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On leaders and decision-makers taking public transport or bikes to commute

There has been clamor for our leaders and decision-makers, especially those in the transport and highway agencies, to take public transportation. This is for them to experience how most commuters fare for their daily grinds. And no, having an entourage including bodyguards or reserving your own train car does not count. Dapat pumila o maghintay sa kalye. Makipagsisikan o makipag-habulan sa bus, jeepney o van para makasakay. Many if not most of these officials have their own vehicles or are even driven (may tsuper o driver) to and from work. One even had the gall to transfer his department to where he comfortably resides so he won’t commute but that’s another story.

You see articles and posts about Dutch politicians and even royalty riding the bicycle to work.

The Dutch Prime Minister bikes to work

Then there are politicians regularly taking public transport while in office. Here is an article about the newly inaugurated POTUS, Joe Biden, who took the train for his regular commutes:

Igoe, K.J. (May 4,2020) “Where Did “Amtrak Joe,” Joe Biden’s Nickname, Come From?”, Marie Claire, https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a32363173/joe-biden-amtrak-joe-meaning/ [Last accessed 2/14/2021]

Do we have someone close to such an example? Commuting by private plane between your home in the Southern Philippines and your office in Manila surely won’t let one have an appreciation of the commuting experiences of typical Filipinos.

What to look forward to Philippine transportation in 2021

I usually wrote a year-ender for transport but somehow never got to it. I’ve spent much of the break working on projects that have been extended due to the pandemic’s impacts on their implementation. Two of these projects are being implemented in Zamboanga City where we are lucky to have hard-working counterparts and a very cooperative city government. I think given what have transpired in 2020, there’s much to expect in 2021. I also want to be hopeful and optimistic about the outlook for this year. So positive thoughts for now. Here are things to look forward to in 2021:

  1. More bike lanes around the country – these include the bike lanes to be constructed using the billions of pesos allocated for Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao. Is there a plan? None yet unless you count the sketch mapping exercise people have been doing. Sure, the DPWH came up with guidelines for bike lanes designs but these are a work in progress at best if compared to the existing guidelines from countries that have built and maintained bike facilities for a very long time now (e.g., Netherlands, Australia, even Singapore).
  2. Construction of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Cebu – this is a much delayed project (more than a decade in the making already) that needs to be implemented already. This year might just be the year? We certainly hope so. That EDSA carousel is still far from being the BRT the Philippines need to be a model system for its cities. I still think Cebu can be a better model for other cities than Metro Manila. And so a BRT success there has a better chance of being replicated in other cities that need a mass transit system now.
  3. More rationalized public transport routes in major cities – by ‘rationalized’ I am not limiting this to the government’s original rationalization program but also to the other reforms that are being introduced this year including service contracting. Whether the latter will work wonders, we’ll get a better idea of it this year. Will services be better? Will drivers improve the way they drive? Will this be cost-effective in the long run? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered, with some of those answers hopefully coming this year.
  4. Full scale construction of the Metro Manila subway – would you believe that there’s actually little work done for this project aside from the preparatory and PR work that have been the focus the past few years. It seemed like they’ve been doing realignments and groundbreakings every year. Meanwhile, they haven’t even started tunneling yet. To be honest, I don’t think there will be an operational subway by 2022. I’ve seen subways being built in Tokyo, Singapore and Vietnam, and you can’t do even a demo project in 1.5 years time.
  5. More air travel – as the vaccines are delivered and administered, there should be a feeling of more safety and confidence for people to travel again. Much inter-island trips are actually done via air travel. Airlines have lost a lot in the last year and are certainly going to come up with nice deals (I already saw a lot of promos from various airlines that I usually book for my flights – PAL, Cebu Pac, JAL and SIA.) Hotels and resorts, too, are welcoming tourists with great deals. So perhaps it will be a rebound year for tourism and…air travel.
  6. More rail transport in general – hopefully this year will be the year when the Line 2 extension becomes operational. Meanwhile, other projects like the PNR and Line 3 rehabs, the Line 1 extension, and Manila-Clark railway line construction continues. Perhaps this year will also see the construction of Mindanao Railways.

What do you think are things to look forward to in Philippine transportation in 2021?

PNR Espana Crossing

Prior to the lockdown, I was able to take a few photos of the PNR line crossing Espana Avenue in Manila. These now appear to be somewhat nostalgic as I am unsure when I can go around again without (or with reduced) fear of getting infected by COVID-19.

Commuter train crossing Espana Avenue towards the Espana Station of the PNR line

Crossing the PNR line towards UST, I got this photo of the PNR line showing the informal settlements along it

On the way back, I made sure I had the opportunity to take this photo of the PNR Espana Station

The PNR was supposed to have resumed operations, and implementing physical distancing and other measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. Here’s a photo they posted prior to the resumption of operations when Metro Manila went into GCQ status:

The photo shows where passengers may sit or stand inside a PNR train. I have yet to see a photo of the actual conditions inside the train.

Whatever happened or is happening to the Metro Manila Subway?

There is an article that came out today stating issues and concerns about the Metro Manila Subway Project. I will not summarize the article here but leave it to the reader to click on the link and read the article himself/herself. The writer has been attacked for his sharp criticisms of this administration and has had his share of being branded a liar. What is lost in the attacks vs him (many if not most by organized trolls) is that he is usually on target and factual despite the denials by those who are the subject of his exposes and criticisms. Also, note that he has been a consistent and persistent critique of any administration. This is important as he is being objective rather than protective of vested interests. He represents the interests of a lot of people who are considered the silent majority.

