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Comments on current transport issues – Part 3: On the obstacles to the PNR trains

2) On the obstacles to the PNR operations

We have done studies before when studies on the PNR were not considered fashionable. People who did research on rail transport were more interested in Lines 1, 2 and 3, and dismissed the PNR as a lost cause. There were many transportation experts who ridiculed it and even taunted PNR about their poor service. And yet we did our studies because we had an appreciation of the importance of this line and how it could play a major role in commuting if given the resources to improve their facilities. It was shown that the line could be more advantageous for commuters particularly those traveling between the southern parts of Metro Manila and Makati and Manila. These would be both workers and students who will benefit from the shorter travel times and less expensive fares. The downside then (and still at the present time) was the long headways between trains. That is, you can only catch a train every 30 minutes.

This photo taken more than a decade ago show the typical conditions along many sections of the PNR. It is pretty much the same today and the agencies involved (DOTr and PNR) have done little to reduce the informal settlers along the line. No, they didn’t just appear now, and are throwing garbage, rocks and other debris on the trains. This was already happening years ago.

Fast forward to the present and they seem to be getting a lot more resources than the last 30+ years. A Philippine Railway Institute (PRI) has been created. New train sets have just been delivered and went into operation. Unfortunately, the new trains were met with rocks and other debris as they traveled along sections occupied by informal settlers. The incident damaging the new trains puts further emphasis on the need to the need to address the squatter problem along the PNR line. Should fences be built to protect the trains and passengers? Should people be relocated? I think both need to be done in order to secure the line and in preparation for service upgrades including more frequent train services (i.e., shorter intervals between trains). And we hope to see the DOTr and PNR working on this as they attempt to attract more passengers to use their trains.

Another look at the PNR tracks in Bicol

Before I post on more recent photos I took from our road trip to and from Baler, Aurora, I just wanted to share photos I took of the PNR railway tracks from an earlier trip to Naga City.

Railway crossing somewhere in Quezon – there are many crossings such as these in many towns in Laguna and Quezon

Notice that this is a single track set-up, which means only one train at a time along either direction may use the railway tracks.

Another railway crossing with an informal tricycle and sled terminal. Yes, that’s another paratransit on the right that runs along the seldom if ever uses railway tracks.

There seems to be no trace of railway ties or sleepers here.

The tracks here look like they are not longer in use even by sleds.

Old railway barrier that looks like its no longer functioning

Idle tracks as evidenced by the grass and the parked vehicles. A narrow road runs parallel to the tracks; giving access to homes along the riles.

There are railway ties/sleepers along these tracks that seem to be still in use judging from the limited growth of grass and the space being clear of obstructions.

More idle tracks including rails buried in the ground

Another railway crossing along the national highway

Railway bridges along the PNR Main Line South

This is a continuation of the series of posts about my recent trip to Bicol where I was able to take some photos for items I generally label. These stock of photos are posted here for several reasons including convenience of access in case I need them for lectures or other presentations. Previously, I had posted on vertical curves along the Andaya Highway. This time around are some photos I took of railway bridges along the PNR’s Main Line South and particularly in Camarines Sur. It was quite challenging to look for or anticipate seeing these structures; many of which are quite old and in a state needing urgent maintenance. Most if not all are steel truss bridges and the ones in better conditions are shown in the following photos. All were taken within the Naga City boundaries.

Some snapshots of the PNR ROW along the way to Bicol

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!

PNR Calamba Station

The last set of photos on PNR stations that I have and want to share to my readers is this set on the PNR Calamba Station.

Train loading passengers before proceeding – there are few trains and headways are long so it takes a while waiting for the train to go

DOST-MIRDC’s hybrid electric train – is it undergoing maintenance or has it reached the proverbial “end of the line”?

Head of the train

Interior of the commuter train

Sign verifying which station this is

Station platform

PNR staff having a time-out between train operations

PNR San Fernando, Pampanga

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.

PNR EDSA Station

Another station where our staff conducted surveys at is the PNR EDSA Station. This is the one close to the Magallanes interchange where you can get off if you’re transferring to a bus or jeepney using EDSA, South Super Highway or Chino Roces. Here are some photos taken a few weeks ago.

Station platform with a commuter train in the background. Note the lack of signs and the condition of the railway tracks. 

PNR commuter train – it is noticeable that the train is much shorter compared to the platform. The same platforms served the longer trains serving provincial routes back in the day.

Arriving train beneath the overpass that’s part of the Magallanes interchange (intersection of EDSA and SLEX)

Another photo of the station with a train stopped to unload and load passengers – the service frequency, I’ve been told, is still quite low. The PNR services have a lot of room for improvement but they will have to acquire more rolling stock and rehabilitate their tracks. Perhaps they should also improve their fare collection system (Beep card?)?

PNR Alabang Station

My colleagues conducted a survey at several Philippine National Railway (PNR) stations in relation to studies being made for proposed new railway lines including those for rehabilitation. One was already posting photos on her social media account so I asked if I can use some of her photos here on this blog. She generously obliged so here are photos taken just a few weeks ago at the PNR Alabang Station.

PNR commuter train at the Alabang Station – note the conditions of the railway tracks and how open the station is.

People (not necessarily passengers) walk along the railway tracks

Passengers queued to get tickets for their journey

Station platform

Another photo of the platform and train

Passengers queued for tickets and entering the platform (yes, no turnstiles here) while a surveyor works

Here’s a train that’s about to close its doors after loading passengers

More photos soon!

Failed experiments? On the DOST’s hybrid train and AGT

Our staff were implementing surveys in relation to the proposed railway projects supported by the Government of Japan. They came across this scene showing the DOST’s (through its MIRDC) hybrid electric train.

The hybrid electric train at the PNR Calamba Station. It looks like its being maintained or checked although I’m not sure the crude set-up is appropriate for such undertaking.

The DOST had a much hyped program during the last administration about the development of Philippine-made transport. Among these were the two Automated Guideway Transport (AGT) train sets that were developed by the MIRDC – one with two 60-passenger (seated and standing) cars and a test track in UP Diliman, and another with two 120-passenger cars with test track at the MIRD compound in Bicutan. While both had what were claimed as extensive tests, these were mainly done by DOST/MIRDC personnel with no independent inspections or validations. At one time, I recall that we at UP had discussions with representatives of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries who offered to explore arranging for a technical cooperation project to have a full-scale testing of the AGT’s using their facilities in Japan. We referred them to MIRDC and that didn’t turn out well as the agency (or perhaps under the the instructions of a higher official?) was supposed to have rejected the offer preferring it to be tested locally. That was a major problem because there were no suitable testing facilities or qualified persons or institutions to grant certification for the AGT to be used as public transport.

The last time I checked with folks at DOST and UP, the AGT prototype set-up in Diliman was already being scheduled for dismantling. This probably comes as a welcome development for those who opposed the project from the start. However, there is potential here for continuing research if only funding could be secured and proponents kept open minds and objectivity in the way researches could be done. There was the perception before that the people behind the AGT projects were so engrossed with what they thought were their babies that they blocked critical but objective comments and recommendations about the prototypes and their applications.

As for the hybrid electric train, there is now supposed to be a cooperative project between the MIRDC and PNR. I recall a few months ago that they even had some test runs to show the hybrid train to be running on PNR tracks; even hyping that this could be part of the future of a rehabilitated PNR. Is this true or just PR? Hopefully, the DOST could get the context right, and the DOTr and PNR can support such initiatives for Philippine-made transport. This is especially as the current administration continues to pursue its Build, Build, Build program that has as major features several railway projects.

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.