We took our students to a field visit to the Philippine National Railways (PNR) station and depot in Tutuban in Manila. It was a good experience for all of us who joined the trip as the PNR is currently in the process of upgrading their services with the acquisition of refurbished rolling stock and the resumption of services to Bicol. We were quite curious as to the current state of the PNR after what has been a long period of neglect from a government that is supposed to promote safe, efficient and affordable mass transit not just for the urban setting but for long distance travel as well.
The PNR station and office building at Tutuban – the old station is actually where the Tutuban is now located. Access to the Tutuban Station is through a gate and the surrounding area is not suitable for a main or central station. There is no station plaza and as we will see in another photo, the space including the platform will not be suitable should operations expand in the next few years. In fact, passengers entering the station are processed as if they are entering an office building. This is partly true as the building serves as head office for the PNR.
Train schedule for the PNR commuter line – service frequency is still low with headways of 30 minutes (a train every half hour). With the number of passengers steadily increasing, the current capacity of trains has already been exceeded. The PNR should resolve issues pertaining to conflicts along its tracks and deploy more trains and/or more cars.
Fare table for the resurrected Bicol Express – family and executive sleepers were supposed to start operation last March 16. We were told that the PNR hosted representatives of travel/tourist agencies to an exclusive initial run of the sleeper and recliner cars to Bicol and back. This was part of the promotion of rail services to travelers especially as the summer months are approaching.
Replica of old PNR train car – there were many photos and other memorabilia on display at the Tutuban station. Unfortunately, the security people seem quite iffy about people taking photos. They had to be told by our host PNR officials that we were visitors from the State University. I found this to be very odd and a definite turn off for people interested in the trains. Rail needs to be promoted and PNR security is not helping in this aspect.
Passengers queued at the Tutuban Station – there were very few seats in the waiting area and passengers who want to board the next train emanating from Tutuban had to stand in line from the gate where PNR staff and security process passengers. A better system should be established here including the introduction of ticketing machines and turnstiles to better serve passengers. It won’t hurt also to have an electronic information system for train schedules and announcements.
Maintenance cars – when our hosts led us to the platforms, the first things that caught my eyes were the maintenance cars. These have allowed the PNR to provide better maintenance work on their tracks, no longer relying solely on manual labor for inspection and other works. Behind the equipment are cars familiar to me and my colleagues – Japan Railways (JR) retired these cars from the Saikyo Line that served areas along a route connecting Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture.
Nostalgic – these cars were the very same cars we used to ride along JR East’s Saikyo Line, which now runs between Omiya in Saitama Prefecture and Osaki in Tokyo via Ikebukuro and Shinjuku. It was usually my choice for going to Tokyo from Saitama University if I was heading to Shinjuku or Shibuya. From the university, I ook a bus to Minami Yono Station where I can also see Shinkansen trains passing through the station. The latter were also headed to Omiya where the Shinkansen lines branch out to Nagano, Tohoku and Akita. The cars shown in the photos are donations from Japan and the PNR only paid for its transport.
Old and new – old cars of the PNR may also be found at the Tutuban depot like this old passenger coach at one of the platforms. We were not able to ask if the PNR had plans to preserve these old cars. In other countries, there are railway museums like the one near Omiya Station in Japan. I’m sure the PNR would not lack for museum pieces including the old locomotives on display at its gates.
Sparkling – The interiors of the commuter trains reflect the service upgrade for the PNR. The trains are clean and spacious (appropriate for the capacities required for commuter service).
Try-outs – our students and my colleagues try out the seats as we were ferried from the Tutuban platform to the depot where our hosts gave us a technical tour of the rolling stock and other facilities.
Grilled reminder – PNR coaches have their windows fitted with grills like this on the PNR commuter trains. Despite efforts to clear its right-of-way of informal settlers, there are still many along its route and these have often vandalized trains. In many instances, garbage and other items are thrown at the trains. These incidents have been significantly reduces but the PNR continues to experience such, necessitating the installation of grills. The coaches from Japan will not be operated until they are fitted with the same grills. Hopefully, the PNR ROW will be clear of informal settlers as well as other sources of impedance.
Control panel – the lead car of the train features this more modern panel for the train controls. Note also the grills on the windshield of the train to mitigate the impacts of stones or other items thrown at the train as it rolls along its tracks near communities that include informal settlers.
Exit route – when our train reached the depot, we had to climb down from the train as there were no platforms in the area. For this, one had to climb down backwards and feel for the steps just below the doors.
Maintenance yard – one of the newer commuter trains from Korea undergoing maintenance work at the depot. The coaches on the right are also Japanese donations for refurbishing, and are fitted for long distance travel though not as comfortable as the recliners or sleeping cars. These are more for longer distance commutes like from Laguna to Manila, which are similar to commutes along the JR Tokaido Line.
Busy bees – with the resumption of Bicol Express services and the revitalized commuter line, the PNR’s maintenance staff have become more busy. There seems to be higher morale, too, as the long-neglected railway company gets a much needed proverbial “shot in the arm.”
Crash victim – one of the commuter trains was involved in a crash when a truck proceeded despite the warnings and the barriers indicating an approaching train. That effectively knocked out one train and will cost the PNR a lot to repair the train. There are still many issues pertaining to safety along rail crossings, and many motorists and pedestrians remain hardheaded (pasaway?). As the PNR increases its frequencies for both its commuter and provincial services the subject of safety will become more serious and one that needs much attention.
Briefing – colleagues ask our hosts about operations and other matters concerning the PNR today. Our students also had the opportunity to ask about employment possibilities at the PNR including what qualifications are needed for railwaymen.
From JR to PNR – those are more Japanese trains in the background. We were not really surprised about the conditions of the trains considering that JR does a great job maintaining their trains given their usage.
Recruitment pitch – our students had plenty of questions for our host including those about the trains and the history of the PNR. They were informed that the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) has a baccalaureate program in Railway Engineering and that our host taught courses there. When asked where the graduates go for employment, our host mentioned its difficult for them to get employment locally as railway engineers and that the program will soon terminated.
Noontime rush – back at Tutuban Station, we witnessed passengers alighting at the station and walking towards the exit. The number of passengers was significant considering the limited capacity of the trains and the fact that it was already noontime. There are probably more passengers during the morning and afternoon peak periods.
Driver’s seat – I took this photo when we boarded our train from Tutuban to Espana. Our hosts were very kind and generous to allow us to ride in the cockpit where all the action takes place. We also got a firsthand experience of what the driver had to go through (his hand was practically on the horn the whole time he was running the train) to earn a living.
All aboard! – the Espana Station platform after all passengers have boarded the train. One passenger seems to be talking to the security personnel at one of the doors. The DOTC and the PNR posts security staff on the trains to ensure safety and security on-board. Their presence is a deterrence against criminality including snatchers and con-men who prey on students and the inattentive.
Capacity – the train is filled with passengers, underlining the demand for more efficient public transport services in Metro Manila. This, despite the fact that trains have 30-minute headways. The PNR commuter line provides an inexpensive alternative to commuters.
Crossings – the junction at Espana Avenue in Manila is among the busiest given the road traffic along this major arterial. If the PNR will increase service frequencies (and therefore capacity), this will result in higher likelihoods for crashes involving trains. During our short ride from Tutuban to Espana, we already saw a lot of crossings along the railways that require much attention and safety devices.
Line diagram – like most trains, the PNR displays information on the stations along its commuter line. We visited their main station at Tutuban and rode a train from there to Espana. I can imagine that the stations listed in red would be express stations in the future but then conspicuously “blue” are Paco and Buendia Stations, which I believe should be major stops for the PNR.