PNR dead in its tracks
A vital factor in enhancing the economic development of our country is a modern railway system for Luzon. The Philippine National Railways is in its death throes and resources applied towards its resurrection is tantamount to investing in a sink hole.
It originated when Don Edmundo Sykes, an Englishman, was awarded the concession for the Manila-Dagupan line on Jan. 21, 1887. Subsequently, the concession was transferred to the Manila Railroad Co. Ltd. in London.
MRR inaugurated the first 195-kilometer railway service from Manila to Dagupan, Pangasinan, on Nov. 24, 1892, under Spanish rule. With the American occupation, the English company of New Jersey, built 792.5 kilometers of new lines from 1902 to 1916. Suffering serious financial losses, the English owners sold the railway system to the US government for P8 million in cash and P53.9 million in bonded indebtedness.
In 1929, the railway was extended to San Fernando, La Union. During the Commonwealth period, President Manuel L. Quezon extended the line to Legazpi, Albay.
Before retreating to Bataan in December 1941, USAFFE CIC Gen. Douglas MacArthur ordered the destruction of locomotives, rolling stocks, shop equipment and other facilities. The rapid advance of the Japanese forces prevented the planned destruction of the system. Filipino personnel continued to operate the railway under Japanese supervision.
After Liberation, damage was estimated at P30 million. The US government granted a measly P3 million for war damage. This threadbare compensation hardly made a dent on the reconstruction of the damaged railway.
On independence day, July 4, 1946, the Philippine government injected P20 million to the system. This was hardly enough to put the railway back on its feet, resulting in a loss of P3.1 million in 1953.
However, President Ramon Magsaysay improved the management, funding and operations in 1954. For the first time in 16 years, MRR declared a net profit of P540 million in 1956. This coincided with the conversion from steam to diesel-electric operation.
After this, the MRR began to lose money again. In 1964, MRR was renamed Philippine National Railways. The downslide continued. Since 1986, rehabilitation on a piecemeal basis, backed by loans from OECF, proved futile.
The PNR should be privatized. The government should relinquish its hold on the moribund railway system. A privately owned railway is far superior to one owned and operated by the government.
Three companies is far superior to one owned and operated by the government. Three companies or consortia will each build and operate one of three main lines, inclusive of spur and commuter lines. The three main lines are: the Ilocos or Northwestern Sector; the Cagayan Valley or Northeastern Sector; and the Southern Tagalog and Bicol Line.
From a Grand Central Station in Quezon City, the three lines will radiate towards their end points, i.e., Pagudpod, Ilocos Norte for the Ilocos Line; Aparri, Cagayan for the Cagayan Valley Line; and Matnog, Sorsogon for the Southern Tagalog and Bicol Line. Spur and connecting lines will be established.
The Standard Railroad Gauge (1425 mm) should be adopted over the present Cape Town Gauge (1067 mm), resulting in an increase in the gap between rails by 358 mm (14-1/8”). The Standard Gauge measures 4’-8-1/8” between rails. It is universally used, carries heavier loads, sustains higher speeds, and is safer in negotiating turns.
Stronger and firmer rail beds should be installed, along with heavier and larger 80-lb rails on all main lines.
One-way tracks are dedicated to uni-directional travel and double tracks allow two trains to pass each other any time, avoiding collisions. The double track system prevents delays when a train waits for another that is expected to arrive on the same track. While waiting, it is shunted to an idle track.
There are three sources of power for locomotives to choose from: diesel-electric, electric, and natural gas. The latter is in abundant supply in the Philippines.
Our government should get other countries interested in the venture, specially those with well established and modern railway systems.
The Philippine National Railways is dead in its tracks.
(Apolonio G. Ramos, 87, a resident of Marikina City, is a retired mechanical engineer. He was a former manager at Philippine Refining Company. His interest lies in writing about education, transportation and political events.)
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