Every year just before Penafrancia Fiesta, PNR with all fun fare, would show off to all Bicolanos a train that runs from Tutuban to Naga. Although it takes some15 hours for the GE diesel locomotive engine spewing some 1,500hp, or the DMU (Diesel Multi Unit) train (salvaged from Japan and manufactured in the mid 80’s) to traverse the less than 400 kms route—running an average 26 km/hr (equivalent to a miserable speed of an overloaded tricycle equipped with 125cc engine), gullible Bicolanos would always have high hopes, and are made to believe again and again that the renaissance of the once famous “Bicol Express” where many love stories were conceived (including that of Cong. Gabby and her lovely wife Gina) is finally coming, halleluiah!
But as soon as the festivity ends, the supposed “running train”, in a wink of an eye disappears—it abruptly ceased from operating once more. It is gone, as good as dead, only to be resurrected and seen once more in the next Penafrancia Fiesta.
Everyone should have wondered why PNR does this trick year after year since the presidency of the diminutive wheelchair habitué, Gloria M.A. and carried to this incongruous and wretch administration where promises are uttered as mere jokes but with absurd justification.
Is it not a waste of funds and resources spending for the temporary rehabilitation of the obsolete and dilapidated narrow gauge rails ravaged by time and dismally neglected just to be able to prove that the government has not forsaken us by offering another false expectation?
But oddly enough, many who are not aware of this wasteful spending to the soon to be replaced obsolete rail are completely blind-sided by the spectacle and extensive press releases of yet another “running train” reaching Naga City in time for the Penafrancia Fiesta. Suddenly, however, they are brought to their senses as soon as the festivity ends and the train never comes back.
Each year PNR would include in their budget the purchase of narrow gauge railroad track parts for the repair and maintenance of this South railway line. Steel rails, railway sleepers, connection parts and fasteners, to name just a few, are stockpiled in the HQ yards and railroad stations (and rotting). They know beforehand that a standard gauge rail as well will henceforth be used by railways in the Philippines per pronouncement of Pres. Digong himself during an affair in Legaspi City way back in 2016. All the parts PNR continue to purchase, therefore, will soon be completely useless and wasted, as standard gauge rails require different parts specifications. But of course, if the pronouncement was merely a joke again, then PNR got it right!
In the meantime, President Digong and his Chinese friends have pieced together and signed a controversial contract for the construction of a new standard gauge railway for the South Lane-Long Haul Bicol Express as part of the North-South Railway Project (NSRP). This is expected to commence early in the first quarter of next year as reported. Total project cost is a whooping P179 billion that offers a considerable reduction in travel time—Tutuban to Naga in just a little over 5 hours compared to the almost 12 hours when the train last ran in the same route. This new railway will have an average speed of around 75km/hr with a top speed of 150km/hr. Fast enough, but should not be classified as a high-speed (as claimed by over enthusiastic Pres Digong fans club). A high-speed train runs at least 200km/hr and the fastest is the 500km/hr latest Shenkansen in Japan.
But of course, Bicolanos should rejoice that finally a decent new railway system comparable to our South East Asian neighbors will soon be realized after decades of waiting. Never mind the higher interest rate of the Chinese loan compared to other lenders. Never mind the risk of losing our sovereignty if we fail to repay it as stipulated in the loan contract. Never mind if majority of construction workers are imported from China (similar to other Chinese contracts the government entered into). Never mind if the quality of work is as good as the latest collapsed Jiangsu Bridge. And well, never mind if the railways the Chinese financed in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Laos, Myanmar, etc, have all become debt-traps to these now insolvent countries which prudently serve as a stern warning to us and all Chinese debtors. We, Bicolanos don’t mind because we are euphoric recipients of this equivocal railway project no matter how disadvantageous it may seem to Juan de la Cruz who will have to bear the full financial weight and burden. Expectedly, we are all suckers of this runaway train who are duped into paying for it!