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Monthly Archives: October 2011

PNR Field Trip in 2003 – Part 2

During the field in 2003, we also visited the PNR yard in Tutuban. The original central station/terminal of the PNR was already lost to what is now the Tutuban Mall. Perhaps in the near future, the PNR would again have a central terminal with architecture evoking its glory days. I’ve always imagined something that looks like what is Tokyo Station today. After all, stations of what was the PNR Main Line North featured red bricks.


At the PNR yard in Tutuban, one could see what were operational and abandoned rolling stock and other equipment. Notice the roofs of the passengers cars? The roofs were modified because informal settlers were throwing their garbage and other wastes on top of the cars. The reasoning for the modification was that the wastes would just slide down. There’s some anecdotal evidence that the settlers also did their own adjustments by tying two plastic bags of garbage and hurling the two in such a way that the two bags would be on either side of the roof.

A turnout at the PNR yard – turnouts allow for the diversion of trains from one set of tracks to another. It has three basic components: switches, acute angle or vee crossings (also known as “frogs”), and obtuse angle crossings. Visible in this photo is the frog at the middle of the picture and the check rails across from either side of the frog.


Every wonder how the switches are activated so trains can transfer from one set of tracks to another? The contraption on the left is a lever that moves the rails for the trains to switch tracks. Of course the LRT and MRT lines use a more modern version of these devices so trains can transfer tracks once reaching the end of the lines.


PNR staff working to secure the rails to the railroad ties (sleepers or traviesa) – it may look pathetic but the PNR was really so ill-equipped that they had to use manual drills to make holes on the wooden sleepers and then hammer the spikes (shown in the foreground) to the ties. Note the man with the big hammer on the left waiting for his turn to work. Since then, the PNR has changed many of these sleepers so we see mostly concrete ties in their places. Many sleepers were stolen not just along abandoned tracks in the north and central Luzon but those along active tracks as well. These were sold as construction material, garden accessories or even accents for houses, offices or restaurants.


PNR Field Trip in 2003 – Part 1

I found some old photos from a field trip at the PNR we organized for our students back in 2003. I remember we had a big delegation composed of senior undergraduate students of Civil Engineering, senior Tourism students, and graduate students taking up MS Civil Engineering and MA Transportation Planning. The PNR was very kind to accommodate us and explain to the students how the company was making ends meet at the time. Many of us faculty and technical staff who were still fresh out of our stints in Japan were saddened by the state of the PNR and could only utter words of support and encouragement to its management. We are now quite happy that there has been significant progress in the past few years for both the commuter line and Main Line South.

Following are a few photos from that 2003 field trip:

Students gathered around an old bogey under maintenance at the PNR facilities. The two people on the right in the photo are Dr. Dayo Montalbo of the School of Urban and Regional Planning and Dr. Val Teodoro who was senior technical staff with the NCTS at the time.

Taking a closer look at a bogey with the detached cars in the background. The state of PNR rolling stock at the time was a depressing sight considering what was once a proud company.

A look at the maintenance facilities at PNR Caloocan. This is a far cry from the modern facilities we later saw at the LRT 2 Depot in Santolan, which was only recently opened at the time.

Barbells? These are the trains’ wheels. Other spare parts are in the background. To the untrained eye, the area where they keep the spare parts looks like a scene in a junk shop.

Locomotive coming in for maintenance. PNR rolling stock at the time have seen better days and required a lot of work in order to keep the trains running. Passenger share of the PNR was insignificant due to its often irregular service at the time, partly due to the conditions of its rolling stock and partly, too, because of the conditions of the tracks.

Students and their teachers during a light moment beside locomotives undergoing maintenance in the PNR garage.

More photos on the field trip in a succeeding post.




Railways in Luzon – Main Line North

With the recent re-opening of the railway line from Metro Manila to Naga City in Camarines Sur, railway enthusiasts and old passengers alike have been quite excited about the prospect of finally having trains for travel between Metro Manila and the Bicol Region.  I believe that the rehabilitation of the commuter line to the south as well as rail facilities all the way to Legazpi City, Albay should be prioritized especially considering that such services will provide a very attractive alternative to road-based or air transport. The recent donations of rolling stock from Japan are also encouraging developments though, of course, such trains are old models and may have already seen better days while in operation in Japan’s busy railway systems. Yet, with the way JR maintains its trains, these units should run for a few more years as long as PNR take care of them.

