Tag Archives: PNR

To España (via Philippine National Railroad!)

In Alabang, PNR staffers told passengers that they could only accommodate those who bought tickets from an earlier time. The rest would have to wait  for two hours for the next ride. Yes, not efficient but if you don’t have any options you’d be happy to wait. Well,  air conditioned Metropolis Alabang is nearby so those passengers can go inside and idle their time away.

No not madre españa but that frequently flooded area named after the Iberian motherland.

The journey felt like an attraction ride. It ran steady at 20 kilometers per hour as it wildly swayed from side to side. Not to disparage efforts our government is taking to modernize our train network but like its current speed—it’s too slow.

To this my mother said, “mas mabuti na yan kaysa wala”.

But let me point out that even in its current condition PNR benefits many of our countrymen. The trip from Alabang to España was under an hour. That’s faster than taking any other public transportation today.

During the ride, I stroke up a conversation with a farmer from Tanauan. An OFW from Saudi who decided to come home to farm. He was headed to Pasay to buy pesticides. He dreams that our trains would one day connect his beloved Tanauan, hometown of the hero Mabini, to Manila.

“Pare, maybe not in our lifetime, but who knows?” I told him.

I went to a public elementary school in Makati where many of my classmates lived “home along da riles”. Our school was near the Buendia Station. Our teachers would pause from teaching as trains blasts their thunderous horns.

We played in and around the railroad. I noticed how scant and unkempt my friends houses were. They were illegal settlers along the railroad. Their shanties stood in stilts with the canal below serving as sewage. But what made an impression on me was how happy they were even living in that condition.

Rail work begun in 1887 under British direction. The asset was transferred completely to the Philippine government during the American administration. Since then it went through its phases of development.

Our PNR stations these days are devoid of the former elegance and grace it once had. We never had grand and wide stations like those in old Europe but they were lovely. They look pretty and there are a few of them left, like Paco and San Fernando (Pam.), though slowly crumbling to their deaths, scattered along our old riles.

Our trains had its good days. The line north referred to “Sugar road” while the south transports “Sugar, forest products and petroleum.”

History teachers tells us of Rizal’s letter praising the women of Malolos. Well, he visited the town via our railroad. He then proceeded to see friends as far as San Fernando. This was a century ago. The crumbling stations along the north has been waiting for the trains return.

When? that depends on how determined our government wants to put us right back on track (there’s the pun).

Recent developments under Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” vision looks promising. It comes as one of the bigger items in the infrastructure build up. The railway sector get a big pie with 1 trillion pesos (this budget includes the MRT).

The north would be extended all the way to Malolos (from Tutuban). Then another 55 kilometer railway reaching Clark in Pampanga. So you can alight from Clark airport and go straight to Manila.

To the South, from Tutuban the railway would run once more and reach Los Banos. I’ve been dreaming of riding an overnighter train to Bicol since I was a little boy. I wonder when would I finally get to ride one—I’m almost 40 now!

While I was on vacation a few years ago when visited Quezon province I saw the old railroad cut through an intensely green rice paddy (if memory serves me right I was in Unisan). Imagine if you were on a comfortable train ride going down south and you wake up seeing something like that?

Aside from moving goods and people, there’s tourism money for the PNR and towns it serves. A reliable and working train network is good for local economies too. One of my favorite travel show is “Japan Hour,” it is basically people riding trains to visit towns in the province.

The plan to establish a train running near the Laguna De Ba’y was drawn during the American occupation. Another plan that would have benefited us if it were carried out (much like the Burnham plan for Manila) to its conclusion. Due to massive population growth in recent years all you see today are houses.

Experts say that trains would contribute in dispersing the population out of Manila. It improves local economies. People would build their homes outside Manila if there’s an efficient public transport. This is something we haven’t realized yet because we have a failed rail system.

How we ended up with a mismanaged railway system? We all know the answer to that. The same answer why we ended up with poor infrastructure all over our islands.

I now live here in Singapore where the slightest delays in train arrivals makes the evening news—and theirs I feel is one of the best in Asia. They demand the highest standards from the people that runs their train system. I imagine having the same trains going in and out of our cities, taking us to our provinces, north and south, to see relatives and spend fiesta holidays.

Sana lang we get to see it in our lifetime. Sana.



Old Train Stations and Memories

A week ago, I visited Singapore’s old central train station. Though I didn’t see its interior, seeing the exterior’s art deco design was enough to make me feel better. Such structures has become rarer as time has gone on.

This accidental discovery has led me to another abandoned train station – the old Bukit Timah rail station. This one’s more modest and was more practical in its design. The station still have the old manual controls that was used to switch the tracks.

According to Remember Singapore blogger, “the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station was completed in 1932 and part of Singapore-Kranji Line (Bukit Timah to Tank Road Terminal) was dismantled in 1939, the Bukit Timah Railway Station gradually lost its importance. After 1940, passengers could no longer board the train at this station as it was used as a passing loop station”. The length of this line going straight to the Malaysian heartland “is about 950km and the starting point is at Butterworth of Penang”. That means a Singapore-Butterworth-Singapore trip covers roughly a couple of thousand km’s!

