THE PHILIPPINES is still negotiating with China on the loan that will finance the South Long-Haul project, the Philippine National Railways (PNR) said on Tuesday.

“The DoTr (Department of Transportation) and DoF (Department of Finance) are studying and evaluating other options for other financial assistance, as well as a hybrid approach, with government money and partially funded by the private sector,” Jeremy S. Regino, PNR general manager, told reporters on Tuesday on the sidelines of 43rd ASEAN Railway CEO conference.

Mr. Regino said the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) is not expected to have an impact on negotiations.

“Negotiations are ongoing, and I don’t think (the WPS issue) was a factor. It is more on how interested the Chinese government is in the project. It is a matter of how badly or enthusiastically they would want to pursue the project,” he said. 

Earlier this year, the DoTr said the Chinese government withdrew its funding for three railway projects being pursued under the previous government’s Build, Build, Build flagship program.

“The reason why the negotiations stalled in the previous administration was (differences) on the rate of interest,” he said, adding that had there been an agreement on rates, the project “would have been done.”

The initial phase of the project involves a 380-kilometer railway connecting Banlic, Calamba, Laguna and Daraga, Albay.

Mr. Regino said the PNR has decided to delay a shutdown in Metro Manila operations to January in order to avoid inconveniencing the public. The PNR estimates ridership at about 35,000 a day during the holiday season.

“We will be stopping the full line in Metro Manila by the middle of January. The January closure will not affect the completion of the project because preparatory works are being done so there will be no idle time,” Mr. Regino said. 

PNR is expected to close its Tutuban to Alabang route in October to allow the completion of the North-South Commuter Railway project. — Ashley Erika O. Jose