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Revitalizing Rails: A festive return for Bicolanos

By Marlon Atun and Connie Calipay

THE holiday season brought a long-awaited gift for Bicolanos as the Philippine National Railways (PNR) marked the resumption of train services between Naga City in Camarines Sur and Legazpi City in Albay, rekindling a vital connection.

Since December 27, the PNR has reinvigorated its commuter train service along the scenic 101-kilometer Naga-Legazpi route. This revival, six years after operational setbacks caused by coach shortages and typhoon-induced damages on the tracks, has breathed new life into the government-run transportation firm’s endeavors in the region.

Promising affordability, the train service boasts a minimum fare of P15 and a total line cost of P155, offering nearly 25 percent savings compared to public utility vans and buses. The journey from Legazpi to Naga, spanning a little over three hours at speeds reaching 40 kilometers per hour, presents a refreshing alternative for commuters.

The daily schedule unfolds with the inaugural trip from Legazpi to Naga at 5:45 a.m., followed by a return journey at 5:30 p.m. The daily trips from Naga to Legazpi occur at 5:38 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., with brief stopovers at stations in Pili, Baao, Iriga Lourdes, Bato, Matacon, Polangui, Oas, Ligao, Travesia, Daraga, Bagtang, Washington Dr., and Kapantawan.

Accommodating up to 700 passengers, Legazpi Train Station Manager Ruben Besmonte expressed readiness to expand trip schedules in response to growing demand.

Passengers, like Marivic Fae Ching of Naga City, described their inaugural train experience as “memorable.” Maricon Ros from Ligao City found solace in the relaxed pace, considering it a way to de-stress. Clean, air-conditioned coaches and spacious seats, deemed more comfortable than bus seats, and enhanced the journey, as expressed by Maricon.

The introduction of new coaches earned praise from 65-year-old Roy Samilo of Naga City, highlighting improved seat designs compared to older counterparts. Gina Arao, a local business owner near the PNR Station, expressed gratitude for the reopening, foreseeing positive impacts on her sari-sari store and turo-turo offering “lutong bahay.”

On the reopening day, the railway management recorded 239 outbound and 171 inbound passengers, notably featuring a majority of curious young adults attracted by the experience and affordable fare.

PNR General Manager Regino affirmed the commitment to sustain operations in Legazpi City and Bicol, relying on the support of Bicolano legislators for logistical needs. Besmonte emphasized PNR’s priorities: safety, comfort, orderliness, and affordable travel for all.

PASSENGERS eagerly queue up, filled with anticipation, as they await the rhythmic hum of the train, ready to embark on a journey that symbolizes renewed connections and shared experiences. Marlon Atun/PIA photo

Train driver Wilson Batac of Naga City ensures safety by slowing down to 30 km per hour in densely populated areas. While the train’s maximum speed capacity reaches 120 kilometers per hour, the current average speed is 40 kilometers per hour.

Innovatively, the PNR train in Bicol now employs a modern diesel-hydraulic engine, reducing noise compared to traditional locomotive engines. Jaypee Relleve, the manager of PNR Engineering Department, shared plans to connect the train service from Calamba, Laguna, to Bicol, offering a more convenient transportation option.

Currently, the focus lies on rehabilitating and strengthening railway bridges and tracks, ensuring a safe, comfortable, reliable, and affordable transportation option for the commuting public in Bicol. The strides made by PNR spell a promising era for connectivity and convenience in the region.

Meanwhile following a six-year pause, the Philippine National Railways (PNR) on Wednesday resumed its train services from Legazpi, Albay to Naga, Camarines Sur.

In an interview, PNR Engineering Department manager Jaypee Relleve said the revival of the Legazpi-Naga trips is one of the priority projects of the Marcos administration.

The route was suspended in April 2017 due to a lack of locomotive engines and train coaches.

“The train services provide a convenient, safe, and reliable public transport option for people from Naga and Legazpi,” he said. “The trips will be regular, and we are now conducting studies for additional trips since we received positive reactions from commuters.”

He said PNR’s ultimate goal is to connect the line from Legazpi City to Calamba up to Metro Manila.

Marivic Pelones, a government employee from Legazpi City who often goes to Naga City, said the train services will help reduce her travel expenses.

“It’s a big help for all of us, I hope they will add more trips that can accommodate more passengers,” she said.

Erasto Alerta from Legazpi City also commended the PNR for reviving the train route.

“Super iba na talaga siya, last kung sakay 1997, magalaw pa noon ang train ngayon hindi na. Maayos na ang lahat. Overall super okay ang biyahe namin. Salamat sa serbisyo na magbibigay ng karagdagang ginhawa sa mga pasahero lalo na mga magsasaka (It’s really different, the last time I was on board was in 1997, the train was so wobbly then, now it’s not. Everything is fine. Overall, our trip was super okay. Thank you for the service that will provide more comfort to passengers especially farmers),” he said.

Architect Kristine Lagman said the reopening of the PNR trip will bring more development, opportunity to the public, and convenience to passengers.

“One of the signs that an area is developing is having a railway system. this is a good indicator that our economy, government service, and transport are improving. I believe that the best option for public transport is trains, not cars,” she said.

In an earlier interview, Albay 3rd District Rep. Fernando Cabredo said the PNR trips enhance the connectivity of Albay with Camarines Sur, which is expected to boost economic growth in the two provinces.

“This will open more opportunities to different town stations and flag stops. It will also bring potential tourism collaborations, regional integrational and environmental benefits, particularly for residents of Ligao City,” he said.

There are 15 stations in between the two localities.

Two train sets use a diesel-hydraulic locomotive with three coaches each that can carry over 800 passengers.

The first train trip from Legazpi to Naga will leave at 5:45 a.m., followed by a second trip at 5:47 p.m., while the first train from Naga to Legazpi leaves at 5:30 a.m., followed by a second trip at 5:30 p.m.

The minimum fare is PHP20 for the first station, and goes up to PHP155 for the entire route.

Students, senior citizens, and persons with disabilities can avail of a 20-percent discount. (PNA)


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