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What if Manila decided to build its first subway back in the 1970s?

There is something about the counterfactual that is attractive to me. While I do not have formal training as an historian, I like to dabble in history and particularly about the what-could-have-been. It started with a book I read about counterfactual military history with various articles written by prominent historians who put forward scenarios including that on Thermopylae, Pearl Harbor, and the Vietnam War. I have found it a good exercise in analysis that is along the lines of chess analytics where one move may lead to another in response. Applying this to transport was quite a natural thing and we take a look at some information from the Feasibility Study for what was proposed in 1973 as the first subway line for Metropolitan Manila.

Proposed schedule for the 3-stage construction of RTR Line 1, most of which would have been a subway connecting Diliman, Quezon City with the University Belt in Manila and ultimately the airport in Paranaque.

Stage 1 between UP and FEU could have been operational as early as 1983 but typical delays could also have led to service starting in 1984 or even later. According to some critics of the LRT Line 1 that was built instead of the RTR Line 1, Marcos decided against the subway after being convinced by his advisers that the line could not be completed before Singapore finishes its own first line. A story is told that Marcos didn’t want Lee Kuan Yew to have the satisfaction of having Southeast Asia’s first mass transit line so the former opted for the elevated LRT instead. What really happened though was Singapore started operating its SMRT North-South Line in 1987, after what was also a long period of planning, decision-making and construction. It can be argued that the Philippines could still have completed at least 10 kilometers of the RTR Line 1 and at most 15 kilometers by 1987. Even a revolution in 1986 could not have doomed this project given its benefits that we could have reaped over the long-term.

Proposed stages of construction for the RTR Line No. 1 – whichever alternative could have led to the completion and inauguration of a substantial segment by 1983/84, well ahead of Singapore’s first line.

 

Artist’s conception of what an RTR Line 1 platform could have looked like. The trains look like a typical Tokyo Metro train. There’s some humor here as you can see the route map at right and the direction sign at top left referring to the Manira (Manila) Air Port.

As you can see in this rather simple (note: not included are discussions on the financial & economic aspects of this project) exercise, Metro Manila could have constructed the RTR Line 1 more than 3 decades ago. Even with the political upheavals in the Philippines during this period, it can be argued that Marcos and his version of the “best and the brightest” could have pulled it off and come up with the country and Southeast Asia’s first subway line. Most of the decision-making, planning and construction would have been during Martial Law when the Marcos had quite a firm grip on power. So he and his apologists have no excuse for this failure to potentially revolutionize transport and take Metro Manila to the next level in terms of commuting. That failure ultimately led to the current transportation situation we have in what has grown to become Mega Manila.

Some thoughts on the proposed Metro Manila subway

The detailed design for the proposed Metro Manila subway is supposedly underway. Here’s a graphic of what the system may look like underground. I got this from the American Chamber of Commerce newsletter.

What is not shown, and which I think should also be emphasized, are the drainage tunnels that need to be constructed in relation to the underground transport system. Tokyo’s subterranean drainage, for example, are so extensive and spacious that it could handle the precipitation/runoff during rainy days so its subways are flood-free. Metro Manila stands to benefit much if similar drainage systems are built together with the subway. I think a lot of people can appreciate this feature of the subway nowadays when we all feel the impacts of the intense monsoon rains (Habagat) not to mention the typical typhoons that come our way. The subway’s construction may be seen not only from the transport perspective but also as an opportunity to improve the metropolis’ drainage system.

MRT 7 on the way

The construction of the much-delayed Line 7 is underway. Hopefully, this project will be completed and be operational (or at least partly) before the end of the current administration. This would be one of the game-changers in terms of commuting along a corridor that has steadily increased in population and therefore travel demand. The ultimate end of the line in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan also means it will be serving relocation communities, many of whom are employed in Metro Manila and have to travel every weekday using buses, jeepneys and vans. Following are photos we took along the Commonwealth in the Fairview and Litex areas.

Construction is underway and this means traffic congestion as the number of lanes along either direction of Commonwealth Ave. has been reduced to provide space for the staging areas of the project.

A column going up near the rotunda near Litex Market

MRT Line 7 worksite along the Commonwealth Avenue median is secured by lines of barriers cum fences on either side of the median.

These full-grown trees in the middle of Commonwealth will be or already removed

What has been a green row in the middle of Commonwealth Avenue will give way to an elevated railway line. I sure hope the proponents do some landscaping after the structure is built to restore the greenery.

More updates on the project soon…

Construction starts for the Line 2 Masinag Station

After several months of waiting, the Masinag Station of the Line 2 Extension project will finally start construction. The contractor has already mobilized and very soon the actual construction work will be starting. Following are photos I captured via my dash cam:

The contractor, DMCI, already installed temporary traffic signs from Masinag Junction.

The contractor, DMCI, also already installed concrete barriers to delineate their staging area for the project.

This is the likely location of the elevated Masinag Station; right across SM City Masinag and Cornell Hospital.

Masinag Station will probably be the highest station for any railways in the entire country judging from the height of the elevated tracks. I have yet to see the plans for this station but it should be a challenge in accessibility. How many steps would it take to go up or down the station and the platforms? How will, and will it be integrated with the surrounding developments like SM?

