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Railway safety in the Philippines

November 2012
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As the Philippine National Railways (PNR) attracts more passengers and (currently) more support translating to more resources, it is hoped that the company will finally take off and perhaps help improve public transportation and commuting in general. The PNR has been experiencing a renaissance of sorts with the increased frequency and capacity for its commuter line. This, despite still many limitations pertaining to hardware such as its rolling stock and railway tracks (i.e., the PNR has double tracks only along its line Caloocan to Alabang, the rest is single track). The acquisition of newer trains for the commuter line and the upgrading of railway tracks helped revive flagging ridership though service frequencies are still quite limited due to the limitations mentioned. Among the major issues the PNR is still facing at present are encroachments to its right-of-way and safety concerns at the many level crossings along the tracks. While there have been efforts to improve safety by adding devices such as barriers and posting personnel to manage road traffic when trains are passing through, the system is still wanting in terms of safety and there has been a rash of incidents along its commuter and Bicol lines involving road vehicles and pedestrians. Of course, these are not all the PNR’s fault considering there are many “pasaway” people who still insist on crossing the tracks despite warnings of an arriving train. I am featuring below some aspects of rail and road safety that my students have collected during their research on the state of the PNR commuter line.

IMG_7753PNR Commuter Line train

Commuter lineThe PNR Commuter Line – indicated in red is the double track (two-way) stretch and in orange is the single track (one-way) part of the line that ends in Calamba. The line to Bicol is also single track.

CrossingsMap showing the list of level crossings along its Commuter Line between Caloocan, Manila and Calamba

DiamondThe PNR defines a diamond-shaped clearance at all level crossings. The diagram above was secured by my students from the PNR, clearly illustrating the area within which there should be (ideally) no obstructions.

Malugay BuendiaThe concept of diamond clearance as applied to level crossings at Malugay, Buendia (Gil Puyat) and Dela Rosa in Makati City.

Simoun-FajardoThe diamond clearance concept as applied along level crossings in Manila.

It is unfortunate that there was a recent derailment of a train in Bicol due to the failure of the railway tracks’ (soil saturation due to heavy rains). This incident will surely set back services until the section has been repaired and perhaps reinforced to prevent such happening again in the future. I always imagine the PNR’s Bicol Express during its glory days as my father has related stories of how good its service was then. This romanticized idea of rail is still alive today and the addition of sleeper and air-conditioned cars have attracted tourists visiting the Bicol Region to use the PNR. It is hoped that this could be sustained and services expanded in the near future. Of course, investments should go into make the Bicol Express line double track in addition to more trains to accommodate two-way traffic. I wouldn’t dream yet of high speed rail for this corridor but decent train services should be able to compete with buses and give travelers a safe and efficient option for travel over land.


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