THE Department of Transportation (DoTr) unveiled on Monday parts of the specialized underground equipment which will be used to help build the Metro Manila build its first subway line, heralding the imminent start of the line’s tunnel construction phase.

The tunnel boring machine (TBM) from Japan automates the digging process by reinforcing the tunnel as it digs, reducing the need for a separate operation to shore up the tunnel wall to prevent the works from collapsing.

“TBMs have the advantage of limiting the disturbance to the surrounding ground and producing a smooth tunnel wall. This significantly reduces the cost of lining the tunnel, and makes them suitable to use in heavily urbanized areas,” the DoTr said in a statement.

Transportation Undersecretary for Railways Timothy John R. Batan has said that the target was to begin tunneling works within the year.

“This unprecedented utilization of a massive construction resource is testament to the commitment of the DoTr in ensuring the delivery of major transport infrastructure in the soonest possible time,” the department said.

The government broke ground for the first three stations (Quirino Highway, Tandang Sora and North Avenue) of the subway project in February last year after the DoTr signed a P51-billion deal for that package with the Shimizu joint venture, which is comprised of Shimizu Corp., Fujita Corp., Takenaka Civil Engineering Co. Ltd. and EEI Corp.

The Philippines and Japan signed in March 2018 the first tranche of the P355.6-billion loan for the Metro Manila subway project.

While the public will have to wait until 2025 for full operations of the 36-kilometer subway, the government targets partial operations — covering the first three stations — by 2021. — Arjay L. Balinbin