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Railroad can help solve our transport problems

/ 01:15 AM June 10, 2015

We have a very efficient railroad in the House of Representatives, but not in Luzon. The railroad is the most economical and efficient means of transportation worldwide. It opened the American Wild West to development. We used to have an efficient railroad in Luzon, but a succession of presidents neglected it to the point of deterioration.

The Philippine National Railways (PNR) used to run trains from San Fernando, La Union, in the north to Legazpi, Albay, in the south. The Bicol Express became famous because it took passengers from Tutuban, Manila, on an overnight trip to Legazpi. When one awoke in the morning, one would see Mount Mayon through the train windows.

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When vacationists went to Baguio, they took the train to Damortis, La Union, then transferred to first-class buses and cars for the climb up Kennon Road to the Pines City. The trains had first-class coaches and dining cars.

There was a plan then to extend the railroad to Laoag, Ilocos Norte, in the north, to the port of Matnog in Sorsogon in the south.

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Up to the time of President Diosdado Macapagal, the PNR was being run smoothly. When Macapagal went up to the Mansion House in Baguio, he took the train. One coach was reserved for him and his family (Gloria Macapagal was just a little girl then). We reporters who covered Malacañang rode in the next coach. Somewhere along the way, Macapagal would transfer to our coach and hold a press conference, and we would have our stories for the day.

But what happened to the PNR after that? President Ferdinand Marcos gave priority to toll roads because a crony had organized a construction company which got the franchise to construct toll roads. It still has that franchise. New toll roads that connect to the original one became part of the franchise, hence the NLEx and SLEx.

Why the shift from the railroad to toll roads? Besides the fact that a Marcos crony would be the beneficiary, the American automotive industry lobbied for it. Hence, American-made cars began to flood the country. Japanese- and Korean-made vehicles came later, and now our roads are jammed with all sorts of vehicles, making travel in the Philippines, especially in Metro Manila and other cities, very difficult. Instead of being a blessing, motor-driven vehicles have become a plague.

The automotive companies, including their Philippine dealers, made a lot of money but the Philippine economy did not progress fast enough because of the slowness in transporting goods and people.

Roads in Metro Manila are crammed with vehicles at all hours, even at night. Public transportation is inefficient. Buses are caught in traffic jams of their own making. The elevated trains are faster but they are breaking down because of corruption, inefficiency and neglect by the transportation department. There are times when the whole metropolis is caught in a gridlock of unmoving vehicles.

Yet there is a means of transportation available that can move more passengers and cargo quickly and efficiently without taking too much road space: the train. Unlike motor vehicles that need plenty of road space, trains need only the narrow railroad tracks.

All the developed countries in the world relied on trains for primary means of transportation: the United States, China, Japan, India, Russia, the whole of Europe. Trains moved the most number of people and cargo quickly, and on time.

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The Philippines was one of the first Asian countries to have a railroad. It even had electric-driven commuter railroad cars in Manila, the tranvia, which was running until Liberation. So what happened?

Alas, all the presidents after Marcos, including the incumbent, were not bright enough to see the importance of the railroad. With proper support from the national government, the PNR can help solve the Philippines’ transportation problems.

One big cause of the traffic jams in Metro Manila are the huge cargo trucks and buses transporting cargo and passengers from north to south in Luzon and vice versa. Although there is no need for them to pass through Metro Manila, they have to because there is no other way.

But with the railroad, passengers and cargo going to and from the north and south of Luzon don’t have to pass through the middle of the metropolis.

The traffic jams and port congestion caused by trucks transporting container vans to and from the piers can be solved by the railroad. There is an existing railroad spur to the piers. By transporting container vans to and from the port on railroad flat cars, there would be no need for trucks to crowd Metro Manila’s narrow streets.

Even the NLEx and SLEx would be relieved of traffic jams because people can ride the trains instead of their cars.

But what’s in store for the PNR? Last Monday, we had two PNR officials as guests at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel: consultant Antonio Soriano and spokesman Estelito Nierva. They told us of the PNR’s problems: Lack of funds and squatters.

The national government has not been helpful in providing the necessary funding for the rehabilitation and development of the railroad. The squatters not only have occupied the railroad right of way but are also stealing the railroad tracks piece by piece, which they sell to junk shops. They also throw their garbage on the roofs of passing trains.

The future: The tracks are being repaired. Local government units will be deputized to rid the right of way of squatters. New trains are being acquired. The line will be extended to Legazpi in the south and to Angeles, Pampanga, in the north. This line will then be extended back to San Fernando, La Union.

All of these cost money, so the PNR will raise its fares, but not by much—only P5 per zone.

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TAGS: Philippine National Railways, railroads, trains, Transportation
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