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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.
We deviate from our usual topics that are mostly about land transportation to something about air transportation:
Waldek, S. (February 10, 2021) “How the Boeing 747 Changed the Way Airplanes are Designed,” Architectural Digest, https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/how-boeing-747-changed-way-airplanes-designed?utm_source=nl&utm_brand=spotlight-nl&utm_campaign=aud-dev&utm_mailing=thematic_spotlight_021021_2&utm_medium=email&bxid=5bd6761b3f92a41245dde413&cndid=37243643&hasha=cf6c402001bc473063a8744033fe9be3&hashb=ec2bb753c2e6299f5107823241955221da67bd1f&hashc=09f65c608bfb62050199733de500e3cd82827631b36d537ce8386d41a3bd1ff7&esrc=FYL_SEG_APR18&sourcecode=thematic_spotlight&utm_term=Thematic_Spotlight [Last accessed: 2/14/2021]
My first flight on the Boeing 747 was back in 1996 when I first traveled overseas to Tokyo. I was booked on a Northwest Airlines (NWA) flight and the airline used B747’s on the regular flights between Manila and Narita. Later, I was on another Northwest Airways, JAL and Korean Air B747’s for homecoming trips and a trip to Seoul. While in Japan, I usually took the Shinkansen for long distance domestic trips. I even had the chance to ride Pakistan Air’s B747 that was a half passenger, half freighter plane. The flight between Narita and Karachi in the 1990s had a stopover in Manila that meant cheap tickets between Manila and Narita (also because passenger demand for the airline was not as high since PAL, JAL and NWA were the airlines of choice between MNL and NRT. I was even upgraded to Business Class en route to Narita the only time I flew on PIA in 1998.
Here’s a model of a Delta B747-400 we got from one of our trips. Delta acquired Northwest and its flights to Asia.
I write this as a super typhoon is bearing down on us this 1st of November. I found this map on the internet without attribution to the original source. It shows a still-born Metro Manila with only four local government units: Manila, Quezon City, Pasay City and San Juan.
What if instead of the Metro Manila we have now, Rizal retained the towns (that eventually became cities) that were transferred to what became the National Capital Region (NCR)? These are Navotas, Malabon, Caloocan, Marikina, Pasig, Pateros, Mandaluyong, Makati, Taguig, Paranaque, Las Pinas and Muntinlupa. Valenzuela was taken from Bulacan Province. Pasig was the capital of the province (Yes, that’s why there is Capitolyo and the Rizal Provincial Capitol used to be in Pasig where you now have Capitol Commons. Surely, the political landscape could have been different though one could argue that certain families would have still held sway in cities/towns where they have their routes. Imagine, the governorship of the province would have been a coveted post but not by the the current holders but likely by personalities from the more progressive and densely populated cities. Governance would have been different, too, as Rizal would have both highly urbanized and rural areas. Perhaps certain undesirable politicians could not have emerged due to the dynamics of a province with highly urbanized cities? What’s your take on this “what if”?
Here’s one of those quick shares that I usually post here. I am a bit of a history buff and mixing that with transport will likely lead to a post like this. Here is a short article about an event in the history of the US Army that happened 100 years ago:
firstname.lastname@example.org (2019) Celebrating Highway History: The US Army’s 1919 Cross-Country Convoy, aashto.org, https://aashtojournal.org/2019/07/12/celebrating-highway-history-the-u-s-armys-1919-cross-country-convoy/ [Last accessed: July 12, 2019]
The article was particularly interesting for me because of two items: the road conditions and the man behind the US inter-state highway system. It took them a little over 2 months to cross the continental US because of poor road conditions. Many people have no sense of history and appreciation of what has been accomplished over the years and how difficult it was to travel at the time. I haven’t done the cross country trip but I have close friends who’ve done it and are thankful for the generally good roads they could use for the experiential road trip. Meanwhile, the person in the article – then Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower – is a man who made his mark in history at first as the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in the European Theater in World War 2, who would later on become President of the US. I read elsewhere that the US interstate highway system was designed so aircraft may use them as runways in cases when the US were at war and the enemy had bombed their airports and airfields (just like what the Japanese did in the Pacific).
Do we have similar accounts for our roads and bridges in the Philippines? Were there key persons who may or may not be larger than life figures instrumental in developing our road infrastructure with their vision and leadership (Marcos doesn’t count because of his bogus military record and corrupt regime)? It would be nice to compile these and perhaps it should be a collaboration between the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the National Historical Commission (NHC). They could even get the history departments of local universities involved for us to understand the evolution of transportation in this country.
I promised to post about my trip and here are a few photos I took of the PNR’s right of way (ROW) showing the railways crossing with the Pan Philippine Highway (Asian Highway 26 or AH 26) at many points.
After traveling in the early hours of the morning, we finally got a good glimpse of the PNR’s south line that basically runs parallel to the national highway.
The single track line will actually go underneath the bridge downstream from where this photo was taken. I just couldn’t get a clear shot from our vehicle. I hope to get one on the way back.
Railway tracks are currently used as access to communities with dirt roads often running just beside the tracks.
Railway tracks leading to what looks like an area that still has a lot of vegetation. Note, too, what looks like check rails in the photo.
Railroad crossing signs along the highway – the standard one is obvious in the photo
Much of the PNR’s ROW has encroachments making it unsafe for modern railway operations.
An obviously unused (dormant?) part of the line in Quezon
The government plans to upgrade or rehabilitate the PNR’s Main Line South with the help of funding (and technical assistance?) from China. A colleague opined that maybe since the north line rehab is to be undertaken with the help of the Japanese, then perhaps the south should similarly be rehabbed with the help of Japan. That should ensure the same quality and standards will be applied throughout the system. What do you think?
More photos and stories soon!
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’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.
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.
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.
Cover 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.