THE extension of the Light Rail Transit Line 1 (LRT-1) to Cavite is seen to benefit passengers by as soon as the fourth quarter of 2021, as construction began on the project on Tuesday — nearly five years after it was awarded to the Light Rail Manila Corp. (LRMC).

In a ceremony in Parañaque City on Tuesday, the Department of Transportation (DoTr) and LRT-1 operator LRMC officially started work on the project extending the existing train line from Baclaran to Bacoor, Cavite.

“The dream that was more than two decades ago is a reality today, and will soon be a reality by the (fourth) quarter of 2021. Our project proponent said we can do partial operability in 2022… (But) I want a partial operability by the last quarter of 2021,” Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade said in a ceremony in Parañaque City.

The Aquino administration awarded LRMC the P65-billion public-private partnership (PPP) project in September 2014. The company was allowed to take over the operations and maintenance of the LRT-1 system in September 2015.

Under the project, 11.7 kilometers will be added to the existing 18.1-kilometer LRT-1. Eight new stations will be opened, namely Redemptorist, NAIA Avenue, Asia World, Ninoy Aquino, Dr. Santos, Las Piñas, Zapote and Niog. This is seen to increase its daily ridership to 800,000 from the current 500,000.

Yung funding for the construction naka-earmark na ’yun. (The funding for the construction has already been earmarked.) It’s P24-30 billion. There are components funded by LRMC, and other components funded by the government. So it’s roughly about P25 billion for the extension,” LRMC President and Chief Executive Officer Juan F. Alfonso said.

Apart from the construction of the extension by LRMC, the project includes the procurement of new trains, expansion of its depot and acquisition of right of way. These other components will be funded in part by the Government of the Philippines and by a loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The Philippines had signed a P12.8-billion contract with Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp. and its technical partner Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles in 2017 to buy 120 new light rail vehicles, which are scheduled to be delivered starting July 2020 until 2022.

A P4.5-billion contract was also signed with Shimizu Corp. in February for the expansion of the existing depot in Baclaran and construction of a new satellite depot in Zapote. These will be used to house the new train sets that will be arriving.

Right-of-way acquisition will be financed by the Philippine government. Transportation Undersecretary Timothy John R. Batan reported more than 90% of the right-of-way for the Cavite extension’s first package has already been cleared, covering the first five stations from Redemptorist to Dr. Santos in Sucat.

“With today’s ceremony for LRT-1 Cavite extension, we at the (Department of Transportation)…are happy to report that all multi-decade, pending projects that we found ourselves catching up on are finally in full motion,” Mr. Batan said, noting the project was approved by the National Economic and Development Authority Board in 2002.

LRMC is the consortium of Ayala Corp., Metro Pacific Light Rail Corp., of Metro Pacific Investments Corp. and Macquarie Infrastructure Holdings (Philippines) Pte. Ltd.

Metro Pacific Investment Corp. is one of three Philippine subsidiaries of Hong Kong’s First Pacific Co. Ltd., the others being PLDT, Inc. and Philex Mining Corp. Hastings Holdings, Inc., a unit of PLDT Beneficial Trust Fund subsidiary MediaQuest Holdings, Inc., maintains an interest in BusinessWorld through the Philippine Star Group. — Denise A. Valdez