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Ukraine has been in the news lately due to what analysts think is an impending invasion by Russia. Ukraine, of course, used to be part of the Soviet Union. However, they have initiated what Russia thought was unacceptable, which is applying to be a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). That constituted a threat to Russia right at its doorsteps. Russia, though appear to be egging for a fight ever since they snatched Crimea from Ukraine and covet resources in that country that would likely benefit the west more as Ukraine moves to closer ties with what Russian leadership still regard as enemies.
The article I am sharing though is not about conflict but of railways in a country rich in railways history and heritage. Ukraine’s railway system date back to pre-communist times, before their inclusion in what was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Here’s a nice read on Ukrainian railroads and the women who help keep their trains running:
Mallonee, L. (May 31, 2020) “The Women of Ukraine’s Railroads Keep the Trains Running,” Wired, https://www.wired.com/story/women-ukraine-railroads/?utm_medium=social&utm_social-type=owned&mbid=social_twitter&utm_source=twitter&utm_brand=wired [Last accessed: 2/21/2022]
Here’s a quick share of an article about saving Bulgaria’s last narrow gauge railroad:
The article is relevant as it discusses the plight of railways amidst shrinking ridership and escalating costs of operations and maintenance. The railways in the article is not a isolated case. It is quite common for many railway systems. The difference of this example from another similar service like those in Japan is that Japan Railways or private companies can probably absorb the costs and maintain the line not just as a service but to show their commitment. Historically, there are many railway lines, branches if you prefer, of the Manila Rail Road Company (later the Philippine National Railways) that had to be discontinued due in part to a combination of diminished ridership and escalating O&M costs. The Main Line South, for example, had several branches including an extension from Albay to Sorsogon that had to be discontinued. Nowadays though, the topic should also be considered as the railways in the country is being expanded again. There is still the issue of ridership and this will always be in competition with road-based transport as well as aviation.
Many old cities have either retained or phased out their old road-level transit systems. I am referring mainly to rail-based streetcars rather than road-based ones such as buses. Even the indigenous types of road-based public transport may be phased out and usually in the name of modernization. Some though, like Singapore’s rickshaws and Manila’s calesas are still existent but you will find them either during odd hours or in tourist areas.
A good example of a city that has retained and preserved its transit system that is San Francisco in the US. The city still has a running cable car system, and its street cars maintained and operated by the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni). These are practically operational, traveling museums. The streetcars, for example, are of different models – a collection of streetcars from various cities around the world that have phased out this transit systems a long time ago. So it should not be surprising to see a different street car every time. And one could try to ride each one in operation while staying in city.
Here is an article about Kolkata’s (Calcutta’s) trams:
Schmall, E. (September 2, 2021) “Kolkata’s ‘Fairy Tale’ Trams, Once Essential, Are Now a Neglected Relic,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/02/world/asia/kolkata-india-trams-calcutta.html?smid=url-share [Last accessed: ]
What are your thoughts about preserving or phasing out these transit systems?
I like browsing old photos on the Philippines. Of particular interest are photos showing transportation during the Spanish and American periods. I came upon this photo of a tranvia station at Plaza Goiti in front of Sta. Cruz Church. The church is still there though it looks very different from the structure in the photo below. This is probably due to the reconstruction and renovations done over the years (it was seriously damaged during World War 2).
The source of the photo is a collection I found on the internet. Note that if you clicked the photo, you will be taken to another site where you can view other photos as well. Meanwhile, here is a screen capture of the area from Google Street View:
Plaza Lacson with Sta. Cruz Church in the background to the left of the statue of former Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson
Plaza Goiti is now Plaza Lacson with a statue of the former Mayor of Manila standing in the open space. Of course, the tranvia is no longer there but there are buses and jeepneys as well as tricycles providing public transportation in the area. The population is also higher and denser than when the first photo was taken (ca. 1910) but it seems the Sta. Cruz district is still a walkable area. We hope it will remain to be so and more initiatives are taken to have more improvements or enhancements to encourage active transport as well as public transport use over private motor vehicles.
It’s Araw ng Kalayaan (Independence Day) in the Philippines so I thought it was appropriate to feature something related to Philippine history and heritage. Railways in the Philippines played a part in its history being a mode of transport that connected the provinces of major islands like Luzon and Panay. The other railways were more for freight (e.g., agricultural goods) rather than for passengers so the railways in Luzon and Panay, especially the former, had more impact on socio-political events including the wars of independence from Spain and later, the United States. One station that probably figured in the actions during those times more than a 120 years ago is the PNR Station in San Fernando, Pampanga, which was along the main line north that was used by Philippine revolutionaries to transport troops and logistics.
