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PNR to resume 'Bicol Express' June 25, PGMA Told

CALAMBA CITY, Laguna, June 15  -- The Philippine National Railways (PNR) is set to resume regular trips to the Bikol Region by Friday next week, PNR officials told President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo Tuesday.

The PNR halted its daily train trips to the Bikol province after the San Cristobal bridge here was destroyed when typhoons "Milenyo" and "Reming" battered Southern Luzon one after the other in 2006.

Now, with a newly constructed 50-meter bridge taking the place of the devastated San Cristobal Bridge, the Bicol Train service, from Manila to Ligao, Albay will soon resume.

In a briefing in one of PNR's newly acquired coaches that took the Chief Executive, PNR and local government officials and members of media to its Bicutan station in ParaƱaque, PNR General Manager Ower Andal said the "Bicol Express" trip will be available to commuters by June 25, 2010.

According to Andal, more operational works are being undertaken to ensure the safety of the trips to Bicol. These jobs include replacing the wooden tresses with concrete and the addition of compacting materials to improve the stability of the tracks.

Andal said the resumption of the Bicol trips "closes the loop" linking the North and South Rail project, a part of the President's 10-point agenda to decongest Metro Manila.

Meanwhile, the PNR said the double tracking of the rail system will cost P150 million, which the Korean Export Import Bank has already committed to fund and construct, 'at no cost and sovereign guarantee from the Philippine government," said PNR consultant-Chief of Staff Nicolas Beda Priela.

In 2006, the commuter train numbered only two for Manila to Legazpi, but now there are 12 Metro commuter trips daily carrying 400,000 passengers a month. But with the commercial run of the extended Tutuban to Calamba run, the estimated passenger load is 600,000 a month, he said.

The commuter train system from Tutuban to Sucat was launched last April 6, during the birthday of President Arroyo, which was the media's first taste of riding the comfortable airconditioned trains.

The fare from Tutuban to Sucat is still at P15 per person and from Tutuban to Alabang, P25.

He added that before, the trains were running from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. at 30 minute intervals. Now the rides are only at 15 minutes interval.

Priela said the commuters are now happy about getting to their destinations just as fast as the Metro Rail and Light Rail Transit systems. "They do not experience traffic and they are happy that their fares are even lower than what they would be paying at the airconditioned buses or at the LRT or MRT."

The President recently allotted P1.8 billion for the South Rail Rehabilitation Program, particularly for the reconstruction of the San Cristobal-Calamba Bridge and the Traversia Bridge in Guinobatan, Albay. This entails the strengthening of the culverts and bridges and the replacement of around 354 kilometers of wooden ties to concrete ties.

The bus fare from Manila to Bikol is P750 for regular airconditioned buses and P1,000 for premium aircon buses [or those with reclining easy chairs and built-in comfort rooms. The ordinary bus fare is P600. PNR thinks of pricing its fares from Manila to Bikol at about the same rate as airconditioned buses.

Only recently, the PNR received from the Japanese sleeper coaches and electric multiple units, which when delivered will augment their rolling coaches direct to the south. Brand news units of sleeper coaches cost $1 million each, but since this is secondhand, although well maintained, the cost is a lot cheaper than brand new, Priela said.

The PNR said it will expedite the fencing of the railway systems and protect the system from shanty dwellers that have been sighted along the tracks again. "Fencing it will also protect our riders from bad elements," Priela said. (PNA)