Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Philippine National Railways has new coaches

By Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—The half-naked man bathing outdoors, the woman busy with the wash, the child playing by the railroad tracks—they all had a singular expression of awe when the new train chugged past them Tuesday afternoon.

With President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as its VIP passenger, the Philippine National Railways (PNR) coach was nothing short of a spectacle, at least to those who continue to stay in the so-called “home along da riles.”

They waved, took pictures with their cell phones and tried to get as close as possible to the slow-moving train, simply unbelieving that the old PNR line had actually been restored to life.

But it’s true: With new and refurbished coaches, the PNR is alive again.

The President inaugurated the rehabilitated train system, which is planned to cut across 19 stations in Metro Manila from Caloocan to Alabang.

Later this year, trains will begin plying the Manila-Bicol route.

Work still to be done

By Ms Arroyo’s own admission, the PNR still needs a lot of work before its facilities and service can be considered world-class.

“She told us to still improve on the surroundings, to beautify them further,” PNR Chair Michael Defensor told reporters after the 30-minute ride from the Tutuban station in Manila to Buendia in Makati City.

Ms Arroyo apparently was not blind to the eyesore that would have greeted commuters once the PNR begins formal operations today.

Gone were most of the informal settlers (called “squatters” in the old days), many of whom used to dispose of their garbage by hurling bags of it onto the roof of a passing train.

Still, the sight of broken concrete, vandalized walls and piles of rubbish throughout the commute could not be ignored.

Affordable rates

The PNR trains will start from Caloocan and proceed to Asistio Avenue, C-3 (5th Avenue), Solis, Blumentritt/Tutuban, Dapitan, España, Sta. Mesa, Beata, Paco, San Andres, Vito Cruz, Buendia, Pasay Road, Edsa, FTI, Bicutan, Sucat and finally Alabang, with a 10-minute waiting period at each stop.

For their initial operations, the trains will travel only from Caloocan to Sucat. The Alabang terminal is not yet available because the government has just relocated the informal settlers in the area, Defensor said.

The Tutuban-Sucat commute will cost only P16, he said, adding:

“We would like to make this as affordable as possible.

“Our thrust now is—as we have seen PNR fail in the past—we would like to have a very strong private sector-public sector tieup so that this will be a continuing effort.”

According to Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza, authorities are looking into the possibility of a single-ticketing system for all train systems.

Defensor said the SM Corp. might later come in and “take over the stations.”


Per Defensor’s estimate, the government spent around P1.5 billion to rehabilitate the railway system.

He said 18 coaches were made available by Korea and 30 more were being repaired by Santarosa, a jeepney manufacturing company.

Defensor described the Korean coaches as commuter trains similar to those in use by the Metro Rail Transit (MRT), which, with their wide aisles, can hold from 120 to 150 passengers .

But with commuters sitting on a hard surface and facing each other, the coaches may not be feasible for long-distance travel.

The refurbished ones—with seats and comfortable leg room similar to those in a plane’s business class section—are more suited for the long Bicol route that can last up to six hours, Defensor said.

He said fixing old trains was less expensive at P5.3 million per coach than purchasing a new one at P100 million.

Long-term goal

Defensor said the long-term goal was to develop a railway system not unlike those in New York and Rome.

The idea is not far-fetched, he pointed out, especially with the impending connection of the MRT with the Light Rail Transit Line 1.

Defensor said there was also a plan to put up “a highway on top of a railway” to connect the North Luzon Expressway and the South Luzon Expressway.

“It will be shorter, and their cost will be less,” he said.

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