SENATOR Aquilino Pimentel III on Friday asked President Benigno Aquino III to transfer supervision of the Mindanao Railway Project Office (MRPO) from the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB) to the Philippine National Railways (PNR).

Pimentel, representing various Mindanao leaders, said PNR has the technical know how to implement the project, a network of lines linking Cagayan de Oro to the cities of Iligan and Zamboanga, the provinces of Agusan and Surigao and the cities of Davao and General Santos.

He said the masterplan was already completed in 2010 and the feasibility study for the first phase of the project is also finished, linking the Cagayan de Oro industrial corridor from Jasaan, Misamis Oriental to Linamon, Lanao del Norte.

Pimentel said the opening segment of the proposed Mindanao Railway System will link two vital Mindanao gateways, the Languindingan International Airport and the Mindanao Container Port.

He said business in these areas, including the transfer of goods, trade and commerce, will enjoy an expected boon once the project is in full operation.

The project was started in the late 90s during the term of former President Fidel Ramos, but it was only in 2006 when the MRPO was created under the supervision of the LTFRB.

The state-run Saudi Fund for Development was reported to be interested in providing as much as $1.3 billion in cheap financing to fund the 124-kilomter railway systems.

Government is also keen on tapping official development assistance (ODA) funds in partnership with China to build the railway which is vital to the economy.

Pimentel expressed hope that with MRPO under PNR, the agency mandated to establish a national railway system, the long-delayed project will finally take off the drawing boards. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)