A good source for the railway history in the Philippines, including the time when it was still known as the Manila Railroad Company. is the Philippine National Railways where one can also research on old photos and maps. There are also old reports relating operational matters as well as plans for the railways. A handy reference would be the work of Arturo G. Corpuz entitled “The Colonial Iron Horse: Railroads and Regional Development in the Philippines 1875-1935,” published by the U.P. Press in 1999. Copies of the book are still available with the U.P. Press at U.P. Diliman.

Railroad lines of the then Manila Railroad Company (source: PNR, 1992)

The entire network consisted of two main lines (Main Line North and Main Line South) and their branches. The railway lines to the north of what is now Metro Manila included the following:

  • The Main Line North, which stretched from Manila to San Fernando, La Union for a total of 260 km, started construction in 1887 with the section until Dagupan starting operations in 1892. The section until San Fernando was opened in 1929.
  • The Cabanatuan Line started from Bigaa, Bulacan and was completed in 1905 for a stretch of 9 km.
  • The 7 km Stotsenburg Line from Dau, Mabalacat, Pampanga was completed in 1903. This served what was then known as Fort Stotsenburg that eventually became Clark Airbase (It is now the Clark Freeport.)
  • The 6 km Camp One Line started from San Fabian, Pangasinan was opened in 1908 but was abandoned in 1914. It was reconstructed to Binday (now part of San Fabian) in 1937. The end of this line would have been a jump-off point for travelers heading to the “summer capital” of Baguio City.
  • The Tayug Branch stretched from Paniqui, Tarlac  to San Quintin, Pangasinan on the border with Nueva Ecija for a total of 29 km with the service to San Quintin opened in 1918.
  • The Magalang Branch was a 9 km railway emanating from Dau and was opened in 1907.
  • The Floridablanca Branch stretches from San Fernando, Pampanga to Carmen (now part of Floridablanca, Pampanga) over 20 km. The branch to Floridablanca opened in 1908 and the one to Carmen in 1919.
  • The Arayat Branch also starts from San Fernando, Pampanga and ends the town of Arayat 20 km away. This opened in 1914.
  • The San Jose Line was the last extension of the MLN from what is now Tarlac City to San Jose, Nueva Ecija through the town of Guimba and the now Science City of Munoz. The line stretched for a total of 55 km and was completed in 1939, just before World War 2 and the Japanese occupation.
Next: Main Line South

Coastal Roads in Quezon

While traveling between Metro Manila and Naga City in the Camarines Sur, I took the opportunity of taking photos of sections along the coastal roads in the towns of Quezon Province. These include roads in the towns of Atimonan, Gumaca and Atimonan, which face the waters of Lamon Bay, which in turn joins waters of the Philippine Sea as well as the Pacific Ocean. I have old photos of coastal roads on the other side of the province on the Bondoc Peninsula and will feature them in another post.

An old tire placed along the sea wall to advertise “vulcanizing” services to motorists, particularly truckers passing along this highway. “Vulcanizing,” of course is the term used for various services concerning ones tires. The shoulder stretching along the seawall serves as parking spaces for trucks plying routes along the Pan-Philippine Highway.

A peek at a small harbor located at the mouth of a river – there are many small ports located along Philippine coastlines. In some towns, there are several including those serving fishermen rather than passengers. One can see the lighthouse at some distance from the bridge where I took a quick shot.

There are many stores and eateries along the road and many travelers can choose among the carenderias or turu-turo’s. I haven’t tried eating at any of these eateries along this route but during field work, we routinely check out where we can have lunch or merienda. In some cases, you can even have viand cooked for you if you don’t like what’s being offered on the counter (often it’s just pots or pans containing various viands for the selection of the customer). For such seaside towns and barrios, I assume there’s a good supply of fish that can be cooked a number of ways.