Following are photos of the station, which has been converted into a museum. The proposed revival of this northern rail line will mean that a new station will have to be constructed but it would be good to integrate the old one with the new. Those responsible should work towards heritage preservation in this and other cases of railway stations.
I accompanied a visiting professor from Tokyo last November as he went around to conduct interviews with local government officials and representativea of private firms. The interviews were part of the study we are doing together relating to the JICA Dream Plan, which now seems to be part of the basis for many of the projects included in the current administration’s Build, Build, Build program.
After our appointment at Meycauayan City Hall (Bulacan), we proceeded to the old PNR station near MacArthur Highway at the old center of the town. Following are some photos I took around the station including those of the former station building.
There’s a dirt road leading to the station building along the alignment of the railway tracks. The area is clear of any structures and this clearing began under the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with then Vice President Noli De Castro in-charge of clearing the PNR ROW.
It’s quite obvious that the station building is in a very bad state. At some time there probably were informal settlers residing in the building. Such is common for many of the old, abandoned station buildings along both the PNR’s north and south lines and their branches.
The first level is of red brick while the second level, which looks like it was added much later than the red brick structure, is of wood with Capiz windows.
There is a sign informing the public about the JICA-supported project to rehabilitate the north line between Manila and Clark. The politician pictured in the tarp is the Mayor of Meycauayan City.
A closer look at the building shows some items here and there indicating people are still using it for shelter if not still residing there. I assume the guards use the building for shelter.
Another close look at the building’s red brick facade and the dilapidated 2nd floor and roof.
We learned from Meycauayan that there are plans for the station to become a museum. I agree with such plans as a modern station can be constructed for the revitalised line, and the building can be transformed into a museum not just for railways but for Meycauayan as well, which has a major part in Philippine history especially during the revolution for independence from Spain in the later 1800s. We look forward to the rehabilitation of the railway system to the north of Metro Manila and connecting not just to Clark but perhaps extending again all the way to Dagupan in Pangasinan if not until San Fernando, La Union when it was at the height of operations.
In a recent trip to a school located near Daang Bakal, I took the opportunity to ask my passenger to take photos of what used to be a railway corridor connecting Manila with Antipolo.
Section before the Victoria Valley gate (view away from the gate) along which is a community
One side of the road has been widened. The other has a lot of trees that would have to be cut or balled in order to build an additional lane.
Widened section towards the Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Section across the Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Power and light posts are yet to be relocated away and clear of the carriageway after the road was widened
Many electric posts need to be relocated as they pose dangers to road users
Section towards Hinulugang Taktak gate – the fence on the left is to secure the national park’s grounds from informal settlers
Section across Hinulugang Taktak gate
One can only imagine how these places looked like many years ago when the Manila Railroad Company operated the Antipolo Line.
I open 2017 with a post on history and rails. A reader of one of my previous posts on Antipolo and its railway heritage was very generous to include some photos of what remains of the Antipolo Station of the old (shall I say ancient), defunct railway line that traversed what is now still called Daang Bakal. Those comments and links to photos may be found under the post on old railway lines here.
Here is a photo I found in the Kalye ng Antipolo Facebook page:
From what I see in the photo, this is a photo of the end station of the railway line that stretched from Manila to Antipolo via Pasig and Cainta through what is now Valley Golf and not via Ortigas Avenue as what some people are claiming. The last two stations were at Antipolo at Hinulugang Taktak, where the remains of the old station are well preserved and there is a historical marker, and at the area that is basically at the intersection of the Circumferential Road and San Jose Street, where the end station would have been closest to the shrine. I am also basing my assessment from the topographic features shown in the photo and the fact that there are three sets of railway tracks shown, indicating that this is also probably a depot for trains. Unfortunately, as mentioned by one of my readers, is in a state where it might soon be demolished due to the road widening project for the circumferential road. I hope the Antipolo government recognizes this important part of its history, its railway heritage, and perhaps help preserve what remains of the Antipolo Station and place a marker there for future generations to appreciate.
For readers who are interested in the old railway line to Antipolo, please look at the comments section of this old post from November 2012:
Someone (Thank You!) posted about the Antipolo Station, which is the last one along the line and the station closest to Antipolo Church. While the remnants of the old station at Hinulugang Taktak is well preserved and safe (for now) from any future developments, what remains of the old Antipolo Station is now in danger of being demolished. Antipolo and the DPWH are widening the circumferential road located in the area and based on the dimensions of the sections already completed at Siete Media beside the Robinsons mall, the remains of the old station structure may be lost as well.
In my opinion, the city should preserve this part of its history that is also a part of our railway heritage. While such road widening projects may be important, retaining this piece of history is equally relevant as it provides us with a perspective of the past (i.e., how people travelled, what were their destinations of interest, etc.) and learn some lessons about this (e.g., why we should not have wholly abandoned rail for road transport).