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Railways in Luzon – Main Line South

October 2011


In a previous post, I talked about the recent developments concerning the PNR and provided an historical perspective of railway development in Luzon Island, particularly focusing on the Main Line North and its branches. The MLN, of course, is no longer operating with proverbial nail in the coffin hammered by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991, when lahar buried much of what was left of the lines in Pangasinan, Tarlac and Pampanga. Various initiatives have been put forward since the 1990’s to revive a portion of the MLN but in the form of a rail service connecting Clark with Manila. This is the Northrail project that has seen so much anticipation because of its promise of finally reviving railways for Central Luzon by providing access to what is being touted as the future main international airport at Clark, the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA). The continuing saga concerning what seems to be a struggle in putting up Northrail is certainly worth another post. Meanwhile, we focus on the Main Line South for today’s feature. The figure below illustrates the extent of the MLS, significant sections of which have been rehabilitated.

The PNR Main Line South (Source: PNR)

The MLS was constructed starting in the early 1900’s and can be quite tricky to establish given that many refer to it also by another familiar name: the “Bicol Express.” The invention of the latter term though was only applicable from 1938 when the first trains finally traversed the entire stretch from Manila to Legaspi, Albay. Construction for the southern line and its branches started in Manila and included the rail developments in Batangas, Cavite and Laguna that was later extended all the way to Aloneros in Guinayangan, Quezon. From here, it finally linked up with a line that started construction in Legaspi and proceeded northwards along the Bicol region until Ragay, Camarines Sur. (Reference: Corpuz, 1999 and PNR)

  • The Main Line South started from Manila and covers practically the same route as today’s commuter and Bicol line all the way to Quezon and the Bicol Region. Construction started from two points representing the end stations of Manila and Legaspi with the northern segment terminating at Aloneros (Guinayangan, Quezon) and the southern segment at Ragay, Camarines Sur. The gap was eventually connected through Tagkawaya, Quezon in 1938.
  • The Cavite Line ran from Manila to Naic via Paranaque and Bacoor for a total of 44 km, and was completed in 1908. The line was eventually abandoned in 1936.
  • The Canlubang Branch is 7 km and emanated from what is currently the commuter line from Mamatid in Cabuyao, Laguna. It was completed in 1909.
  • The Santa Cruz Branch started from Calamba and extended to Sta. Cruz and terminated at Pagsanjan, Laguna for a total of 46 km. Completed in 1912, continued contruction towards the towns of Rizal could have realized a railway line connecting the coastal towns of Laguna De Bay.
  • The Batangas Branch is a 43 km network from Luta in what is now Malvar, Batangas to Bauan via Lipa and Batangas City. Completed in 1912, the Batangas-Bauan segment was abandoned in 1936.
The PNR continues in the rehabilitation of its tracks and stations along the MLS and has already re-activated trips between Manila and Naga with trains leaving the stations at 6:30 PM and arriving at the other end about 12 hours later. The news mention sleeping cars and other amenities already available on these trains, and hopefully, the Bicol Express will run all the way to Legaspi before the year ends. Such are very encouraging and exciting developments for a system that is essential yet has seen only neglect in the past decades. Hopefully too, the developments are sustained and we shall reap the benefits from a revitalized rail system in Luzon.

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