Thursday, 28 January 2010

PNR trains get second life

Manila Bulletin

Fielding new and secured train coaches coupled with cheap fares, the rail system of the Philippine National Railways is fast becoming a favorite alternative mode of transport among Metro Manilans, authorities said.

Ridership on the refurbished PNR, which plies the Tutuban (Manila)-Bicutan (Taguig) route, showed a steady increase from September 2009 to December 2009, according to PNR Operations Manager Estelito Nierva.

He said 202,404 passengers took the PNR trains in September, steadily climbing to 231,339 in October, 277,969 in November, and 282,011 in December.

The PNR’s new air-conditioned coaches travel from Tutuban to Bicutan passing through stations in Laong-Laan, España, Sta. Mesa, Pandacan, Paco, Vito Cruz, Buendia, Pasay Road, EDSA, FTI, and the southernmost terminal in Bicutan.

The old PNR trains used to travel up to Biñan in Laguna in the early 80s.

Much earlier, even during the Spanish colonial period, the PNR route extended as far north as Dagupan in Pangasinan, and later during the American occupation, down south to Tabaco City in Bicol.

However, much of the rail system was damaged during World War II, and never fully recovered until the iron tracks disappeared in many places,
sold to junkshops or recycled.

Nierva said the new trains would travel up to Sucat by next month and up to Bicol by May.

Mark Ivan Roblas a regular commuter, said the fastest way going to his work place in Bicutan is the PNR trains, with travel from Tutuban to Bicutan taking only 45 minutes.

“Mabilis, walang traffic, at malamig,” Roblas said.

Nierva said the PNR is now also being used by many commuters going to Makati via its Buendia station.

“Saka natututo ang mga tao sa oras,” Roblas said, explaining that one has to catch up with the early schedule of the PNR coaches.

PNR has six trips from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. in the morning, with the first train leaving Tutuban at 6 a.m. and Bicutan at 6:40 a.m. Afternoon trips start at 3:30 p.m. from Tutuban and at 4:47 p.m. from Bicutan.

“We started with two round trips in July 2009. Then we had 12 trips in August. We started having 16 trips last December. And we will double the number of trips by next month (February),” Nierva told the Manila Bulletin.

The rehabilitation of the PNR was a result of a deal between the Philippine government and the Korean Export-Import Bank which funded the fleet modernization and rail upgrade of the train agency.

Nierva said more improvements will be made to entice passengers to patronize PNR, which became unpopular in the past owing to incidents of robberies.

Informal settlers who used to live along the system’s tracks also made it their hobby to pel the passing trains with garbage and even human waste, hitting commuters inside the open coaches.

Now, aside from equipping the train windows with grills, security escorts have been fielded to keep passengers safe.

Travel by PNR train from Tutuban to Bicutan and vice versa currently costs P10 to P15 but the rates will soon be adjusted, according to Nierva.

“Our fares are too low compared with the buses and the MRT (Metro Rail Transit). We are on the process of review. We may adjust them but they will still be lower then the bus rates,” he assured.

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