Thursday, June 30, 2011

Welcome Back, Bicol Express

Los Baños, Laguna, July 1, 2011, 5:00 a.m.  It's the first of July now in the Philippines (we're GMT+8 here), and something absolutely pleasant happened this morning.  For the first time in the last two decades, I heard once more the sound of the horn of the Philippine National Railways coach plying the route between Manila and the Bicol Region Naga City).  It’s nice to hear again the horn of the PNR Coach known as the “Bicol Express.” The PNR has revived the railyway transport system between Manila and the Bicol region in Southern Luzon.  For many years, the railroad was practically abandoned and its rehabilitation began only a couple of years back.

Many UPCA Alumni have felt sad not hearing the train’s horns everytime they stayed overnight in Los Baños the last couple of decades.  For UPCA Alumni, that sound has always connected them with their memories of having studied in the premier agricultural college in the Philippines and the region.  Today, of course, the former UPCA (now UPLB) offers a lot more varied experiences for its students, faculty, and guests.  But in the 50s and 60s, the Bicol Express horn was always part of the experience.  

Rehabilitation of the railway system is part of the government’s program to improve public transport in the country.  Well, from a personal point of view, the railway system should have never been abandoned in the first place.  I’m glad the appropriate agencies of government and officials have come to their senses.  Let’s hope this time we’re going to see a much improved and modernized railway system throughout the Philippines.  We understand that all the coaches are new and airconditioned.

Considering that the Philippines is an archipelagic country, the “RORO” (Roll On, Roll Off) interisland ferry system should also be improved.  Perhaps new ships should be put into service.  It’s known that all the ships used in the RORO system are old ships bought from Japan through ODA Funds.  Some of these old ships have been de-commissioned. 

A much improved railway system connecting with an improved interisland ferry system would certainly provide greater opportunities for travel throughout the archipelago.  This could improve transport of food commodities and other commercial merchandise throughout the country from various food production areas such as Mindanao and Central Luzon.

Let’s hope also that the revival of the railway system would somehow lead as well to a reduction of cargo trucks plying the highways and make the national roads more pleasant for motorists.  Conceivably, this could also lead to reduction in the number of vehicles on the road and help resolve the perennial traffic gridlocks in various parts of the country.

There’s another phenomenon we need to watch with the revival of the railway system between Manila and the Bicol region.  In years past, social scientists of UPCA had established that in the many informal settlements along PNR railroad tracks there were far more births compared to communities far from the railroad tracks.  Why?  Well, according to UPCA researchers then, when the train rushes by very early in the morning everybody would be shaken awake.  As those living in these railway informal settlements were not farmers they didn’t have to go to the farms and they could no longer go back to sleep.  The more interesting thing for them to do then was make babies. 

Are the bishops listening?


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