To España (via Philippine National Railroad!)
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 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.