By Juan Escandor Jr.
NAGA CITY---The cost of the railway system upgrading from Manila to Bicol and extending it to Matnog, the gateway town to the south in Sorsogon province, reaches P151B, an official of the Department of Transportation revealed Wednesday.
Asec. Cesar Chavez said the railway upgrading project, officially listed under the DOTr as South Long Haul project, covers rehabilitation and construction of railways, acquisition of new carriages and other related incidentals related to the upgrading of the railway system.
The South Long Haul project spans the provinces Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur to Albay and extending it to Matnog, Sorsogon with a span of 581 km.
Chavez said originally the target means of the South Long Haul project was Public Private Partnership (PPP) but the recent pronouncement of DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugalde follows the recommendation of the Overseas Development Organization (ODA).
The Philippine National Railways (PNR), that operates the south railway, started operation in 1892 as the Ferrocaril de Dagupan Manila. During the American Occupation it was renamed Manila Railroad Company. PNR used to operate 1,100 km of railway line from La Union to Bicol.
On Sept. 13, 1941, the first Bicol train is put into operation. When the Second World War II broke out, the train became the means of mass transportation of soldiers and Bicolanos going back to their hometown.
According to the PNR website, the decline of the PNR’s operation was triggered by the shift in government priority to the building of the Pan Philippine Highway in the 1970s.
“And the railroad was relegated to its own backwaters as the buses and trucks and the much faster airliners took over. By the late 1990s to the present decade, PNR trains and the railroad looked battered and reeling from neglect, mismanagement, and typhoons.”
In 2006, Supertyphoon Rosing devastated much of the line between Lucena and Naga. It was restored one year later. Twice within the decade, on September 28, 1996 to be exact, nature sent Typhoon Milenyo to practically demolish San Cristobal Bridge and other PNR infrastructures in Quezon and Camarines Sur.
A little more than two months later, on November 30, Typhoon Reming struck, and brought down Travesia Bridge in the Ligao-Guinobatan section, and most of PNR’s station buildings and communication facilities.