I came across some young photography enthusiasts in the station. “we like old buildings as subject”, the boy said. The black painted steel bridge is in great shape. People and bikes and dogs uses it. The entire area, including the station, are planned for restoration. I’m sure there’s a lot of great memories here for the locals. I’m glad to know that they’re hanging on to this one.

Probably a railway office.

Building designated for conservation.

The switches. Cool. I wish I could play with these but they were off limits.

Some crushed old bricks. What made me shoot this. I don’t know.

You don’t mess with a property that belongs to someone called state. You just don’t.

No grand entrance.

Nature’s helicopter and its helipad. The forest has begun to reclaim what used to be a busy railway line.

I guess this is where it all ends.

The Bukit Timah station looks like the old Buendia PNR station of the 80’s. This brought back memories of my first school near the Manila – Makati border. Situated less than 300m from Buendia station, proximity to the railway, 50 meters. So close that every time a train passes with it honking its horns, everything stood still. Things inside the classroom would literally shake and vibrate from the tremor the trains create.

Accidents was common in the area because people lived right next to the rails. Most of my classmates are from this area we call “riles” (the illegal settlements along the railway). The school have windows over looking the “riles” which was great because I like seeing those mid 1900’s trains chug along. Another bonus is the narrow estero right beside the school. Not the cleanest of tributaries but it provided us some pleasant diversion from time to time. We’ve seen almost everything that floats pass by, from garbage bags to dead animals.

During summer, together with some of my classmates, we would drain the drying ponds under some of the shanties in the “riles” to catch catfish, dalag, gourami and martaniko. I would go home smelling like sewage (those pool doubled as septic tank for the settlers since there were no toilets!). As for the fish we caught, we never ate them (we once tried, in a lutu-lutoan way, and they taste awful), we kept them as pets (only to find out that they’ve cannibalized each other in a weeks time).

Seeing old train stations floods my mind with these wonderful childhood experiences. Now that most of the illegal settlers that once lived in the metro manila rail area are gone (which felt strange because I thought they’re going to be there forever) I can’t help but wonder what ever happened to those old classmates of mine.

That school was eventually transferred to a safer, modern and convenient multi-level building in Calle Caong. They could still hear the train coming but not as loud as we used to in Calle Bakawan. But what surprised me was finding out that the school now have proper uniforms. Back in the day uniforms was not strictly enforced. You can come in your underwear and the teachers won’t mind it. They know where the kids come from. Some families are so poor that they send their children to school to get fed.

While we don’t have much of a facility back then, we had that phenomenal canteen that dished out blissful nourishing soups. While the menu was limited to sopas, plain goto and champorado (and sometimes, when the stars are aligned we get arrozcaldo with chicken bits) we children loved them. It’s funny because we would get distracted during our classes the moment we start smelling what’s cooking!

Not a complete list, but I remember these great maestra’s:

Mdm. Ceremonias, who tried to convert everyone to born-againism, but looking back, we owe her big time – she was the soup maker.

Mdm. Subas, who almost crippled me with her stick when she caught me loitering. I love eating quail eggs and made it a habit to throw the shells everywhere. And oh boy did she straightened out this lad.

Mdm. Asis, the strictest teacher I ever had. She instilled in us to come to school well groomed, if you don’t, you get slapped! We would bite our nails to make them short. She inspects the class, like a drill sergeant, every morning.

Mdm. Abay, she an awesome science teacher. I think one of the best teacher I ever had. She opened my eyes to the magical world of science. She’d be greatly disappointed of course that I failed chemistry and physics subjects in college.

Mdm. Jaurigue, a devout Catholic who I impressed with my knowledge of the Saints! She probably thought of me a saintly boy but saintly I was not. I have two books at home around that time: a Tagalog-English dictionary and the Book of Saints.

Sir Brilliantes (?) The schools music teacher who taught us how to be part of rondalla. He does it all: teach music, repair instruments, conduct marches and compose songs (I wonder if he ever played the Blues – he must have, there’s no way he got to be that good without it!) He tried teaching us how to read music. It was just too much for me.

Mdm. Seriosa who married an American and left. She was my brother’s favorite teacher. From some 10+ years before me.

Sir Tecson, I remember his name but not what he taught us – probably math subjects.

That handsome lil’ lad. Top, first boy on the left. Yes. Right. That’s him. That’s me. Grade 2, circa 1987.

All my brothers knows these teachers well. They were their teachers too. Just imagine most of them has been teaching since the 60’s. That’s a lifetime of work. Such beautiful dedicated, noble spirited human beings. Where would we be without them.

Small school, big dreams…

San Antonio Village Elementary School

Makati, Philippines

1986 – 1992

Philippine Railway: A Revival?

Brand new Korean made coaches. Airconditioning was superb even after the coach was packed. The speed was what impressed me the most - I heard that it can go plus 100 km per hour. I think the only thing holding it back are intersections and the stubborn people casually walking on the railway.

