Targets Needed for Philippine National Railways

In recent years, it has been uplifting to observe progress in the Philippines. Economic growth has risen to between five and seven percent per annum. Cities from Makati, Taguig and Pasay in Metro Manila to Cebu in the Visayas and Cagayan de Oro and General Santos in Mindanao have steamed ahead with increased job opportunities in call centres, retail and tourism, numerous multi storey residential apartments, shopping malls, office blocks and growing air links with the rest of Philippines.

Copyright Photo: Ferdz Decena /
Transportation infrastructure is a vital component of inclusive economic growth. Without improved air and surface transport options, communities cannot visit one another, efficiently respond to employment offers within the land of 7,107 islands or keep the cost of freight for goods down to an affordable level.

While much of the attention in the Philippines about surface transport might be on whether there are sufficient roads and if these are well maintained or not, the population of 100 million needs a functioning railway network as roads become increasingly clogged. Who has not sat on a bus or in a private car behind a 10-wheeler 'smoke belcher' or in urban areas with a line of tricycles forcing other road users to slow to between five and 30 kilometres an hour?

On paper, the website of government owned Philippine National Railways looks impressive. Viewers are informed that the Bicol Express train from Tutuban Center in Metro Manila to Naga City, Camarines Sur has 'reclining air-conditioned seats' and 'sleeper coaches' while the Mayon Limited train even has an executive lounge in one carriage.

But then reality hits. The website states that the long distance trains are currently suspended. There is no date shown for their resumption despite PNR boasting a 50 strong carriage fleet, much donated by JR East of Japan. There are signs of life on the website. In April, tenders closed for ballast rehabilitation and tamping of some of the line to the south of Luzon.

To move forward, PNR needs to publicise itself more. It has recently been the subject of some positive debate in Congress. The community is crying out for an alternative to buses and the private car. Despite minimal publicity, PNR's diesel (mostly railcar) commuter trains from Tutuban Center to Alabang have introduced an improved half hourly frequency during the middle of weekdays due to the heavy patronage. This small commuter railway is now carrying 15 million passenger trips per year, but ticketing remains antiquated with paper tickets sold at stations that are not integrated with the three line LRT and MRT elevated rail system in Metro Manila.

On May 28, 2014, most of the very limited number of trains operating north of Alabang to Sta. Rosa or Mamatid in Laguna were cancelled due to otherwise unexplained 'technical reasons', presumably due to the state of the track or insufficient availability of rail rolling stock.

PNR needs to set targets for itself and repeatedly publicise these. It could aim to reopen the line from Mamatid to Naga by June 2015, and to Legaspi in 2016. It could continually publicise how many passengers use its commuter trips in Metro Manila to prove that there is demand for rail transport in Philippines.

It could ask Government for funding to equip every one of the 400 level crossings from Alabang north to Legaspi in the next five years with hand operated gates or at the busier crossings, flashing lights and warning bells, plus half boom barriers. Vietnam is similar to the Philippines in population with its trains at risk of collisions from motor vehicles illegally on the tracks, yet Vietnam manages to run an intensive frequency of trains between Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Da Nang, Hanoi and for tourists en route to the mountain town of Sapa, trains from Hanoi to Lao Cai near the Chinese border.

There is much that can be done to restore PNR's single long distance line to major cities in Camarines Sur and Bicol, but the communities of Metro Manila and Luzon generally need to know PNR exists and can be successful.

-Surface Traveller


  1. Leading source of Airline and Aviation news for a tag line? What does the railway got to do with airlines/aviation?

    1. Philippine Flight Network primarily focuses on airline and civil aviation news. However, our greater mandate is to promote tourism and travel in the Philippines. That includes airlines, rail, cruising, and hotels among other features. You can read more in our "About Us" section.

  2. In many countries, railways complement airline operations. DB in Germany has combined rail plus air tickets, a concept that has now started to catch on in the UK with one private rail operator.

    This website concentrates on aviation, but I assume that those running it choose to also occasionally feature rail and cruises because both are relevant to the 21st century Philippines as it builds integrated transport and vibrant tourism.

  3. I commend PNR for trying to revive the rail network from Manila to Bicol or even beyond but for the project to be successful it should be safe, affordable and efficient for people to ride this kind of transportation.

  4. More power to you PFN for bringing in relevant news about PH Aviation, tourism, and even railways. Never mind those criticism but take it as constructive one. Kudos to your team!

  5. Sadly, the railway systems in the country were so badly neglected and that the government was inept and lacks the vision as to the benefits they bring in moving people and cargo more efficiently and quickly. The government should invest more in upgrading the railway infrastracture and replace those old coaches with modern ones to entice people to travel via alternative means. It is a lot safer, comfortable, cleaner and traffic-free! Rails certainly complement air, land and sea travel the way they do in Europe and even in some parts of Southeast Asia - Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

    1. Malaysia and Indonesia also have rail networks on narrow gauge tracks (1067mm). For instance there are two rail routes between Jakarta and Surabaya.

  6. Great information.
    Thanks for posting this.

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