The rehabilitation of the south rail track is currently on its finishing touches, making the Philippine National Railways (PNR) confident that it could soon resume train trips between here and Manila.
A recent test run on the Naga-Legazpi route proved successful and PNR general manager Junio Ragrario said in a statement reaching here Wednesday that construction crewmen are fast-tracking the works so that southbound trips ending here are resumed by next month.
Apart from the Legazpi-Manila operations, Ragrario said the PNR is considering the fielding of train trips between Naga and this city for the benefit of the burgeoning volume of local commuters being generated by the fast-growing trade, commerce and tourism relations between these two cities of Bicol.
“We are fielding two ordinary three-coach trains each with a seating capacity of 240 and well-ventilated seats designed for comfortable travel,” he said.
The recent test run, he said, established that a one-way train trip between Naga and Legazpi takes one-and-half hour, which is more than an hour faster than an ordinary bus plying the same route through the Maharlika Highway.
Besides, according to Ragrario, local ordinary train trips would charge only P82 in fare for a complete trip, which is cheaper by about P50 than bus fares.
“We are doing all these pursuant to the government’s commitment to the total rehabilitation of the railways and provision of safe, cheaper and convenient alternative to the riding public,” he stressed.
“We are therefore appealing to settlers along the railway in this route or in any area where PNR trains operate to strictly observe the three-meter clearance provided along both sides of the track. We have been constantly reminding them on this for their own safety,” Ragrario added.
Rehabilitation of the PNR south facilities from Calamba City in Laguna to this city covering a distance of 483 kilometers, which was allotted an amount of P35.15 billion, was started in 2005 and scheduled for completion by 2011.
The project, however, suffered a major setback when super typhoons “Milenyo” and “Reming” successively battered Bicol in 2006, rendering crippling damages on the railways between Naga City and here.
Plans then to restore the Legazpi trips were shelved even as the Naga City-Manila trips were maintained intermittently.
In 2011, the administration of President Benigno Aquino III pushed for the resumption of the rehabilitation of the damaged Bicol section of the railways which was eventually completed up to Ligao City, Albay, a year after.
Manila-Ligao trips were restored in early December last year with Albay Governor Joey Salceda expressing optimism during the inaugural run that rehabilitation works for the railway line down to here would be completed at once so that trains would be once more seen traversing its original route deep into the central point of Albay.
Train trips, famously called Bicol Express, have been an important component of the regional economy because of its contributions to trade, tourism and transportation, Salceda noted.
The governor said that with the imminent restoration of train trips to Legazpi, trade activities would greatly improve as products from Albay and manufacturers from Calabarzon and Manila would use the railways, thus, this would result in cheaper products, freight cost and fast travel time.
“Rail transport is the cheapest while exerting competitive pressure on the other forms of transportation by increasing supply,” Salceda said.
He also noted that the rail transport is government-subsidized up to 70 percent anywhere in the world in order to equalize opportunities for the rural countryside and promote tourism as well.
For tourism, Bicol Express also offers a different and distinctive perspective of the countryside to tourists both domestic and foreign as it gives unrestricted view of Mayon Volcano surrounded by the rich greenery of Bicol farmlands, he added.
“With Bicol Express, passengers have all travel options–rail, road or air options–between Albay and Manila and the rest of Luzon,” Salceda added.
According to Ragrario, the resumption of the Legazpi trips “closes the loop” linking the North and South Rail project.
He said the refurbished coaches from Japan being used by the PNR for the Bicol Express and Mayon Express offer comfort to passengers with a line of first-class coaches, sleepers’ coaches, economy coaches, restaurant, and cargo coaches.
PNR is now using five coaches for the Bicol Express that accommodate 300 passengers per trip.
Of these five coaches, four are sleeper cabins and the other one is for reclining seats good for 60 passengers, Ragrario said.
PNR dispatches two trips through the route daily—the Bicol Express that leaves Ligao City for Manila at 6:30 p.m and the Mayon Limited at 8:30 p.m.
Mayon Limited has two types of trips–the De Luxe that is scheduled on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and the ordinary during Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.
Mayon Limited De Luxe, which is an air-conditioned cabin and with reclining seats, charges a fare of P717 while the ordinary, P344.
Bicol Express, on the other hand, collects P416 from its economy passengers, P548 for reclining seats, P665 for sleeper and P998 for executive sleeper.
Students and senior citizens are entitled to 30 percent discount.
The restoration of PNR trips between Bicol and Manila, Ragrario said, proves that trains remain an important component of the mass transportation system in the route for its being more economical, convenient and safe.
With these developments, the PNR, Ragrario added, expects its passenger base to increase from the previous 400,000 a month to 600,000.