The Antipolo City Government’s official Facebook page already announced the official ceremony starting the construction to be held on May 30, 2017 (Tuesday). The advisory also cautioned travelers about the traffic congestion expected in the area affected by the construction. Masinag is a major junction where Marcos Highway and Sumulong Highway intersect. Construction period will be 18 months or 1.5 years but given the efficiency by which the same contractor was able to complete the elevated tracks, I am optimistic that they may be able to complete Masinag Station in less time. I wonder though if the ceremony tomorrow also includes the start of construction for the Emerald Station across Robinsons Metro East in Pasig. Let’s just hope that the Line 2 Extension will be operational by end of 2018 and be able to help alleviate the traffic woes along its corridor. This will definitely help improve the transport to the east of Metro Manila and directly benefit those from Antipolo and Cainta in Rizal, and Marikina and Pasig in Metro Manila.

List of infrastructure projects for the Philippines’ BuildBuildBuild initiative

I was looking for a list of projects said to be prioritized by the current administration in the Philippines and mentioned in the presentation made by government yesterday. Here’s one I found from GMA News:

Infrastructure projects lined up by the Duterte administration

Noticeable for me are the following:
1. No mention of major bridge projects that were heavily hyped both on mainstream and social media – these bridges include those that were proposed to connect the islands of Panay and Negros, Negros and Cebu, and Cebu and Bohol. It doesn’t mean, of course, that these have been abandoned but likely only sidelined for the moment.

2. Break-up of Clark Green City into several components – this seems to be a more realistic approach especially considering how big and complex this project is, and how many agencies or entities are and will be involved

3. Mass transit projects in Metro Manila – these include big ticket projects such as the proposed subway, BRT and the rehabilitation of PNR lines. These are all projects that should have been done a long time ago but for various reasons have been delayed. Say what you will about so much resources being poured into Metro (Mega?) Manila but it is the economic center of the country and efficient transport will go a long way in generating resources that can eventually be used in other parts of the country.

4. Emphasis on Clark Airport – it seems to me that the current administration is focused on developing Clark as the alternative (if not the main) gateway to the greater capital region. This is a departure from the hype we have received about a replacement for NAIA including one that was proposed at Sangley Point in Cavite.

5. Scaling down of Mindanao Railways – instead of pushing for a much grander (and unrealistic I think) railway project for the entire island, they identified a more realistic and perhaps practical line connecting Tagum, Davao and Digos. One colleague noted, however, that this corridor is already heavily serviced by buses and vans so rail ridership is at best threatened from the start.

What’s your take on the proposed projects and the list in general?

Revisiting Daang Bakal, Antipolo

In a recent trip to a school located near Daang Bakal, I took the opportunity to ask my passenger to take photos of what used to be a railway corridor connecting Manila with Antipolo.

img_3945Section before the Victoria Valley gate (view away from the gate) along which is a community

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img_3949One side of the road has been widened. The other has a lot of trees that would have to be cut or balled in order to build an additional lane.

img_3950Widened section towards the Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

img_3951Section across the Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

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img_3953Skateboarders 

img_3954Power and light posts are yet to be relocated away and clear of the carriageway after the road was widened

img_3955Many electric posts need to be relocated as they pose dangers to road users

img_3956Section towards Hinulugang Taktak gate – the fence on the left is to secure the national park’s grounds from informal settlers

img_3957Section across Hinulugang Taktak gate

One can only imagine how these places looked like many years ago when the Manila Railroad Company operated the Antipolo Line.

Updates and resolution on the common railway station in North-EDSA

The big news today is the agreement among the government and the big corporations involved in the issue of the common station at North Avenue-EDSA where three rail transit lines (Line 1, Line 3 and the future Line 7) will be converging. The key features of the agreement are reproduced here:

“KEY FEATURES OF AGREEMENT

  1. The Common Station has three components: (a) Area A, where the platform and concourse for LRT-1 and MRT-3 are located; (b) Area B, which consists of two Common Concourses connecting Area A and Area C; and (c) Area C, where the platform and concourse for MRT-7 is located.
  2. Area A will be financed and built by DOTr. Area B will be financed and built by Ayala and its partners (NTDCC) (this is Ayala’s contribution to the Common Station project). And Area C will be financed and built by San Miguel.
  3. The portion of Area A for LRT-1 will be operated, maintained, and developed by LRMC. The portion of Area A for MRT-3 will be operated, maintained, and developed by DOTr. Area B will be operated, maintained, and developed by Ayala. And Area C will be operated, maintained, and developed by San Miguel.
  4. The MOU contains the design parameters for the Common Station, which will be the basis of the Detailed Engineering Designs to be developed after signing of the MOU. The Detailed Engineering Designs will be completed within 240 calendar days from signing date.
  5. The designs shall ensure that a defined level of service is maintained at all times by all components of the Common Station.
  6. The designs shall ensure that all components of the Common Station are interconnected, and that SM City North EDSA and Trinoma are interconnected to the Common Station.
  7. The Common Station is targeted to be completed by 2 April 2019, subject to extension as may be justified under the MRT-7 Agreement with respect to Area C.
  8. SM’s TRO will be lifted soon after the Detailed Engineering Designs are completed.
  9. DPWH will build an underpass along EDSA at the area where the Common Station will be constructed. This will be financed and built by DPWH.”

That was a direct copy and paste from the DOTr’s Facebook page.

There is another piece of information that’s gained a popular following and that is the design for the common station that was shared to the public:

Proposed design of the common station

I think the design is basically okay in terms of location. The layout would need to be refined in order to address concerns pertaining to optimum and efficient transfer of passengers between lines. I assume from the drawings that all three lines will be at the same level but with a plaza separating Lines 1 &3 from Line 7. There are also issues pertaining to proposed road grade separation in the area but that seems to have been addressed already by item #9 in the preceding list. We can only hope that the current government and private sector partnership can expedite this project.