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Philippine National Railways

Philippine National Railways ply the Manila-Legazpi route and vice versa on Cape Gauge (three feet, six inches) single track. Rolling stocks are old, made in Madras (now Chennai), India. The narrow gauge results in lateral instability and prevents the trains to run at higher speed. In fact, trains leave Tayuman, Manila at 4:00 p.m. and on a good day arrives in Legazpi around 7:00 a.m. the next day. Normally, trains arrive late because they have to slow down at at-grade crossings. Trains were involved in accidents mainly because road traffic ignore "stop-look-and-listen" signs and the train engineer's constant blowing of horn.

Before World War II, trains reached all the way up Tabaco, Albay, now a city and Bicol's primary international port facing the Pacific, north of Legazpi. It also provided passenger and freight services to San Fernando, La Union, aside from prompt and regular service to the port of Legazpi.

While Japan increasingly convert her tracks to standard gauge (four feet, eight and one half inches) such that Japan East Railways donate its 12-year old deep blue coaches to PNR, the Philippines is stuck with Cape Gauge. Cape Gauge is not bad, per se, as South Africa and New Zealand also use the same gauge. However, it impedes high speed operation. This is highlighted by the fact that the Light Railway Transit (LRT) and the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) in Metro Manila uses standard (US) gauge.

PNR reached its pinnacle during the late 60's and early 70's, when there were four daily runs to Legazpi: one morning trip, one "ordinary" all-economy Bicol Express (scheduled departure was 3:00 p.m.), the popular Mayon Limited with an scheduled departure from Legazpi Terminus at 4:00 p.m., and PNR's answer to the Orient Express, albeit modest by comparison, the "Prestige" with its all-made-in-Japan self-propelled coaches (not pulled by GE locomotives). It has priority over the tracks such that it normally arrived in Tutuban, Manila's Grand Central, usually before 5:00 am, much better than today's PNR's dismal punctuality standards. Mayon Limited was pulled by a General Electric locomotive, and prior to the flood in 1975 that washed out bridges and isolated Legazpi Terminus, another locomotive pushed the train up the steep gradient on the foothills of Mayon Volcano onto Camalig Station. After the 1975 flood, trains can only reach Camalig. Prestige has air-conditioned coaches that seat 48 passengers per coach. It is a bit narrower and lower than those made in Madras, permitting faster runs. It only stopped in Daraga, Ligao, Naga, Lucena, Paco, and arrives in Tutuban usually ahead of Mayon Limited and Bicol Express. Prestige was popular among businessmen as it leaves Legazpi the last (8:00 p.m.) but often arrive in Tutuban the earliest (around 5:00 am). Mayon Limited was the more popular, patronized by the middle- lower middle-class. It had a dining car, air-conditioned sleeping cars, air-conditioned coaches with reclining seats, tourist class with reclining seats, and economy.

PNR designates first class coaches as De Luxe. These usually have four abreast reclining seats that can be rotated for face-to-face meetings. Tourist coaches are like De Luxe sans air-conditioning. Economy coaches have face-to-face seats, two by three abreast. Passengers sleep sitting upright. More expensive than air-conditioned coaches with reclining seats, first class sleeping cars were air-conditioned, with fresh linens for its double-decked bunks. One can also opt for the non-air-conditioned sleepers and stretch out for the night's journey at much lower fares.

Following suspension of services to Legazpi, increasingly, buses took away passengers from PNR. However, shortly before the Snap Presidential Election of 1986, then President Marcos was able to briefly restore rail service to Legazpi. PNR abandoned its line along the foothills of Mayon, which was prone to flashfloods and washouts. It now ran westward, into the interiors of Daraga, and finally connecting with the old line in Travesia, Guinobatan, bypassing Camalig which is now abandoned. The incumbency of Corazon Aquino saw the worst times for PNR; trains only reached up to Naga, at best, Polangui, Albay. It was only during Fidel Ramos's presidency when a semblance of recovery was seen at PNR. A one billion peso loan from the Asian Development Bank financed the rehabilitation of the Main Line South up to Legazpi, with John Holland of Australia replacing decayed wooden ties with pre-stressed concrete. The contractor, however, used the same old Pre-War steel rails. Ramos even visited Legazpi during the enaugural run and the opening of the (DOTC Secretary) Enrile Bridge. During the Estrada Administration, PNR was able to secure "new" coaches from Japan East Railways--these were actually 12-year old coaches but being lower and slightly narrower are far better than 30 year old trains fabricated in Madras, India.

China has offered to finance, build and operate a rationalized railway service. Of late, the Congress has passed a bill to restore, rehabilitate, and modernize old existing lines, and extend lines to the North up to Tuguegarao, Cagayan, and down South onto Matnog, Sorsogon. The bill also provides for the construction of the Mindanao Railway, and the restoration of the Panay Railway.

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