Philippine National Railways
Philippine National Railways (PNR), a state-owned railway company under the Department of Transportation and Communication of the Philippines, was created in its present form in 1984. PNR currently operates around 1,060 route km on the island of Luzon.
The company's main line connects the national capital, Manila, with Legazpi, the administrative centre of the Bicol Region. The route is single-track and was built to the "Cape Gauge" of 1067 mm (3 feet 6 inches). The narrow gauge, which results in lateral instability, together with the age of most of the passenger rolling-stock -- built in Madras (now Chennai), India -- means that trains run at very low speeds. While the Cape Gauge is not inherently bad (South Africa and New Zealand use the same gauge) it does pose problems for high-speed operation. This is highlighted by the fact that the more recent Light Railway Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) systems in Metro Manila have both been constructed to the international standard gauge of 1435 mm (4 feet 8.5 inches).
Before World War II, Philippine railways provided prompt and regular services not only to Legazpi but also to Tabaco, the Bicol Region's main Pacific port. Passenger and freight trains also ran northwards from Manila to San Fernando City, La Union.
The pinnacle of Philippine passenger railway operations was reached during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when there were four daily runs to the capital from Legazpi: one "ordinary" morning departure, followed in the afternoon by the all-economy Bicol Express (scheduled to leave at 15:00), the popular Mayon Limited one hour later at 16:00, and finally by the PNR's answer to the Orient Express, albeit modest by comparison: the Prestige.
The Prestige with its 100% Japanese-built self-propelled coaches (it was the only train not to be hauled by General Electric locomotives) not only departed last (at 20:00) but was frequently the first of the three express train to arrive. With priority over all other trains on its route, and calling only at Daraga, Ligao, Naga, Lucena, and Paco, it normally arrived in Tutuban station, Manila's Grand Central, before 5:00 (so much better than today's dismal punctuality standards!), making it a popular service with businessmen. The Prestige's 48-seater air-conditioned coaches were somewhat narrower and lower than those built in Madras, which also contributed to the faster run.
The Mayon Limited was more popular with the middle class. It had a dining-car, air-conditioned sleeping-cars, air-conditioned coaches with reclining seats, tourist class, also with reclining seats, as well as economy class seating. Hauled by a General Electric locomotive, this heavy train was assisted up the steep gradient leading to Camalig station in the foothills of the Mount Mayon volcano by another locomotive pushing from the rear. After a major flood in 1975 washed out bridges east of Camalig, trains from Manila terminated there (12 km short of Legazpi), leaving the provincial capital isolated from the railway system.
Following the suspension of services to Legazpi, buses increasingly took passengers away from PNR. However, shortly before the snap Presidential election of 1986, the then President, Ferdinand Marcos, was able to restore rail service to Legazpi. PNR abandoned its line along the foothills of Mount Mayon, which was prone to flash floods and washouts. Instead a more westerly route was followed, passing through Daraga and finally rejoining the old line at Travesia, Guinobatan, bypassing Camalig station, which has now been abandoned. The incumbency of Corazon Aquino saw the worst times for PNR, with trains running no further than Naga or, at best, Polangui, Albay. It was only during the presidency of Fidel Ramos that a semblance of recovery was seen at PNR. A one billion peso loan from the Asian Development Bank financed the rehabilitation of the Main Line South to Legazpi, with John Holland of Australia replacing decayed wooden sleepers (ties) with pre-stressed concrete ones. The contractor, however, used the same old pre-WWII steel rails. Ramos even visited Legazpi for the ceremonial re-opening of the line, performed by Department of Transportation and Communication Secretary Enrile Bridge, and the inaugural run.
PNR designates first-class coaches as De Luxe. These usually have 2+2 abreast reclining seats that can be rotated for face-to-face meetings. Tourist coaches are similar to De Luxe but without air-conditioning. Economy coaches have face-to-face seats, 2+3 abreast. Passengers sleep sitting upright. More expensive than air-conditioned coaches with reclining seats, first-class sleeping-cars are air-conditioned, with two-tier bunks provided with fresh linen. One can also opt for non-air-conditioned sleepers and stretch out for the night's journey at much lower fares.
During the Estrada Administration, PNR was able to secure "new" coaches from the East Japan Railway Company -- actually 12-year-old coaches no longer needed in Japan following conversion of a number of main lines in that country to standard gauge. Being lower and slightly narrower they provide a much better ride than than the 30-year-old coaches built in Madras.
Today the southbound overnight train leaves Tutuban station in Manila at 16:00 and on a good day arrives in Legazpi at around 7:00 the following morning. Trains often arrive late, however, one of the main reasons for delay being the need to slow down for the many level crossings. Despite constant application of the train's horn and the provision of "stop-look-and-listen" signs, road traffic frequently ignores these signals, resulting in a large number of crossing accidents.
China has offered to finance, build, and operate a rationalized railway service, and the Congress has lately passed a Bill to restore, rehabilitate, and modernize old existing lines, and extend lines to Tuguegarao, Cagayan, in the north and southwards as far as Matnog, Sorsogon. The Bill also provides for the construction of a Mindanao Railway, and the restoration of the Panay Railway.
- Philippine National Railways
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