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The government and many railway fans in the Philippines have dubbed the construction and rehabilitation of railway lines as a “golden age of railways in the Philippines.” Many, especially those who have aspired for railway development in the country agree with this monicker.
But is it really a golden age or are we just playing catch-up due to the backlog of railway projects in the country? Rehabilitation, after all, means there was a period of deterioration, even neglect by the government (i.e., across several administrations starting from Marcos) that led to poor or discontinued services.
A “golden age” is defined as “a period in a field of endeavor when great tasks were accomplished.” Indeed, by definition we can qualify the current one as such but let me point out the facts from history that railways development in the country (both long distance and urban transit) started in the late 1800s before the revolution that led to declaration of Philippine independence from Spain in 1898, and while many of our revolutionary leaders were abroad, mainly in Europe where I’m sure they took the trains and trams to move about. Here’s a link to the website developed by a research program in the University of the Philippines that focused on mass transit development in what is now the Metro Manila area:
Since railway development in the late 1800s started from scratch, perhaps the current development is more of a “second” golden age for railways, and not ‘The’ golden age for railways. This wouldn’t have happened or won’t be necessary if we rehabilitated the tranvia after WW2 or allocated resources to preserve and maintain the PNR and other lines like how our Southeast Asian neighbors did to their own railways. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have enviable railways including preserved, operational steam locomotives that are now practically moving museum pieces. But since we are into catching-up and there’s been significant progress on this end, perhaps the right term shouldn’t be “Golden Age” but “Renaissance”. It’s actually quite a catchy phrase “Railway Renaissance,” if you bother to consider it.
There’s a nice article recently published on The New York Times. It’s about how cities have been rethinking and developing their transit systems in light of climate change and the pandemic. Here is the article:
An interesting part of the article is on the call for the return of trams or street-level trains. These are very similar to the tranvia that used to be the preferred mode of public transport before World War 2. Would that be possible to build now in Metro Manila? Perhaps it would be a bit more challenging given the development but there are definitely corridors or areas where you can have trams…if the government wanted to. Among those would be along the Pasig River if the development will be similar to the esplanade and enough ROW can be acquired and allocated for these street-level transport. There is also the Botocan ROW, which we actually studied many years ago for Meralco, for the feasibility of a street-level transit system stretching from Katipunan to Quezon Institute. It could have been the revival of Meralco’s rail division of old.
What do you think?
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?
Here is another quick share of an article that reports on a study showing that there is no direct correlation between COVID-19 and public transportation use:
email@example.com (October 2, 2020) Study: No Direct Correlation Between COVID-19, Transit System Use. AASHTO Journal. https://aashtojournal.org/2020/10/02/study-no-direct-correlation-between-covid-19-transit-system-use/
Such articles and the study (there is a link in the article for the report) support the notion that public transportation can be made safe for use by commuters during the pandemic. The report is a compilation of best practices around the world that can be replicated here, for example, in order to assure the riding public that public transport (can be) is safe. Needless to say, car use is still less preferred and other findings have also supported active transport whenever applicable. This reference is both relevant and timely given the new pronouncement (or was it a proposal?) from the Philippines’ Department of Transportation (DOTr) to implement what they termed as “one seat apart” seating in public utility vehicles in order to increase the capacity of public transport in the country. The department has limited the number of road public transport vehicles and the current physical distancing requirements have reduced vehicle capacities to 20-30% of their seating capacities. It is worse for rail transit as designated spaces/seats in trains translated to capacities less than 10% of pre-lockdown numbers.
Here is another quick share of an article on bicycles and transit (i.e., public transport):
Cox, W. (2020) “Bicycles: A Refuge for Transit Commuters?”, New Geography, https://www.newgeography.com/content/006753-bicycles-a-refuge-transit-commuters [Last accessed: 9/4/2020]
What do you think? Are we getting there in terms of the bicycle-transit relationship? MRT and LRT lines have allowed foldable bikes to be carried in their trains but buses and other road-based public transport may not allow you to bring your bike inside the vehicle. For the latter vehicles, there are usually racks installed in front of the vehicles that can accommodate 2-3 bikes. Train stations now should have bicycle parking facilities for the last mile trips of their passengers.
The connections between transit stations in Singapore show us examples of how to encourage people to walk long distances. The links, mostly underground, are interconnected with branches to common exits to hotels, office and residential buildings. These are basically transit malls lined with cafes, restaurants and shops. There are even gyms (e.g., UFC) and play venues along some connections.
Underground transit mall between a City Hall Station (red line) and Esplanade Station (orange line)
The connection is lined with restaurants, cafes and shops
Singapore’s underground connections reminded me of similar structures in Tokyo and Yokohama. You can just walk underground and come up near your destination. This is especially advantageous and comfortable during the summers when the hot weather becomes a detriment to walking outdoors. Underground transit malls or connections are usually air-conditioned or air is pumped into them for ventilation. As such, temperatures are significantly lower compared to the surface/ground. Will we have similar facilities/developments here in the Philippines and particularly in Metro Manila once the MM Subway is developed?
