Railroad construction, repair work to resume after Holy Week  

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    BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and MYLA IGLESIAS

    THE Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has approved the resumption of railroad projects and maintenance work for 13 rail projects, including the Metro Rail Transit (MRT)-3, even during the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said on Tuesday.

    Nograles, concurrent spokesman of the IATF-EID, said the approval was in response to the request of the Department of Transportation (DOTr) for the resumption of utility relocation work and specific limited work on the rail projects, including rail replacement work for MRT-3.

    He said the repairs are possible, especially in the case of the MRT 3, only while there are no passenger operations. The MRT-3 rehabilitation project is set to be completed by July 2021. It seeks to increase the number of operating trains during peak hours to 20 from 15 trains, and increase train capacity to 600,000 passengers daily from 300,000.

    The Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine, which was supposed to end on April 12, was extended to April 30. ECQ guidelines mandate the suspension of mass transportation operations and work stoppage in all non-essential businesses in the entire Luzon.

    Nograles said the IATF approved the resumption of rail work projects and repairs on the condition that there will be limited mobilization of personnel and skeletal staffing pattern is observed; on or near-site accommodations and/or point-to-point shuttle services are provided, where applicable; and regular disinfection of workplaces, shuttles, and accommodations are done.

    The task force likewise required the regular monitoring of the workers’ health, especially for COVID-19 symptoms, and strict compliance with social distancing measures and proper hand hygiene.

    In a statement, the DOTr said: “The resumption of limited works may begin at different times next week for the different projects at different sites. We are currently coordinating with the concerned contractors and utility companies to determine when they are able to resume works, considering the need to re-mobilize people, equipment, and materials.”

    Aside from the MRT-3rehabilitation, the projects include the Light Rail Transit line 1(LRT-1) Cavite extension, LRT-2 east extension, LRT-2 west extension, LRT-2 fire restoration, MRT-7, Metro Manila Subway, Common Station, Philippine National Railways (PNR) Clark 1, PNR ,PNR Clark 2 and Calamba, Subic-Clark railway, PNR Bicol and the Mindanao railway.

    “The rail replacement works for MRT-3 is only possible while MRT-3 has no passenger operations. Other proposed limited works, such as utility relocation works for power, telecoms, and water lines along major roads, were also proposed to be done while those major roads are free of heavy vehicle movement, and also because utility companies are already not covered by the quarantine.” DOTr said.

    Construction work for MRT-7, which is composed of 14 stations from North Avenue to San Jose del Monte, was 50 percent completed as of February this year. On the other hand, the LRT-1 extension in Cavite was 33 percent completed as of early February this year, with partial operation targeted to start by end of 2021.

    As this developed, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, said Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, Public Works and Highways Secretary Mark Villar and Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez have been tasked to determine which government projects and programs can be suspended for now or forgone for good to enable government to use their corresponding budgets for the COVID-19 campaign.

    President Duterte on Monday night said he will disapprove some government programs to allow the finance department to have extra fund to augment the budget for the containment of the infectious disease.

    The President said while the government has funds, including the P275 billion budget, it might not be enough to sustain the campaign against the coronavirus and provide assistance to those affected by the virus and the lockdown.