Bondoc, J. (2020) Subway works at standstill since realigned to fault line, The Philippine Star, https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2020/02/14/1992947/subway-works-standstill-realigned-fault-line?fbclid=IwAR2yN_qpwTJ9AHfJaws_3VXztVu6etZsxOBkSj-Zw2KS7v7Tv9hcnJc1K-s&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&utm_term=Autofeed [Last accessed: 2/14/2020]

While I am still hopeful about this project, I already feel some disappointment for something that I have supported from Day 1. The delays and escalation of costs are serious matters. It can only get worse during construction.

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.

Comments on current transport issues – Part 1

I end the year with commentaries on transport issues. I recently responded to a request for an interview. This time, it was not possible to do it in person so we corresponded through email. Here are my responses to the questions sent, which are mainly about the public utility vehicle modernization program of the government.

· Will old-school jeepneys finally disappear on Philippine roads before the term of President Rodrigo Duterte ends, barely three years from now? What is a more realistic timeline of jeepney modernization?

Old school jeepneys won’t disappear from Philippine roads. For one, the modernization program has slowed down a bit and even the DOTr and LTFRB have stated and admitted that it is not possible to have 100% modernization before the end of term of the current administration. It’s really difficult to put a timeline on this because of so many factors that are in play including social, political, institutional and economic ones. The technical aspects are not issues here as there are many models to choose from and suitable for replacing jeepneys in terms of capacity.

· What are the bumps on road to jeepney modernization?

As mentioned earlier, there are many factors in play here. Economic/financial-related bumps pertain mainly to vehicle prices. The new models are quite pricey but it should be understood that this is also because the new ones are compliant with certain standards including technical and environmental ones that most ‘formally’ manufactured vehicles must pass unlike so-called customized local road vehicles (CLRV) like the conventional jeepneys. The financial package is not affordable to typical jeepney operators/drivers. The cost of a modern jitney (the technical term for these vehicle types) is close to an SUV and revenues may not be able to cover the combination of down payment, monthly payments, and operations & maintenance costs of the vehicle.

· Should local government units dictate the pace of jeepney modernization, not national agencies such as the Department of Transportation and the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board? Why?

I think the word “dictate” may be too strong a term to use. Instead, I prefer the word “manage”. After all, LGUs are supposed to capacitate themselves to be able to rationalize and manage public transport operations. That is why the DOTr and the LTFRB are requiring them to formulate and submit for evaluation and approval Local Public Transport Route Plans (LPTRP). Though the deadline was supposed to be 2020, the agencies have relaxed this deadline after few submissions from LGUs. Few because there were only a few who were capable or could afford consultants to prepare the plans for the LGUs. These plans should be comprehensive covering all modes of public transport including tricycles and pedicabs that are already under the LGUs. Buses, jeepneys, vans and taxis are still under the LTFRB. Plans may also contain future transport systems that are being aspired for by LGUs such as rail-based mass transit systems and other such as monorail or AGT.

· Transport groups like PISTON are against drivers and operators merging into cooperatives. Is consolidation into cooperatives unworkable? Why?

I think consolidation into cooperatives is workable and should be given a chance. Unfortunately, there are still few examples of successful transport cooperatives. And the success also depends on the routes served by their vehicles. And that is why there is also a need to rationalize transport routes in order to ensure that these are indeed viable (i.e., profitable) for drivers and operators.

Another angle here is more political in nature. Note that while PISTON and other like-minded transport groups oppose cooperativism, there are others that have embraced it and even went corporate to some extent. Perhaps there is a fear of a loss in power that the leaders of these opposition transport groups have wielded for a long time? Perhaps there’s a fear that success of cooperatives means the drivers and operators will turn to cooperativism and leave those transport groups? Surely there are pros and cons to this and groups should not stop being critical of initiatives, government-led or not, that will affect them. This should be constructive rather than the rant variety but government should also learn to accept these rather than dismiss them or be offended by them as is often the case.

More comments in the next year!

 

 

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

Some concerns about future rail ridership

Traveling along Commonwealth Avenue and Marcos Highway the past week, I both hopeful and worried about what happens after the Line 7 and Line 2 Extension finally becomes operational. Much has been said or reported about the potential of these two lines to change the way people commute; at least from the areas served by these two mass transit lines. However, how big an impact these would have in terms of actual reduction of private car use  remains to be seen.

Will there be significant decreases in the volume of motor vehicles along Commonwealth Avenue, Marcos Highway and Aurora Boulevard? Or will there be just the same traffic along these roads? The worry is based on the likelihood that those who would be taking Lines 2 and 7 would be people who are already taking public transportation and not those who have chosen to leave their cars (or motorcycles) at home.

Our students have been studying ridesharing and P2P bus operations the past few years and the conclusion has so far been a shift from one mode of public transport to what’s perceived as a better one. It’s somewhat a difficult thing to accept for advocates of public transport especially those behind TNVS, P2P buses and railways but it is what it is, and its important to accept such findings in order for us to understand what’s going on and come up with better ways to promote public transport and convince car users to use PT.

Traffic flows at the Masinag junction with the Line 2 Masinag Station and elevated tracks in the background

What is more intriguing is the proposed subway line for Metro Manila. The alignment is different from the ones identified in previous studies for the metropolis and from what I’ve gathered should have stations that serve a North-South corridor that should make for a more straightforward commute (i.e., less transfers) for those taking the subway.

Probable MM Subway alignment (from the internet)

It is another line that has a big potential as a game-changer for commuters but we won’t be able to know for sure until perhaps 5 or 6 years from now. What we know really is that there was a lost opportunity back in the 1970s when government should have pushed for its first subway line instead of opting for the LRT Line 1.

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!