Many stores have their usual customers (suki) among truckers. The wide shoulders provide for parking spaces but these may also bring about some hazards especially at night, and when the trucks are maneuvering. The excellent pavement conditions, and the level and straight sections can induce drivers to speed up along these roads, and such contributes to increased risk of road crashes.

I imagine it must be nice to live along the coast with a good view of the sea and with fresh air coming in from the east (Pacific Ocean). But then I am reminded of the typhoons that generally come from this direction. Quezon is one of the provinces that’s regularly on the roll call for when typhoon signals are announced.

In cases where the water is not deep enough for the larger vessels or bancas, piers are constructed. Such serve not only fishermen but people living in islands of the coast in Lamon Bay.

Some sections of the road have no inhabitants and can be quite dark at night given there are no lamp posts along the highway.

Typical pier serving large, motorized bancas serving as ferries to islands and other coastal towns. Such maritime transport are often advised to stay at port during inclement weather as they are not as sturdy as they look. Notice the outriggers that serve to stabilize the vessels as they encounter waves in the open sea.

Port of Atimonan – the construction of this port was supported by funds from the Government of Japan. Most ports are under the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), which is an agency under the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).


Undergraduate research topics on transportation 2011-2012

The Institute of Civil Engineering of the University of the Philippines Diliman is conducting its undergraduate research colloquium today. Expected to present are students who are either at the proposal stage or completing their research. Topics being completed are the following:

  • Analysis of Road Accidents Involving Children Below 15 Years Old
  • Analysis of the Impact of Billboards on Road Accidents Along EDSA
  • Assessment of the Parking Management System in Shopping Malls
  • In-Depth Comparative Analysis of Female and Male Bus Drivers for Public Transport in Metro Manila

Meanwhile, topics being proposed are the following:

  • Accident Risk by Mode of Public Road-Based Passenger Transport in Metro Manila
  • Analysis of Operations of Electric Tricycles
  • Applicability of Unconventional Transit Systems in Selected Metropolitan Areas in the Philippines
  • Assessment of the Philippine National Railways Commuter Line Services
  • Assessment of the Re-Introduction of Traffic Signal at the University Avenue-Commonwealth Avenue Intersection
  • Development of a Public Transport Information System for the UP Diliman Campus
  • Estimating Ridership for a Proposed Public Transport System for UP Diliman
  • Measuring Delay Caused by U-turn as Traffic Control Facility
  • Quantitative Assessment of Road Safety Initiatives Along EDSA
  • Travel Time Estimation of Jeepneys: The Case of University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City

The coverage of undergraduate research this year concerns mainly public transportation and road traffic safety but with one topic dealing primarily with traffic engineering. It is hoped that these researches would be able to answer certain nagging questions pertaining to transport and traffic particularly where safety and efficiency are concerned. In the case of topics on mass transport such as those on the PNR commuter services and the applicability of unconventional systems such as the automated guideway transit (AGT) and the monorail, the potential outcomes may actually be able to address questions that concern alternatives or options to road-based transport. This is essential and presently a very relevant issue given the shortcomings in transport infrastructure in many Philippine cities and the current efforts exploring the possibility and feasibility of systems that will alleviate congestion and address travel demand. Overall, such researches are targeted towards contributing to the body of knowledge that should serve as inputs to the formulation of solutions suitable for the Philippine setting.


Intelligent Transport for the Philippines

The development of an App by the MMDA for use by travelers in Metro Manila is definitely a step in the right direction and represents a breathe of fresh air for the otherwise stale and irritating smog derived from the traffic. Such tools allow for travelers to be informed of the traffic conditions The app is in a sense actually quite crude considering that it is dependent on the observations of MMDA personnel from live feeds from cameras installed along roads throughout Metro Manila, as well as inputs from motorists including Tweets or Facebook messages. The results are often subjective because of the interpretation though quite accurate due to verification made via CCTV. Thus, it employs a more basic approach than what is already being used in other countries such as Japan, the UK and Germany, where traffic conditions are determined using probe cars or systems that are no longer subject to human observation or interpretation.