When we moved here in the southern metro way back in the early 90s, we were still sporadically taking trains. One of the considerations of course is its affordability. I remember that the last time I rode one was during my 2nd year in high school. Somewhere near FTI someone threw a plastic garbage bag which went straight inside the coach, hitting a Makati Polytechnic student and other passengers. That was the last time. I’d rather get wedged in traffic than get hit with sh!t.

Nevertheless, I had fond memories of the riles as a child. My elementary school was situated near the Buendía station. It has been transferred to another location I was told. I had countless classmates who lived along the railways. I was even jealous of them because their houses were close to our school. We enjoyed hanging out in the <i>riles</i>. We used to put de uno nails on the railway track and wait for the train to run them over. The sheer weight of its steel wheel levels the rounded nail flat. We made little spears out of it. The school sits alongside a creek that smells terribly during the first days of the rainy months. Occasionally, we get to see appalling wrecks in the intersection. These trains are strong enough to crumple vehicles like paper cups. There were also stinking mud ponds next to the railway that we would empty during the summer months to catch catfish and dalág.

Japan’s first steam engine trains rolled out in the year 1872. Three years later we had ours (in both countries, British contractors were signed up for the project). Indeed, we had a sophisticated society that is comparable to the world’s most advanced nations at that time. The backward and “heathen” people that the Americans claimed they encountered when they arrived here was a hoax and a fraud propagated to discredit our forefathers. They wanted the world to believe that the tribal people were the only people in the islands – unfortunately, many of us still echo this fantastic lie by convincing ourselves that the tribal and prehispanic are the true and only Filipino. The moment the Yankee arrived, they found out that we had a cultured population with a Hispanized concept of state and identity. People were reading Spanish dailies, they had a great taste for art, cuisine, literature, and music. We could have not launched a revolution if we were just a bunch of naked ignoramuses. These facts aroused Yankee insecurity.  Allowing this “Filipino” culture to exist would be a disservice to their imperial motives. In order for them to strengthen their hold and influence over their “little brown brothers”, the “Filipino” culture must be downgraded to a state of tribalistic regression.

The Spanish King, Alfonso XII, approved the construction of our first public railways in 1875. We first had the Manila a Malabon line operated by the Zobel family. Because of their German links, the coaches they used were all German made. Afterwards, the awesome stretch of the Manila to Dagupan track was completed. Constructed by an English firm (contracted to operate the system for 99 years), it first had giant steam locomotives. It was a great addition (and a costly one for Spain) to the colony’s infrastructure. It was intended to service the provincial regions, but at the time that it became operational, the revolution was already at the gates of the Spanish rule. Just imagine the image the steam trains produced while traversing our pastoral countryside. The train stations were magnificent buildings, extraordinary examples of 20th-century architecture. Sadly, most of these architectural monuments are gone if not in disrepair. However, there is still hope for at least one – the Pacò Station in Manila. The RIHSPI has reported that an NHI marker will soon be installed, and that the government has already committed to restore it. The trouble is that it was former president Arroyo who made the pledge. Today, this is the only remaining tangible legacy of Spain that was not created by the religious orders. The railway was “the largest single infrastructure project in the country during the Spanish period” according to Dr. Augusto de Viana of the NHI.

Much has changed since the first trains rolled out of its stations. The wars have damaged and completely severed some of the tracks. What was once the main carrier of people and goods was relegated to a minor transport. When mass transport was abandoned in favor of paved roads and highways for cars, trucks, and the like, it created precedence that many of us now see – too many cars, air pollution, and unsolvable traffic. Whenever I think of a modern railway system, the one that I dream for is the Singaporean model. It is so efficient that it keeps people away from buying cars. Why would you buy a car when the stations are all strategically located in all neighborhood malls and business hubs?

I believe that it is time for a train revival. Metro Rail Transit was a great start for intercity travel – now, the Philippine National Railroad should follow suit. I’m very optimistic with the current administration. Newly elected president Nonoy Aquino mentioned that he is in agreement with the rehabilitation and expansion of the train network. The Arroyo government, to her credit, was very receptive and was eager to push forward the agenda of the revival of the national railway. Now the ball is on Noynoy’s court. The projects of expansion seem to be ambitious but by these visions, great things are accomplished. It needs our support and backing. Our patronage will keep it going.

Recent developments have been very encouraging. Arroyo even approved a plan to bring back the old Cebú railway. And I hope the Panay and Mindanáo system will soon follow. Here in Luzón, the rehabilitation of our railways and the relocation of the illegal settlers set the right course. There are linkage programs connecting Calambâ to Caloocan as well as the complete restoration of the Bicol line (which was stopped in 2006). All exciting news! a great campaign to bring back the old “iron horses” in our lives.

The train arriving in Alabang. It was on time!

The apocalyptic image of Alabang's station. Its a tall order to improve the "Riles" environs. People has developed bad habit like throwing their garbage on the railway and setting up tables for drinking. I also saw cockfights along da riles. To avoid future squatting, the free space should be utilized. A garden or building a diversion road using is a good alternative. Keeping it vacant exposes it to squatting and garbage dumping.

Alabang to Espana took less than an hour.

%d bloggers like this: