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Railway network for the Philippines?

We start November with an article about railways. There seems to be a lot of buzz about rail these days including talks about the prospects of a subway line in Metro Manila and long distance north-south lines for Luzon Island. These projects, though, will take a lot of time to be constructed and operational, even if these projects started immediately (i.e., next year). That is perhaps one reason why these projects need to be implemented sooner rather than later. And the more these projects are delayed, they become more expensive and also difficult to build (e.g., there are other developments such as roads that may hamper rail and other mass transit projects).

I had a couple of students who did research a little over three years ago on the state and operations of the Philippine National Railways (PNR). Aside from the research manuscript, their work has not been published. The results, however, seems quite appropriate these days as the country and Metro Manila in particular grapples with problems pertaining to commuting that is dominated by road-based transport. I will write about their results here but only show some excerpts as we intend to have part of their work published.

As a first salvo, here’s a map that they were able to get from the Philippine National Railways (PNR). The map shows current and proposed railway lines throughout the country. These include the PNR Main Line South (MLS), which extended to Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur and Albay. There is also what used to be the PNR Main Line North (MLN) that extended to Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Pangasinan and La Union. Panay Railways, the only other long distance railway system aside from the PNR as late as the late 1970s, is also in the map along with the proposed Mindanao Railways.

 

PH rail

This map was provided by the PNR and likely includes data coming from the Rail Transport Planning Division of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC). Contrary to the perception of many in the current administration, a lot of railway planning was conducted by past administration and many were sound ideas that justified feasibility studies. As usual, the main obstacle for railways would be the competition with road transport. It was road transport and the construction of expressways and other highways, after all, that dealt the PNR its decline (and death in the case of the MLN) to what remains today.

[Reference: Paragas, L.K.B. and Rañeses, M.K.Q. (2012) Assessment of the Philippine National Railways Commuter Line System, Undergraduate Research Final Report, April 2012.]

Transport Planning in the Philippines (WB, 1976)

[Important note: I have noticed that the material on this blog site has been used by certain people to further misinformation including revisionism to credit the Marcos dictatorship and put the blame on subsequent administrations (not that these also had failures of their own). This and other posts on past projects present the facts about the projects and contain minimal opinions, if any on the politics or political economy at the time and afterwards. Do your research and refrain from using the material on this page and others to promote misinformation. I suggest you go to the The Mass Transit System in Metro Manila site for more facts about railway development and history. I do not consent to the use of my articles for the purposes of misinformation and historical revisionism. 10/13/2019]

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.

Required reading on sprawl, transit and the poor

A friend recently posted an article on Facebook that I thought should be required reading for urban and transport planners in the Philippines whether they be with government or the private sector. There is a strong link between land use and transport, we need to be able to understand the complexities and subtleties in order to maximize the benefits to society. It is not a coincidence that the article specifically mentions the poor as it discusses opportunities lost due to flaws or inefficiencies in land use and transport. The article is found in the following link:

Suburban sprawl and bad transit can crush opportunity for the poor

I hope that this will be read and understood by officials at DOTC, LTFRB, LRTA and PNR, as well as those of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) and the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB). These agencies are responsible for planning and regulating transport and housing in the country. Of course, it is also important for local government units to be able to understand these challenges especially since they will be in the forefront of addressing issues on sprawl and the provision of suitable transport systems. Here’s a related article that I posted earlier this year on New Year’s Day:

Opportunities with the MRT-7 and LRT-1 Extension

PNR Espana

While inspecting the installation of flood sensors along Espana a few weeks ago, I wandered off our site between Antipolo and San Diego Sts. to take a few photos of the PNR trains and the PNR Espana Station surroundings.

 

2014-06-26 09.56.25A PNR train crosses Espana as road vehicles and pedestrians pause to let the train through. One barrier is shown in the photo as not being able to go down completely to block traffic from the other side of Espana.

2014-06-26 09.59.29A pedestrian crosses the PNR tracks as vehicles run along Espana

2014-06-26 09.59.37The PNR Espana Station as seen from along Espana. People usually cross the tracks casually as there are few trains in operation along this line.