LEGAZPI CITY — Hopes of train services glimmer anew for Bicolanos as Congress recently approved a budget of over Php 1.7 billion for the rehabilitation of the Philippine National Railways’ (PNR) Manila-Bicol rail line.
PNR director Ruben Medroso, in a statement reaching the Philippine National News Agency here during the weekend, said the budget amounting to Php 1.75 billion sought by the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) for the PNR had been approved by the House of Representatives.
The budget is intended for capacity expansion to allow two-way rail operations, repair and restoration of nine non-serviceable train units and the procurement of a rail-mounted crane with pile hammer and vibratory hammer to be used in the rehabilitation works.
It will also fund the repair of three locomotives and bridges along the rail line as well as the rehabilitation of damaged tracks within the Calamba-Legazpi route.
Medroso said the newly approved budget was part of the Php 11-billion budget proposed by PNR for the repair of the tracks and acquisition of new coaches that could help make it a viable alternative mode of transportation in the Bicol-Manila route.
According to Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento, who chairs the House committee on transportation, the amount intended for capital expenditure was proposed by PNR general manager Joseph Allan Dilay during the recent public hearing of the committee.
Under its proposed budget, the PNR seeks to spend Php 5.2 billion to rehabilitate the line between Calamba City and this city; Php 3.65 billion to purchase new passenger cars, and the rest to acquire other new equipment.
On top of this, the state-owned rail company is seeking for another Php 625.8 million to repair the stations, bridges, and railroad tracks.
Rehabilitation of PNR south facilities from Calamba, Laguna, to this city covering a distance of 483 kilometers, which was allotted an amount of Php 35.15 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 Pres. 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.
The Manila-Ligao trips were restored in early December last year, raising optimisms 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 important component of the regional economy because of its contributions to trade, tourism and transportation, according to City Mayor Noel Rosal.
He said that with the imminent restoration of train trips to here, trade activities would greatly improve as local products and those from manufacturers in 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,” Rosal 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 greenery of Bicol farmlands, he said.
“With Bicol Express, passengers have all travel options… rail, road or air options between this city and Manila and rest of Luzon,” the city mayor added.
According to Sarmiento, the resumption of the Legazpi trips will “close the loop” linking the North and South Rail project.
Anyway, Medroso said, the PNR, with this newly approved budget, will be at its best to make train services between the routes available by next year as earlier estimated.
The new fund came following the enactment by Congress and approval by President Aquino of Republic Act No. 10638 which amended Republic Act No. 4156 to extend starting last June 20 the corporate life of the PNR for another 50 Years.
RA 4156 was “An Act Creating the Philippine National Railways as a corporation to serve as the instrumentality of the Government of the Philippines in providing a nation-wide railroad and transportation system, which shall exist for a term of 50 years from its approval” on June 20, 1964.