Archive for the ‘PNR’ Category

30,000 families to be relocated in Bicol train rehab

December 13, 2008

It’s like Rip Van Winkle coming out from sleep. At last, the plan to repair the Philippine National Railways (PNR) from Laguna to Legazpi City is alive again. For the project to push, it will require the relocation of 30,000 families settled on the 15-meter clearance of the train’s path.

The government plan is definite good news to Bicol, but it’s mind-bending why only now will repairs be undertaken. The train plying the southern end of Luzon is different from how it looked decades ago as it meandered in the craggy mountainsides of Quezon Province to the foot of Mount Isarog in Camarines Sur and Mayon in Albay. Huge numbers of people have already crowded the tracks, the 483-kilometer stretch from Manila.

Vital to travel in the Bicol region and the rest of the country, the PNR had been largely neglected. It practically operated in meager maintenance budget even if plans to extend the line, about 135 kilometers from Legazpi to Sorsogon had been on the works.

Wooden planks and metal supports on the transportation line were continual victims of thieves who used them as firewood or sell them as scraps. For many years, almost nobody took action for their upkeep, to the disappointment of Bicolanos. The yearly torrential rains caused infrastructure damage. The government did little to prevent people from building houses along the railway tracks.

This early the concern for the legal rights of the squatters has been raised. Human rights groups are pushing for standard eviction amenities. The enormity of the problem causes some interested investors to back out of the project.

“Jun de la Torre, Community Organization of the Philippines (COPE) assistant regional coordinator said they have strengthened their social preparation efforts in favor of the railway settlers by collaborating with 10-federation strong Bicol Urban Poor Coordinating Council (BUPCC) headed by Lorna Chavez to ensure that the rights of these affected settlers would not be derailed when the PNR rehabilitation project starts in the near future.” Bicol Mail, (12/12/08, Neola, J)

The project is rocked with questionable political deals. P17 billion has been allotted to remove the illegal dwellers on the dangerous tracks. It constitutes a third of the total budget of P52.19—the cost of the much delayed project which was earlier scheduled in 2005 to 2011.

It is uncertain when the money will come or if it is adequate. With the postponements that go with government projects, at this time, the railway rehabilitation remains a dream for Bicolanos. (Photo Credits: Orangedroplet; Alcogoodwin; Alcogoodwin; orangedroplet)=0=

RELATED BLOG: “Life on the railway tracks & the fate of Isadora Duncan” Posted on Friday September 12th, 2008


PNR South Line Is No More

November 8, 2008

The Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Line which services Bicol stopped operations in November 2006 after Typhoon Reming (Durian) damaged many of its infrastructure. It was a sad end to an era of train journey but barely noticed in Bicol since bus travel already completely overshadowed it.

I was lucky enough that I was still able to take a train trip just before it shuttered. It was my first trip in over 20 years and I was raring to find out what changed. Arriving in Naga station I noticed how forlorn-looking and dilapidated the once-vibrant place has become.

The train was much shorter compared to the trains of my college days. We left at past 10am. I was expecting a fast clip over the flatlands and straight tracks of Pamplona and Libmanan. But we were barely making 50kph because the train was buckling like a horse.

I learned that there was no more maintenance work being done for the tracks. They said the PNR was just being given by the national government a subsidy of P10 million a month. Added to the paltry revenues, the amount it handles barely covers the salaries after fuel was paid. Many of the stations and offices of PNR no longer has electricity. Units are being run by just cannibalizing the old units. And retiring personnel are no longer replaced.

Along the way I saw stations no longer in use and many don’t have roofs anymore. Bridges were beginning to corrode and communication lines were no longer working.
In most places we were running at an average of 40-45kph because of the condition of the tracks. In Gumaca I even feared there would be a derailment.

I noticed that at each station a new set of train vendors sporting another set of uniform identifying them will board the train. Since they won’t get off until the Bicol line ends in Hondagua, the midway point, they became too numerous till they outnumbered the passengers (and we were full!). It was getting hot though the skies were generally overcast. My only consolation was our coach was the newer Japan-donated so it was more comfortable than the coaches I rode when I was in college (but not the tracks!)

I was hoping to see much of the line but dusk overtook us in Agdangan, Quezon. But I still saw how small the place was. I was seeing the countryside I knew before from another vista so it was sad that daylight was no longer available.

