Manila Philippines (June 30, 2011) - Now an object of nostalgia, the Bicol Express of the olden days in reality never attained a reputation for timely arrivals - nor departures. There was no big deal ordinarily when Bicol Express Train 611 arrived in Naga City this morning 4 hours late - were it not on its much anticipated maiden trip after years in limbo.
The cause of the delay was a recently discovered eroded portion of the railroad less than 40 kilometers away from the train's destination, Naga City.
A total of 53 passengers joined the June 29 trip, which departed Manila’s Tutuban Station around 6:30 p.m. The train was well on its way to arrive in Naga between 4:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m (June 30) before the track defect was discovered.
In a telephone interview, Philippine National Railway (PNR) spokesperson Jera Sison said the Bicol Express train made a 'safety stop' around 4:30 a.m. after navigators discovered portions of uneven tracks in Malaguico area, between Lupi Viejo and Sipocot towns in Camarines Sur.
“In the interest of public safety, they stopped the train after noticing the problem,” Sison said, citing that the track problem was caused by the heavy rains brought on by tropical storm Falcon.
Sison, however, pointed out that trackmen had examined all portions of the rail before the trip departed Manila and the track problem appeared very recent.
Workers from the PNR Naga Station arrived at the defective railway site and immediately repaired the eroded portions and declared the track passable at 9:05 am. The train arrived Naga City at 9:28 a.m. Moreover, some stranded passengers of the train were picked up and transferred to a local commuter train that is being used in the local Naga-Legazpi route.
Was the maiden trip delay a preview of the typical Bicol Express services in the future? PNR general manager Junio Ragragio does not think so.
“This soft opening of the Bicol Express is precisely meant to double check possible problems that may arise before we make it fully operational. The long hiatus of the train operations definitely placed a toll on the conditions of the rail tracks and we have been dutifully fixing it ever since. Regrettably it happened on its first trip,” he explained.
“The PNR, despite its limited resources is determined to provide and return back train service in the South. It is just very unfortunate and ill-timed that this incident happened on its maiden voyage. On the good side of this incident, potential accident was averted and the tracks were immediately repaired and normal operations of the Bicol Express will resume,” Ragragio said.
The PNR started the commercial operations on the promised date, June 29, without much funfare with the goal to test the market and get objective feedbacks from paying passengers.
In this manner, the PNR can adjust and correct minor problems or inconveniences that might arise before it makes the Bicol Express fully operational, Sison said.
The Bicol Express will initially have trips every other day.
The PNR anticipates an increase of train passengers in a few weeks time when the state-owned railway company starts aggresive marketing of the Bicol Express to the public.
PNR will first deploy the tourist and family sleeper coaches in its initial trips to conserve manpower and fuel. However, once it starts 100% operations, more coaches shall be added, including the dining cars.
PNR now charges P548 for Tourist accomodation and P950 for Sleeper and passengers of the early runs are entitled to 20% discount. (From philstar.com)