This article came out a month ago (Feb. 24, 06) in BusinessWorld's online edition. I've only included segments of the article -and all emphasis (italics) is mine:
Well congratulations to Northrail for at least being creative about financing and seeing the potentials of the rail stations.Northrail woos Ayala for railway project
The North Luzon Railways Corp. (Northrail) has invited the Ayala group to look into the possibility of putting up malls that would serve as train terminals for the railways system in a bid to reduce government's cost for the project.
In an interview, Northrail President Jose Cortes, Jr. told BusinessWorld the company had pitched the idea to the Ayala group in a letter.
"We have conveyed it in writing and we're just waiting for them to reply. The letter was to inform them of our interest to join whatever activities they have along the way. If they set up a mall, we'll be willing to put the rail station in the same area to give them the market," Mr. Cortes said.
Northrail, which will initially run from Caloocan to Malolos, Bulacan, will have six stations for the first phase -- Caloocan, Valenzuela, Marilao, Bocaue, Guiguinto and Malolos.
Malls that will serve as terminals for the train system could benefit from the 164,743 passengers that Northrail will transport daily once it starts operations. Northrail said the number of passengers it will transport will later increase to 363,193 daily.
Mr. Cortes said Northrail is giving Ayala the option to choose which terminals it would want to put a mall in. "It would depend on what properties they have," he said.
Ayala Land, Inc. spokesman Jan Bengzon said the company is not as yet in the position to say if it is interested in the proposal. "All I can say is we're looking at it, as I'm sure other developers are," he said.
...The SM Group, meanwhile, has already signified interest in putting up malls in some areas that are designated for Northrail terminals.
"They are just waiting for the terms of reference," Mr. Cortes said.
Among others, the SM group would like to know if the Northrail stations would pass through its existing malls in the north. SM has malls in Valenzuela and Marilao, and is putting up a mall in Clark, which Northrail could later use as a terminal once the project is extended all the way to the Clark Special Economic Zone.
Mr. Cortes added mayors of the towns that Northrail will be passing through are also talking with the Gokongweis and other mall owners for the possibility of putting up malls that would serve as train stations.
Northrail is asking mall owners to build malls that would serve as terminals for the railways system to lower its costs. Mr. Cortes earlier said that if Northrail builds the terminals itself, it will only be able to allocate P5 million per station.
BUT the rail stations could be so much more.
First of all, how strategic is it to put the stations where the malls are? They should site the stations based on access and density (i.e. -how will people get to the stations, what towns should it serve) -and then invite the malls to locate.
We already made the mistake of locating MRT stations near malls rather than the logical pedestrian and multi-modal junctions. Let's not make that mistake with Northrail.
Transport access will decide development -i.e. build the trains and the malls will definitely follow.
Second, instead of just malls, they should create (say it with me folks): TRANSIT ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT, i.e-not just malls, please, but also housing. and offices.
Think of it, you could live in a station in Marilao -and take the train in to get to Fort Boni or the Makati CBD. Or you could build call centers on top of commercial centers (which we are already doing) on top of the train station. Add medium rise housing within 4/5 of a kilometer (about a 5 minute walking distance) and you have the beginnings of a transit village. Creating opportunities within a radius of .8Km will yield about 2M sq.m. of developable land. At a comfortable 20 dwelling units per acre - each station could provide more than 10,000 units of housing. At an optimal 50du/acre -stations could generate 25,000 housing units. (Not to mention at least 100,000 extra-riders and commercial customers from each station.)
And with office and commercial in the mix -there will be lots of opportunities for cross-subsidies, allowing the developer to either 1) offer below market rates for the housing or 2) set aside a large percentage of the housing for low income families. (And an opportunity to provide rental housing -to help solve the housing backlog.)
I'm sure the pro-forma would show a healthy balance sheet. HUDCC should get involved in this. And the mayors shouldn't just be looking at malls - they should consider rezoning around the stations to make them ready for transit oriented development, and create TOD friendly urban plans that encourage walking to the station.
Third, use the stations to spur development in existing centers - locate them near our old communities to open up investment possibilities in these old towns and cities.
Fourth, the stations are opportunities for civic infrastructure - for buildings that inspire and tell a story about what we want our country to be. Don't let the malls decide what the stations will look like (unless SM's concrete boxes or the Gokongwei malls fill your heart with civic pride).
The northrail investment is going to be huge and could be hugely strategic if the managers can think outside the box of trains-as-a-solution-to-congestion (i.e.- traffic reduction) and begin to think of the lines and nodes as opportunities to reshape both the built fabric of the city and the dynamics of our urban economies.
(For more information about what transit oriented development is, visit the Center for Transit Oriented Development site. For more on the benefits of TOD and strategies for implementation, visit the Rail-volution 2005 conference site to download the speaker presentations.)