Vehicles equipped with GPS and communications systems much like the ones already used by the leading logistics companies to track their vehicles now routinely send information about location and such data can be used to construct real-time maps that, if compiled for 24 hours and all throughout the year, may provide a more automated and objective approach to providing travel information. Only incidents like road crashes would then require special treatment. A variation of this type of application of ITS would have been implemented for the MMDA’s bus dispatching for EDSA a couple of years ago using RFID technology to monitor the progression of bus travel along the highway. Unfortunately, after meeting opposition from the transport sector and experiencing some glitches, the project never went underway. Sayang!

Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) has been available for quite some time now with the 1st World Congress held in1994 in Paris, France. Since then, the developments in ICT have been quite rapid though costs seem to have only reduced significantly in the past 5 years. One reason why ITS has not been able to grab a foothold in many countries is the prohibitive costs of many systems that are supposed to have more significant impacts on transport and traffic in their cities. With more resources and tools becoming available, and with many people able to acquire or access some form of tech (e.g., cell phone, internet), ITS has become available to many people though it is not necessarily cheap (how much is an iPhone?). While Metro Manila could probably afford to make investments for ITS, other cities will not have the resources for such, opting instead to put their money where it is more needed (or so we hope and assume).

Wikipedia provides a pretty decent description of ITS as derived from several sources. Depending on the reference, ITS typically has four functional components:

• Advanced Traffic Management Systems (ATMS)
• Advanced Public Transport Systems (APTS)
• Advanced Vehicle Control Systems (AVCS)
• Commercial Vehicle Operations Systems (CVO)

A fifth one, Advanced Traffic Information Systems (ATIS), is supposed to be embedded or integrated with the four. The MMDA app falls under ATIS and has applications for ATMS and potentially APTS. Leading logistics companies including local ones already employ ATIS for CVO.

I had an opportunity last year to talk about ITS when I was invited to present at the Smarter Cities Summit sponsored by IBM Philippines in December. A pdf of the presentation is found below:

SmarterCities – Transport and Traffic

ITS applications in the Philippines include the very basic ones like the parking management systems now used by shopping malls to inform about the availability of parking spaces to the more comprehensive ones like the electronic toll collection systems of NLEX and SLEX, and the SCATS traffic signal control system of Cebu City. Vehicle manufacturers now routinely use ITS in many vehicles including those sold in the Philippines. These include information on fuel consumption displayed on the dashboard, proximity alarms, and many already have navigation systems as options when purchasing the vehicle.

The 18th ITS World Congress will be held in Orlando, Florida, USA later this month. It promises to again provide participants with a taste of what has been deployed so far and how effective these systems are in addressing traffic problems. Companies participating in the congress would also be displaying products under development and perhaps postulate what can be done in the near future using technology for leverage in solving issues on transport and traffic. It should be noted, however, that ITS remains a tool that would be effective only if both authorities and stakeholders also address the roots of the transport and traffic problems in this country. Dependence on ITS alone will have very limited impacts compared to more comprehensive programs for managing transport demand and supply. Nevertheless, ITS presents a powerful tool that can tremendously enhance traditional solutions. In fact, the “full potential” for ITS combined with traditional TDM and TSM is regularly on display in Singapore with its Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) scheme. But that’s another story.

Roads to Naga City – Lucena and its bus terminal

The national highway to and from Lucena are generally in good condition and appear to be quite wide, wider than you usual national roads even within the city proper. This is perhaps due to the provision of paved shoulders usually with widths the same as the carriageway lanes. I was also quite surprised that even in populated areas, there are few encroachments along most segments. There are also fewer parked vehicles taking advantage of the availability of space along the roadside. In the city itself, most city roads are also narrow but most

Upon reaching Lucena, we decided to make a stopover at the city’s central public transport terminal. The terminal, the largest in the province, is a very practical example of a centra facility that would allow for efficient services for travelers using various modes of transport including transfers among these modes. The terminal is located conveniently away from the city center and access roads are generous thereby minimizing the chance for congestion caused by public transport operations.


