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The Mindanao Railway Project, and comparing Mindanao with other island economies in Asia

The proposed railway of Mindanao in the Philippines, China-Laos railway update, and factories leaving China for Southeast Asia.

When I made a map of current and proposed railways in Southeast Asia, the final result looked almost too ridiculous.

A lot of these proposed projects are indeed happening, but presenting it like this makes it look overwhelming and unachievable. To make this information more tangible I’m working my way through each project here at Living In Asia.

One section that could potentially add up to 2000km of new line is the Mindanao Railway Project in the Philippines.

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Mindanao Railway Project – The proposed 2000km railway on the second-largest island in the Philippines

The Mindanao Railway Project was approved when Duterte came to power in 2016. Construction was meant to start in 2017, then 2018, then 2019, and now?

The latest announcement has seen the railway being downgraded from a dual-track electricity-powered railway to a single-track diesel-powered railway. This change has been to reduce costs, though it will cost more to upgrade in the future.

What isn’t clear is if it’s to reduce costs, or is it so Duterte can keep his election promise of finishing the Mindanao railway by the end of his term in 2022.

It would be unlikely that the first 105km stage would be completed by then, let alone the whole system. I think it would be a mistake to downgrade it when it will need to be upgraded later.

Perhaps it’s that the Philippines is comparing the line with what it already has. So far there are only railways on Luzon that serve the Metro Manila area. In that context a new single line diesel railway on another island is a massive step forward.

Rather than looking at Mindanao as another island of the Philippines, it’s instructive to compare Mindanao with similar sized islands around the world. The following numbers I’ve taken from Wikipedia for the purpose of a general overview.

At 97,530 km2 the island of Mindanao is the second largest island in Philippines, not far behind Luzon at 109,965 km2. Overall the Philippines has 298,170 km2 of land, so those two islands make up the bulk of the reported 7107 islands.

If you were to insert Mindanao into the list of countries by size it would be between South Korea at 99,909 km2 and Liberia at 96,320 km2. Comparing it with other island nations, Sri Lanka is 65,268 km2 and Taiwan is 32,260 km2.

I haven’t found an updated head count for population, but in 2010 the island had over 20 million people, and the province had 25 million in 2015.

By comparison, the island of Sri Lanka has a population of 21 million, Taiwan 23 million, and the island continent of Australia has 25 million people.

In that context, Mindanao should look at itself as competing with islands of a similar size, rather than settling for scraps from Manila.

Mindanao should stick with its original plan to build a dual-track electricity-powered railway.

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