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A bridge too far

I’m currently in the Netherlands and after fulfilling my responsibilities here, I decided to go on a trip to Arnhem. Arnhem was the site of one of the more memorable events during World War 2 when the British 1st Airborne attempted to take the Arnhem Bridge as part of Operation Market Garden. The drama that unfolded is told in the movie “A Bridge Too Far” where Arnhem was the titular bridge that was to be taken and held by the British. However, only Lt. Col. John Frost’s 2nd Parachute Battalion made it to the bridge and had to defend it against a superior German force.

My first look at the historic bridge over a river branch of the Rhine

A view of the bridge from the platform in front of “Airborne at the Bridge” 

Airborne at the Bridge is kind of a museum with video retellings of the events pertaining to the bridge. It includes material of Operation Market Garden, which was a massive land and air operation that was supposed to lead to an end of the war in Europe before Christmas 1944. They also have a shop selling literature about Market Garden and the events of the bridge as well as souvenirs.

A memorial to Jacob Groenewoud who helped gather intelligence for the allies during the operations to take the bridge. He gave his life to this cause, falling after being shot by a German sniper.

Airborne Memorial – an old artillery piece is set-up as if targeting the bridge. This was the side the British held until defeated by the Germans after what was a costly battle. The British lacked supplies as ground forces that were to relieve them were delayed at other bridges before Arnhem.

A view from under the bridge

A view of the bridge from the end that was held by the British. There are now bicycle and pedestrian lanes on either side of the bridge, which is now called the John Frost Bridge.

There is a plaque and memorial on the bridge retelling what transpired there in September 1944.

Liberation route marker near the bridge

I had thought about going to Arnhem during this trip in The Netherlands. I am a military history buff and would have regretted it much if I wasn’t able to go to this site of one of the more dramatic events during World War 2. I picked up a few souvenirs at the memorial shop and will remember this experience quite fondly.

Railway Heritage: the Old Meycauayan Station of the Main Line North

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.

Some thoughts on the Metro Manila subway project

The proposed Metro Manila subway seems to be well underway after months of studies particularly to determine the best alignment given so many constraints and preferences such as it being directly connected to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). A prominent opinion writer is obviously quite excited about the prospect of I also assume that most transportation planners and engineers in Metro Manila if not the whole country are also excited about this project. Commuters are definitely hopeful and many who have experienced riding metros abroad (e.g., Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, etc.) should be among those who look forward to using Metro Manila’s first in perhaps 5 years time.

The idea is not a new one as it is something that was actually thought of way back in the 1970s (perhaps further back?) when the precursor of JICA came up with the Urban Transport Study in Manila Metropolitan Area (UTSMMA) in 1973. The study was closely followed by a feasibility study for what was proposed as the Rapid Transit Railway (RTR) Line 1.

RTR Line 1 FSCover page for the MRTR Line No. 1 Feasibility Study (NCTS Library)

It was unfortunate, however, that the project was derailed (pun intended) after the World Bank came up with their evaluation of transport situation and transportation planning in the Philippines in 1976, which led to a counter-recommendation to have light rail transit instead of the heavy rail system proposed by UTSMMA. The latter report was followed closely by the WB-funded Metro Manila Transport, Land Use and Development Planning Project (MMETROPLAN) completed in 1977. What really happened such that the “best and the brightest” in those days (Martial Law Philippines under Marcos) abandoned the subway for light rail?

While MMETROPLAN is often lauded as a comprehensive study of metropolitan Manila, many of its assumptions and recommendations should now be subject to scrutiny. These include the assumptions on land use (e.g., for the Marikina Valley and environs not to be developed, etc.) and recommendations for a light rail transit (LRT) network. Time and history provides us with new lenses and filters by which we could try to understand what was going on in the minds of those who did MMETROPLAN. Many of those involved including one prominent (some will say self-promoting) architect and a rather controversial transport planner who were young at the time still refer to MMETROPLAN as The Masterplan that should have been implemented. It obviously wasn’t and we now bear the brunt of opportunities lost because of the decisions made in the 1970s.

I don’t buy the argument of one prominent local transport planner who downplayed the UTSMMA plan as a juxtaposition of the Tokyo metro system to Metro Manila. A more reliable and grounded assessment was recently put forward by another transport planner who is also a geographer and an economist. He was recently in London where they have a comprehensive underground railway network (the London Underground as many fondly call it) and came to the conclusion that the Japanese were inspired by this network and went on to replicate this in Tokyo. This is not without historical basis since the Japanese sent a lot of their future engineers and planners to Europe especially England and Germany during the Meiji Restoration. And so it is not a stretch to think that the principles employed by the Japanese in recommending a heavy rail system back in 1973 is not necessarily just a copy of Tokyo’s but draws inspiration from European models as well. That could have been a game-changer 40 years ago when RTR Line 1 could have started operations and commuting in Metro Manila may not have become as hellish as it is today.

