The modern train system of our past
I was recently astounded to learn that there are remnants of an old train station at the entrance of Hinulugang Taktak in Antipolo.
This information was relayed to me by acclaimed Antipolo artist Joven Mansit. I was curious to see for myself, so off I went to the area after attending a court hearing in the city. Lo and behold, the remnants of the train station are indeed right at the entrance to the famed waterfall.
While only the concrete columns of the train station remain, the existence of proof that there was a time when we had trains that went all the way up to Antipolo amazed me no end.
Several days later, I needed to drive to Mandaluyong from Makati. I consulted Waze, the map navigation app, to find the route with the least traffic. When I inspected the suggested route, I was surprised to note symbols of train tracks along the Pasig River side of Mandaluyong even though no actual train tracks can be seen in the area now. The symbols of train tracks bear the label “Philippine National Railway-Sta. Mesa-Pasig Line (defunct).”
This additional revelation encouraged me to read up on the story behind these vestiges of a train system in our country. And what I discovered was astonishing: a time and age when the Philippines had an extensive train system in the most populated parts of the country.
I discovered that, in what is now Metro Manila and nearby localities, there were three train lines that provided transportation to all commuters. First, a “Marikina Line” was operated from 1906 to 1936; starting from the Tutuban central train station in Manila, it passed through Pasig, and its trains went all the way to the towns of Marikina and Montalban.
Second, a “Cavite Line” was operated from 1908 to 1936; it passed through Paco in Manila, and it went through Parañaque and to the Cavite towns of Bacoor and Naic.
Third, an “Antipolo Line” was operated from 1908 to 1917; it passed through the communities in Santa Mesa, Mandaluyong, Pasig, Cainta, Taytay, and it went all the way up to Antipolo near the Hinulugang Taktak. This explains the presence of the old train station I saw at the waterfall entrance.
The train system was not confined to Manila and its surroundings. There were trains that operated in the provinces. Before World War II, the Philippines had a unified railway system that stretched for 1,140 kilometers from San Fernando, La Union, in the north to Legazpi, Albay, in the south. The Manila-La Union portion was known as the North Main Line, and the Manila-Albay portion was known as the South Main Line.
The North Main Line had branch lines that went to San Quintin, Pangasinan, and to San Jose, Nueva Ecija, as well as a “lateral line” between the Pampanga towns of Floridablanca and Arayat. On the other hand, the South Main Line had a branch line that went to Batangas, Batangas, and a “lateral line” between Lipa, Batangas, and San Pablo, Laguna. In the Visayas, there was a 36-km Cebu train line between the city of Cebu and the town of Danao, while 116 km of railways crisscrossed Panay island.
Finding out for the first time about this virtually unknown period of our history generated mixed feelings of amazement and disappointment in me. Amazement because of my discovery that, more than 100 years ago, a modern train system served the transportation needs of our ancestors as a community. And disappointment at the realization that we turned our backs on a community transportation system, and went the path of individualistic transportation which gave rise to our current problems on pollution, traffic gridlock, urban congestion, and disproportionate economic growth between our urban and rural communities.
The Duterte administration has unveiled nationwide railway projects worth P1 trillion that will provide train transportation connecting our most populated communities in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. Hopefully, these projects will let us relive the glory days of our past.
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