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Locomotive rehab project to boost PNR network, operations

The PNR tracks at its Tayuman, Manilla station. INTERAKSYON.COM FILE PHOTO means BUSINESS

MANILA - The government has taken delivery of newly-refurbished locomotives that are expected to boost capacity of the Philippine National Railways.

The completed project forms part of an ambitious plan to revive the country's railway system, which once extended to the Visayas but is now mostly limited to commuter services in Metro Manila.

Three two-decade old GE locomotives were shipped to the US for reconditioning and the installation of modern equipment, a project that cost the government P150 million under a contract awarded to the M-Rail and Desco joint venture.

The locomotives will allow PNR to boost daily trips to 56 from 34, and also raise passenger volumes from the current 58,000 per day.

According to Joseline Geronimo, PNR officer-in-charge, "this will provide our operations group additional number of trips which are crucial for us to deliver our corporate mandate of providing safe, reliable and efficient train service. We hope that with our level of operations now, we can increase it starting tomorrow."

The locomotive rehabilitation is just one part of government plans to resuscitate the country's railway system, which in its heyday was touted as one of the best in Asia.

From a train line connecting Tutuban in Manila to Malolos, Bulacan; Subic in Zambales; and eventually Baguio City up north, the plan also includes new links down south to Matnog, Sorsogon and also Batangas Port nearer Manila.

Mindanao, home to President Rodrigo Duterte, is also being prioritized, with a massive rail project expected to connect major ports in the cities of Surigao, Cagayan de Oro, Davao and General Santos.

Transportation officials will be going to China next week to talk to companies keen on railway deals.

According to retired general Roberto Lastimoso, PNR chairman, "they [Chinese] really are so eager. Everyday. What can we do to help the rail industry?"

M-Rail took the opportunity to push its own proposal for a cargo train connecting Tutuban to the Port of Manila. Right-of-way issues held up the project last year and the company said it remains hopeful of approval by the Department of Transportation.

Ferdinand Inacay, M-Rail president and CEO, said they will "wait for the official word. We're waiting for the government to tell us exactly where we are."

M-Rail, a wholly-owned subsidiary of power firm Meralco, said completion of the locomotive rehabilitation project speaks of its capability to operate a cargo rail service.