THE Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a loan of up to $US 4.3bn to help finance the construction of a 54.6km line under the South Commuter Railway Project to connect Metro Manila with the city of Calamba in the Philippines, as part of the North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR) network.

The agreement is ADB’s largest to finance infrastructure in the Asia and Pacific region to date.

Once completed, the South Commuter Railway will ease road traffic congestion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Philippines’ climate change agenda. The project follows ADB’s financing of the under-construction Malolos - Clark Railway north of the capital.

“The South Commuter Railway Project will provide affordable, safe, reliable, and fast public transport for commuters,” says ADB vice-president for East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Mr Ahmed Saeed. “This project represents ADB’s biggest infrastructure investment and reflects our commitment to helping the Philippines attain its goals of reducing poverty, improving the lives of Filipinos, and achieving green, resilient, and high economic growth.”

The Blumentritt - Calamba project includes the construction of 18 stations designed to provide safe access for the elderly, women, children, and people with disabilities. It will also feature a connecting tunnel to allow the operation of direct trains from Calamba to stations on the future Metro Manila Subway system. All infrastructure will be designed to be disaster-resilient and able to withstand typhoons and earthquakes. The project will reduce the current 2h 30min journey time by road between Manila and Calamba by more than half.

The NSCR will further strengthen the Philippines’ economic recovery from the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic as it is expected to create 35,500 jobs during construction and 3200 permanent jobs during operation. An ABD study found the line will also improve access to an average of 300,000 jobs within a 1 hour commute for residents along the project.

ADB’s Infrastructure Preparation and Innovation Facility supported the Philippines Department of Transportation (DOTr) in preparing the project. The loan will further support capacity development and institutional strengthening at DOTr, which is implementing the project. The railway will be elevated to avoid flooding and reduce disruption to communities along the route. A technical assistance grant will support affected communities.

The South Commuter Railway Project will be financed under a multi-tranche financing facility, with the first tranche of $US 1.75bn to be made available from this year. The release of the second and third tranches is expected in 2024 and 2026 respectively. ADB will finance civil works for the railway viaducts, stations, bridges, tunnels and depot buildings, while the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) is funding rolling stock and railway systems.

The project is one of the Philippines’ infrastructure flagship projects (IFP) and is part of the government’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure development programme. Other IFPs financed by ADB include the Metro Manila Bridges Project in 2021 and the EDSA Greenways Project in 2020.

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