The idea of having two (or more) mass transit lines of Metro Manila connected by a single physical station has long been a dream among urban planners and mass transit enthusiasts ever since the metropolis’ mass transit system is being built. And like many things in this country, it is a dream that has been “derailed” (pun intended) at times, no thanks to vested interests and sheer ineptitude. Nevertheless, the dream is finally being realized with the construction of the North Avenue Grand Central Station, which will be the shared station of Lines 1, 3, 7, and 9 (aka the subway line).
To understand the importance of this common station, it is important first to know first the saga of the common station and how it has shaped the mass transportation development of the metropolis.
An attempt for true interconnectivity
The construction of Line 3 showed the first botched opportunity for interconnectivity with Line 1. Granted the location of the EDSA station of Line 1 is not realistically close to the Taft Avenue station of Line 3 and the platform and concourse areas were not located on the same level, there could have been away to make the connection between the two lines much better. At the very least commuters from Line 1 would not have to take a tiring climb to the stairs cross the tracks, go down and take a long walk to the Line 3 concourse and climb down to the platform.
But perhaps the worst offender would probably the Cubao stations of Lines 2 and 3 which catered more to the malls of Araneta City rather than the commuters who only want to go to one line to the next. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with having malls along the commuters way between stations, but not when these commuters have to go inside and outside two malls to get between those stations. And if the malls are closed, the commuters are at the losing end as they lose protection from the weather such as rain and harsh sunlight.
With these botched implementations, it was determined that the planned connection at the north between Lines 1 and 3 (and eventually Line 7) would not face the same accessibility problems by making the connection between lines as seamless as possible. This was the vision of the original North EDSA station introduced in the late 2000s which was planned to be built right next to the Annex building of SM North EDSA. In fact, during the renovation of the Annex building, SM already alloted a section in the mall’s 4th level for a direct connection to the station.
Then came 2010 with a new president and 2 transportation secretaries under his tenure who f*cked things up.
The Urban Roamer covered this issue in previous posts but it bears to be recapped here. In 2014, then Transportation secretary Joseph Emilio (P)Abaya Jr. had this “brilliant” idea of changing the original common station plans by relocating the station to the area near the Ayala-owned Trinoma Mall across SM, right near the location of the Line 3 North Avenue station. This adversely affected the Line 7 connectivity which would force commuters to make a long walk to get to either Line 1 and 3, defeating the purpose of accessibility for all 3 lines.
There was also another underlying issue as it pitted SM and Ayala into a war of sorts. Remember that SM would have benefitted from the original common station location and it felt that the government was going against its word to benefit the Ayalas which were seen to have a closer relationship with the administration. It resulted to a lawsuit at one point.
A resolution, sort of
Finally the matter was resolved in August 12, 2016, incidentally with a new administration and a new transportation secretary at the helm. Ayala and SM agreed to a new location of the common station, which would be known as the Unified Grand Central Station or the North Avenue Grand Central Station. The location and layout would also change, with the station instead to be built on the old parking area at Trinoma facing the main mall of SM North EDSA.
The station will have 4 levels, with the second floor as the common concourse area for Lines 1, 3, and 9 and the third floor will be the platform areas, with Line 1 and 3 at the EDSA side and Line 7 on the North Avenue side. The underground Line 9 is technically not served by the station but there will be an underground walkway connecting the main North Avenue Grand Central with the North Avenue station of Line 9.
Another thing to note is that the station would have 3 components completed by different parties. The area connecting Line 1 and 3 will be built by the Department of Transportation, the platform areas connection the former with the Line 7 side is being done by an Ayala subsidiary while Line 7 will be done the line’s project proponent San Miguel Corporation.
To be frank, the one that we have now is not as elegant and convenient as the late 2000s plan for the station. But it is what we got now and it could have been worse.
It is expected that at least the Line 1 and 3 side of the station will be completed by 2021 and the Line 7 side soon after. Expect some delays given the current pandemic but I for one am hoping that the completion of this station will be a step towards more comfortable and unobstructed mobility for the commuters of the metropolis that has long been ignored by the infrastructure built supposedly for them.