We chugged along and getting nearer to Manila the warning of our conductor regarding bad elements in the train stations became more strident. Reaching the Espana station at Quezon Avenue at 2am there were admonishions to just walk straight and fast and not to bother to look at the characters inside the station grounds.

I learned that although the trains are no longer running the employees still get their pay. The only hope being bandied about is a “National Railway Authority” will be passed as law so that the line and the stock could be rehabilitated. But with the damage I saw I knew it would take a lot of money.

The Buses And Bus-Makers of Bicol

November 7, 2008

Once upon a time one bus company dominated the landscape of Bicol.  The combined ALATCO-BITRANCO-CAL completely dominated all the lines, from the major to the minor including routes going to the far-flung barrios.  In almost every town it has a terminal where buses and crew lay down for the night.  In anticipation of the next day’s market, the bus consortium even lays over buses in the interior barrios.  There were no jeepneys then.

ALATCO stood for A.L. Ammen Transportation Company, the first bus company in the country. BITRANCO is Bicol Transportation Company and CAL means Consolidated Auto Lines. ALATCO and BITRANCO sported near-identical red liveries while CAL used a yellow-orange livery. While ALATCO and BITRANCO mainly used full-sized buses, CAL used mini-buses and it concentrated in the barrio and minor routes.  The consortium was headquartered in Iriga City.

But before the end of the ’60s the consotium floundered.  It was bought by PANTRANCO (Pangasinan Transportation Company) whose reputed beneficial owners are the Marcoses.  It was renamed PANTRANCO South and later Philtranco Service Enterprise, Inc. (PSEI).  

PANTRANCO South and Philtranco never lived up to the legacy of ALATCO.  It withdrew from the minor and barrio routes then slowly concentrated on the Manila run.  Later they fully abandoned the local Bicol routes.

From a legend in maintenance and service, PANTRANCO South and Philtranco began fielding unsafe and shoddy units.  It was associated with taking forever on the road and poor service. Bicolanos started to shun the bus company.  With that, new Bicol bus companies began emerging starting with JB Lines.  Soon the so-called “colorums” of Bicol began sprouting.  Its main weapon was its low fares.

For a while Philtranco made a comeback with the entry of Pepito Alvarez, who re-capitalized the company.  But soon the former “colorums” started easing out Philtranco in more and more routes.  It was offering a flat rate to Bicol which was only half of what Philtranco is charging. Even today with high fuel prices, it is offering fares in the range of P300-350 (ordinary class).  It is now the bus of the masses and in this role it supplanted the moribund Philippine National Railways (PNR) trains.

Its buses are now much improved.  From “fly-by-night” and TOP (Temporary Operator’s Permit) operations, it slowly legalized itself.  It even bought old franchises from defunct bus companies.

Was is their secret? One, they are able to pack in their buses and it is good in looking for passengers in the highway.  It even uses “hustlers” for this.  It also assembles most of its units using mid-sized but thrifty engines.  This gave rise to the Bicol bus-making industry which is centered in Tabaco City.  Its RMB and JYQ brand of buses are among the most prominent and it is even “exported” now to other regions like the Eastern Visayas.

Its operations are low-cost, no-frills.  To comply with terminal requirements, it just make arrangements with carinderias (food joints) so passengers will have a comfort room to use and chairs to sit on.  Many do not even have inspectors.  And they have no expensive terminals and depots to maintain.

Now some of the old “colorums” can even buy new units including air-conditioned ones while Philtranco is content with rehabilitated/re-bodied units (but factory-done so it still looks good).  Among the former upstarts that upset Philtranco are St. Jude/Buban, TAWTRASCO, Antonina, JVH, A. Bragais, Barbosa, I. Bea, R.U. Diaz/RJ, N. Bolanos and A. Arandia.  Most of it came from the 1st District of Albay whose center is Tabaco City.

At the top end, Philtranco is squeezed by quality operators like Isarog, Penafrancia, RSL, Cagsawa, Executive Carriers and Gold Line.  But looming on the horizon, with ever-increasing shadows is Raymond Transportation.  More and more it is being called as the “new Philtranco” of Bicol.  Not bad for a former mini-bus operator in Calauag, Quezon some 20 years ago whose first Bicol route is a line to Ragay, Camarines Sur.

Good that Bicol is a deregulated area like Eastern Visayas.  Without it these upstarts might not have made it.  Bicolanos enjoyed choice and lower fares as a result.  

PANTRANCO South and Philtranco abandoned the local Bicol routes and ALATCO’s legacy.  It is where their challengers emerged.  Karma?