6bn) to the DOTr for the construction of commuter railway project between Manila and Calamba in June 2022. The financing will be provided in three tranches between 2022 and 2026.
Construction of the first package of phase one of the commuter rail was awarded to a joint venture (JV) of Taisei and D.M. Consunji (DMCI) while the second package was awarded to a consortium of Sumitomo-Mitsui Construction.
NSTren Consortium is the construction supervision consultant for phase one of the NSCR project.
The Taisei-DMCI JV (TDJV) was selected to perform civil works including the construction of elevated rail track, six stations, and the Malanday depot in Valenzuela.
The DOTr awarded the consulting contract to CPCS Transcom (CPCS), under which the firm acts as a lead transaction advisor and conducts pre-investment studies to assess feasibility, structures the project as a PPP, and provides support during the tender and negotiation processes.
Sumitomo received a $230m contract from the DOTr to supply 104 Sustina train sets for phase one of the commuter rail in July 2019. The train sets are scheduled to be delivered by February 2023.
Oriental Consultants Global and SMEC, a member of the Surbana Jurong Group, were appointed as the general consultants for phase one of the NSCR project to provide detailed design and manage and supervise construction.
Sumitomo and the Japan Transport Engineering Company (J-TREC) received a contract in March 2022 to design, produce, test, and deliver 304 cars (38 eight-car trainsets) for the NSCR extension project in March 2022. The contractual scope also includes spare parts, specialised tools, and crew training. The train cars are expected to be delivered by 2028.
An order for 67 elevators and escalators for the NSCR phase one project was placed with Hitachi Elevator Philippines, a subsidiary of Hitachi, in September 2021.
Italian-Thai Development, a construction company, was contracted in October 2020 to perform construction and civil engineering works for the NSCR extension project.
The contractual scope includes 12.24km of elevated railway viaduct, including three balanced cantilever bridges. Two stations at Angeles and Clark, including electrical and mechanical works, are also part of the contract.
WJ Philippines, part of WJ Groundwater, was engaged to perform dewatering works for the NSCR project.
ACCIONA, in a JV with Korean group Daelim Industrial, received a contract worth $656m to construct the second section of the NSCR extension project, which will connect Malolos with Clark international airport, in September 2020.
The JV is responsible for constructing a railway line with a 16km-long overpass. The contract came after a JV between ACCIONA and EEI, a construction company based in the Philippines, received a contract for the construction of the final 6.5km of railway access to Clark international airport.
A JV between Hyundai Engineering & Construction, Dong-ah Geological Engineering Company, and Megawide Construction was appointed to perform construction and civil engineering works for 17km of viaduct structures including elevated station buildings in Calumpit and Apalit.
POSCO Engineering and Construction was selected to conduct civil engineering and building works for a 33ha depot in the Clark Freeport Zone.
Aecom Philippines, part of Aecom, prepared the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the contract package one (Banlic to Daraga) of the SLH project.
The contract for the package one of the SLH project was awarded to a JV of China Railway Group, China Railway No. 3 Engineering Group, and China Railway Engineering Consulting Group in January 2022. Package one comprises the first 380km between Banlic and Daraga.