Typical highway section leading to Lucena from Tayabas – sections appear wide and there is generally little roadside friction due to few encroachments and parking.



Access roads to the public transport terminal are wide and there is low traffic even during peak periods. Mostly, traffic is comprised of buses, jeepneys and vans that also call on the terminal.

The terminal serves as a major stop for buses bound for Manila, towns in Quezon, the Bicol Region, and even those going to Mindanao via the eastern nautical highway. There is generous space for passengers and bus crews, including amenities such as toilets, stores, clinics, and eateries including some popular fast food restaurants.

Passengers and bus crews may wait at the benches or designated areas maintained by bus companies. The ample space can be perfect for some stretching after long rides.

Another view of the terminal with passengers loitering around.

The terminal serves jeepneys and vans that provide both local and long distance transport services. The photo above shows berths for jeepneys bound for Lucena city proper (left), and Pagbilao town (center). Travelers may also take vans bound for destinations in Laguna and Bicol.

The large terminal area also has more than enough space to serve as a general depot for many bus companies from where they can deploy their buses or where they can conduct maintenance checks or repairs.



Some internal roads are not maintained well and there are potholes on asphalt sections. Most internal roads are generally of good condition though there is a dearth in pavement markings and road signs.

Leaving Lucena, one is again greeted by generally good highways. My impression though, is that the quality of the road generally deteriorates as we travel further from the capital city. This, of course, is something that can be attributed to the DPWH district office in-charge of particular highway sections as well as the respective local governments (including the province) and especially congressmen who also have a say in the allocation and actual use of road funds.

Roads to Naga City – Tayabas

Tayabas was the former name of Quezon Province which was and is among the largest provinces in the country. Tayabas province was renamed to Quezon after its most famous son, the first President of the Commonwealth Republic when the country was under American rule. Eventually, the province was partitioned into two with towns forming the province of Aurora, which was named after Quezon’s better half. The former capitol of Tayabas was Unisan in the southern part of the province during the Spanish Period, with Tayabas becoming the  capital during the American times. The capital is currently Lucena City, while the birthplace of Manuel Quezon, Baler, became capital of Aurora.

The highway sections from Lucban to Tayabas offers more of the same agricultural and forest scenes with the occasional human settlements along the road and often encroaching on the ROW. Because of the pleasant climate in these areas, flower farms may be found along the road.


Winding sections along the national highway include segments along the mountains with very narrow shoulders defined by open culverts for proper drainage.


There are many combinations of sag and crest vertical curves due to the terrain. The boundary between Lucban and Tayabas coincides with the well-defined vertical curves. Two structures (posts) located at either side of the road mark the boundary.


The national road goes through Tayabas and travelers would have to navigate their way inside the city. While there are directional signs, these are often lost among the visual noise of other signs.


A heritage house in Tayabas – being an old town, there are still many example of the bahay na bato, which were homes to the more prominent families in the Spanish and American Periods. These are very similar to structures in other old towns/cities such as Vigan, Manila, Cebu, Iloilo and Dapitan.


Streets in Tayabas are very much like the ones in Lucban with practically non-existent pedestrian facilities such as sidewalks and a propensity for on-street parking. Such effectively reduces the capacity of road but one-way streets are common in Tayabas, thereby compensating for this issue.

I am always intrigued by this old church along the national highway as you exit Tayabas city proper that looks like its shut and appears to be abandoned. I still don’t know what happened to the church and I’m aware of cases where places of worship such as churches are closed because of acts of desecration. In a way, it is supposed to be a form of punishment for the community for allowing such desecration to happen and the result is that penance, in part, is accomplished by instead going to church in the next town. In the older times, the next town would be quite far considering there were no modern roads or motor vehicles.

Long stretch of highway leading to Lucena – once the traveler leaves Tayabas city proper, he is again greeted with long stretches of road, mostly level rather than on rolling terrain. The highway sections are mostly excellent with pavements in condition and standard signs and markings. In populated areas, signs are often obscured by structures built or placed along the roadside.