Another thing we miss about Singapore is the public transportation. It was easy to go around Singapore especially with its comprehensive, extensive rail transport network. This is complemented by even more extensive bus transit services. All these are offer convenient, comfortable and reliable public transportation. As such, there is practically no need to use your own private vehicle for transportation unless there really is a need arising for their use (e.g., emergencies).
Passengers wait for the train to arrive at an SMRT platform
Passengers line up before the platform gates at an underground station
The transport system in Singapore actually reminded me of how efficient and reliable it was to commute in Japan where I’ve lived in three area – Tokyo, Yokohama and Saitama – for various lengths of time. These transport systems are what Metro Manila and other rapidly urbanizing cities in the Philippines need in order to sustain growth while providing for the transport needs of its citizens.
The trip to Sri Lanka afforded me some hours at Singapore’s Changi Airport. En route to Colombo, we made sure to go around the complex and check out one of the attractions of the top airport in the world. Changi’s Jewel is very impressive and can make you forgot you were actually inside an airport terminal. Here are some photos taken as we trekked to the Jewel via Terminal 2 and 3.
Visitors have the option of walking by themselves or using the moving walkway whenever these were available.
The automated guideway transit (AGT) system of Changi allow you to transfer from one terminal to another with the exception of Terminal 4.
I took this photo of the guideway and the AGT as reference for my lectures
Another view of the corridor connecting Terminal 3 to the Jewel
Directional sign to the Jewel
Changi’s air traffic control tower
The main attraction is this gigantic waterfall located at a man-made complex that’s designed to imitate conditions at a rainforest.
Changi AGT slow down for passengers to have a good close view of the Jewel
All the water used is recycled and one can get mesmerised by the vortex where all the water falls and seem to be sucked into.
Here’s another look at the Jewel and the airport AGT
There is a mall with shops, restaurants and cafes around the Jewel.
Another photo of the AGT guideway above the road system at Changi
Taxis queued along airport roads
A look back at the way from the Jewel
More photos of Changi soon!
My flight to Melbourne was via Sydney. I chose Qantas because of the more favorable schedule as well as the cheaper fares the schedule provided compared with Philippine Airlines and Singapore Airlines (via Singapore). And so knowing I would have to transfer at Sydney airport, I decided to have more than an hour’s layover there. It turned out to be a good decision as we had to pick-up our luggage, clear customs and then walk over to the transfer area at the international terminal to have our check-in luggage tagged and dropped off before proceeding to ride a transporter (bus) to the domestic terminal. It was also a good thing that Qantas already thought about such transfers and had good facilities and service for such. Needless to say, the transfer was smooth/efficient.
We had to get our baggage after clearing immigration
We had to walk towards the Qantas transfer facility to have our baggage tagged and dropped off for our connecting flights. In my case, that was for my journey to Melbourne.
After dropping off our luggage, we waited to board the bus that would take us to the domestic terminal. The service frequencies are shown in the sign above.
I was near the front of the line is I was able to board early and take a photo as people were just filling the bus.
Scenes of aircraft ground operations while we were in transit from the international terminal to the domestic terminal includes this American Airlines jet replenishing on inflight meals.
Here’s another view of the same jet getting serviced at the airport.
This is how the bus looks once it fills with people
This is the scene when we arrived at the domestic terminal. Passengers at the terminal were also waiting to board the bus bound for the international terminal.
En route to my boarding gate, I took a few photos of the corridor lined with various shops.
There were also cafes and restaurants for those wanting to have or grab a quick meal or drink.
I arrived at the boarding gate with much time ahead of my flight. There were, however, many passengers already waiting, too.
It seems crowded but there were enough seats for those wanting to relax while waiting for the boarding call. Others seem to prefer just standing (healthier?) there. It was still early in the morning so most people were just quiet or conversing softly with fellow travelers. I myself was a bit sleepy and looking forward to taking a nap on the 1.5-hour flight to Melbourne.
One thing I always look forward to whenever I am traveling is to try out the public transport system of the cities I am visiting. My first day in Melbourne gave me an opportunity to familiarize with the city’s transportation including the trams and bikeways. Following are some photos I took as I went around the city center on-board their trams. I actually purchased a myki card but discovered a bit later that tram rides were free when you’re within the zone defining the city center. You only need to swipe or tap when you leave the zone where transit will charge the corresponding fares to your destination.
Tram passing by the stop where I decided to stand by to take a few photos while familiarizing with the network map.
Melbourne transit network map and information on priority seats
Inside the circle tram that goes around the city center
Typical transit stop
Tram crossing an intersection
Modern transit vehicle
I found Melbourne’s transit to be quite efficient and the coverage was comprehensive enough considering the city was walkable and bicycle-friendly. This meant people had many options to move about and this mobility definitely contributes to productivity. More on transportation in Melbourne and Sydney in future posts.