NAGA CITY- After more than four years of absence, the “Bicol Express”, the signature run of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) commercial train services between Manila and Bicol, will resume on July 1, its top official here on Thursday said.
“This time, Bicol Express would be offering faster, more economical and convenient trips with its newly refurbished economy-class cars that are air-conditioned a nd with reclining seats and new sleeper coaches acquired through a donation from Japan,” according to Constantino Toledano, the PNR South Railways manager and operations division chief.
The trip will offer tourist class accommodations in coaches provided with wide screen LCD televisions with video players, state-of-the-art sound system, sleeper coaches for a family or group of six, executive class for passengers who would want extra privacy and dining cars with an ambiance of first class restaurants.
Its mission, Toledano said, is to reclaim the reputation of the Manila-Bicol railway system as the backbone of social and economic progress in Southern Luzon which it has established since the Spanish and American times. The train services are now seen to maximize its immense potential for the economic growth of Bicol, now the second poorest region of the country.
Under the administration of President Benigno C. Aquino III, he said the Bicol Express is destined to boost the local tourism industry and perk up economic activities in Southern Luzon as among the major catalysts in the country’s development by connecting provinces via a comprehensive railway system.
The PNR suspended its Bicol-Manila commercial operations in late 2006 following the destruction rendered by typhoon Reming on its lines and other structures. An amount of P1.25 billion has been earmarked by the previous administration to finance the full rehabilitation of the damaged facilities.
The amount included the US$ 110 million obtained early in 2010 from the Korea Exim Bank and infused into the project following the clearing and relocation of some 34,700 informal settlers along the PNR row between the Manila-Calamba section that jump started its implementation early in June last year and scheduled completion before the end of 2011.
The Aquino administration took over and all contracts involving the rehabilitation works were done and the money obligated as the President issued a marching order for its expeditious completion. The works covering the Manila-Legazpi line were completed late last year and the finishing touches done last April.
Dry runs to determine the worthiness of the lines and coaches were proven successful and the final test run, which started here, was conducted in the evening of June 22. The first commercial run from Manila up to this city takes place on July 1, marking the start of the second year of the Aquino presidency, Toledano said.
As per early dry runs, travel time between the route using the PNR diesel-fed engines is nine hours which is faster by one hour compared to the 10-hour trips of air-conditioned buses. The fare would be P300 for passengers taking the air-conditioned, reclining seat cars and P800 for the sleeper coaches.
These rates, the PNR division chief said are lower by P200 compared to buses.
Soon, the Manila-Albay route will also resume depending on the result of the test runs to be conducted on the 90-kilometer Naga-Legazpi line which also suffered major damages from Typhoon Reming. The route has been rehabilitated including the Travesia Bridge in Guinobatan, Albay which was toppled down by flood.
He said the rehabilitation works continue on train stations along the 500-kilometer Manila-Laguna-Quezon-Camarines Sur-Albay route that used to be hubs of commercial activities.
Extension of railway connection to Batangas, Camarines Norte and Matnog, Sorsogon are likewise on the drawing board, Tolenado added. (Danny O. Calleja/PNA)