Revisiting Daang Bakal, Antipolo

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.

img_3945Section before the Victoria Valley gate (view away from the gate) along which is a community

img_3946

img_3947

img_3948

img_3949One 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.

img_3950Widened section towards the Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

img_3951Section across the Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

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img_3953Skateboarders 

img_3954Power and light posts are yet to be relocated away and clear of the carriageway after the road was widened

img_3955Many electric posts need to be relocated as they pose dangers to road users

img_3956Section towards Hinulugang Taktak gate – the fence on the left is to secure the national park’s grounds from informal settlers

img_3957Section 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.

On Antipolo’s railway heritage – Antipolo Station

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:

antipolo-station-old

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.

Antipolo Station of the old railway line

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:

What if Manila retained its old railway lines?

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).

Transport Planning in the Philippines (WB, 1976)

I know its been a long while since the posts on UTSMMA (1973), MMETROPLAN (1978) and other studies – past studies and plans concerning transport in  Metro Manila. It seems apt that I finally was able to finish this piece in time for the Philippines Independence Day. Sinasadya talaga. I left a question hanging about what caused the changes in mindset reflected in MMETROPLAN that practically did away with the proposed mass transit network in UTSMMA. Browsing other materials at the NCTS Library, I came upon a report that I thought would have likely influenced the MMETROPLAN study team as well as government officials at the time. This is the report that I think would be the vital link between UTSMMA and MMETROPLAN – for what happened between these two studies and why the “about face” when feasibility studies were already underway for what could have been the country’s first subway line. The World Bank published a report entitled “Transport Planning in the Philippines” in 1976. The report had recommendations that were not favorable to rail transport whether for long distance or urban applications. Some excerpts are shown in the succeeding photos of pages of the document:

IMG09229-20140905-0938Cover of the report indicating some disclaimers and restrictions to circulation. I assume that since a copy is found in a public library then it is already declassified. It is definitely a historical document and a valuable one if we are to understand transport in the Philippines and Metro Manila.

IMG09230-20140905-0943Scan of page 36 showing the WB’s assessment of UTSMMA

IMG09231-20140905-0943Page 37 states the conclusion of the WB report regarding UTSMMA.

I leave it up to the reader how he/she will interpret this but I think it is also important to contextualize this contents of this report to the situation of the Philippines at the time. In my opinion, too, it is basically one consultant’s word against another. From what I’ve learned, the recommended plan in UTSMMA came from a team led by a very senior and well-respected professor of the University of Tokyo’s Department of Urban Engineering. Looking back now, it seems that their work was visionary and its refuting by this WB report was a critical point in the (non)development of Metro Manila’s transport.

IMG09232-20140905-0944A reference to LRT systems, which to some will seem like a counter-recommendation to UTSMMA

The same report suggested taking a look at LRT instead of the heavy rail recommendations of UTSMMA. This eventually led to subsequent studies seemingly having bias towards LRTs and distancing from much needed resources to improve the plight of the PNR.

IMG09233-20140905-0945Recommendations for the long term were explicit about the importance of having a sound spatial strategy for Philippine cities.

One could only speculate what went on in the background that were off the record or not documented. Did the WB exert its influence and ‘convince’ the Philippines to shelve ambitious plans for a heavy rail network in favor of what we now know as ill-planned light rail lines? It is this same WB report that recommended for the reorganization of the then DPWTC and DPH into the DOTC and DPWH that we know today. Thus, it is not only transport policy and infrastructure influenced by this report but also institutions dealing with transport. One person’s guess is as good as another in terms of the thinking back then as there are very few people who were directly involved in planning and decision-making then who survive now and are likely willing to divulge anything that will lead us to the truth and some closure regarding what went wrong at this critical time for transport development in the Philippines.

The data and evidence points to something Marcos loyalists would cringe to admit, that the former President ultimately failed in bringing a modern public transport system to this country and its capital. [No, the LRT wasn’t as modern and progressive as they thought it to be back then. We know now that Lee Kwan Yew got it right by investing in heavy rail urban transit at that same time.] We can only speculate that perhaps the WB and those behind the scenes knew Marcos and his ilk would probably steal much of the funds that could have been allocated for the rail rapid transit system and so did their best to come up with the conclusion that it was too expensive and the Philippines couldn’t afford it. I hope my economist friends would correct me but I am leaning towards thinking that “Uutang ka na din lang, umutang ka na para sa imprastraktura na magagamit di lamang ng mga anak mo kundi pati na rin ng mga apo mo at nila.” This seems to be the basic philosophy applied by other nations that have invested much on their transportation infrastructure. Such infrastructure has already paid off many times more and are part of the backbone of strong and resilient economies.

One colleague offered the analogy that the new JICA Dream Plan for Mega Manila is actually an updated version of UTSMMA. I also believe so and it is an updated and much more validated version of what we had back in the 1970s that was at best only partly realized (the recommendations for roads were mostly implemented). However, the price for such infrastructure will not be cheap and it will only become more expensive while we procrastinate in building them. Perhaps this should be an election issue come 2016 and something that we should strongly advocate for from our leaders.