Philippine National Railways

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Philippine National Railways, also known by its acronym, PNR, is a state-owned railway system in the Philippines, organized under the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) as an attached agency. Established during the Spanish colonial period, the modern PNR was developed only in 1984. It currently operates around 1,060 kilometres of track on the island of Luzon, where most Philippine rail infrastructure is located. Because of this, PNR has become synonymous with the Philippine rail system.

A portion of the PNR network, specifically the Metro Manila portion of the network, is part of the Strong Republic Transit System (SRTS),)[1] and overall public transport system in the metropolis. It forms the backbone of all of Metro Manila's regional rail services, which extend to its suburbs and to provinces such as Laguna. However, other than reducing growing traffic congestion due to the rising number of motor vehicles in Metro Manila,[2] PNR also aims to link key cities within in the Philippines efficiently and to serve as an instrument in national socio-economic development.[3] However, the meeting of that goal has been beset with problems regarding degraded infrastructure and a lack of government funding,[4] problems that are being rectified with current rehabilitation efforts. The rehabilitation of PNR, which has been touted by various administrations, seeks to not only tackle those problems, but also to spur Philippine economic growth through an efficient railway system.


The PNR network

System map of the PNR

The PNR network consists of two main rail lines: the North Main Line, commonly known as Northrail, and the South Main Line, commonly known as Southrail. In Metro Manila, the lines are also known as the Green and Orange Lines respectively. Northrail is a 266-kilometer line stretching from Manila to San Fernando City in La Union, with a 55-kilometer branch line starting in Tarlac City and ending in San Jose in Nueva Ecija.[5] Southrail is a 479-kilometer line from Manila to Legazpi City in Albay, with a 5-kilometer branch line starting in San Pedro in Laguna and ending in Carmona in Cavite, as well as two other branch lines connecting Calamba with Batangas City and Santa Cruz in Laguna. At present, only Southrail is open, as northbound rail services ended in the late 1980s. No direct connection currently exists between Northrail and Southrail.

Both routes are single-track (except in Metro Manila) and is built to the "Cape Gauge" of 1067 mm (3 feet 6 inches). This narrow gauge standard, which results in lateral instability, together with the age of most of the passenger rolling-stock — built in Madras (now Chennai) in India — means that trains run at very low speeds. While the Cape Gauge is not inherently bad (New Zealand]] and Queensland Rail in particular use the same gauge successfully), it does pose problems for high-speed operation. Compared to the newer Light Rail Transit and Metro Rail Transit systems, which are built to standard gauge (1435 mm or 4 feet 8.5 inches) and can run up to 80 km/h,[6][7] PNR trains can only run up to 50 km/h.[4]


Philippine National Railways was first established in 1892, six years before the declaration of Philippine independence. During this time, it was known as the Manila Railway Company (MRC) and operated the famous Manila-Dagupan railroad, which constitutes much of Northrail today

Before World War II, Philippine railways provided prompt and regular services not only to Legazpi but also to Tabaco City, the Bicol Region's main Pacific port. Passenger and freight trains also ran northwards from Manila to San Fernando City in La Union.

In the 1950s, MRC changed its corporate name to the present-day PNR. Even while suffering financial difficulties from 1957 to 1963, the pinnacle of Philippine passenger railway operations was reached during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when there were four daily runs to the capital from Legazpi: one "ordinary" morning departure, followed in the afternoon by the all-economy Bicol Express (scheduled to leave at 15:00), the popular Mayon Limited one hour later at 16:00, and finally by the PNR's answer to the Orient Express, albeit modest by comparison: the Prestige.

Major floods in 1973 forced the closure of part of Northrail,[8] while a major flood in 1975 washed out bridges east of Camalig on Southrail, causing trains from Manila to terminate there (12 km short of Legazpi) and leaving Legazpi City isolated from the rest of the railway system.

Following the suspension of services to Legazpi, buses increasingly took passengers away from PNR. However, shortly before the snap presidential election of 1986, then-President Ferdinand Marcos was able to restore rail service to Legazpi. PNR abandoned its line along the foothills of Mount Mayon, which was prone to flash floods and washouts. Instead a more westerly route was followed, passing through Daraga and finally rejoining the old line at Barangay Travesia in Guinobatan, bypassing Camalig station, which has now been abandoned. The incumbency of Corazon Aquino saw the worst times for PNR, with trains running no further than Naga or, at best, Polangui, Albay. It was also during Aquino's term that the last of Northrail, from Tarlac City to Dagupan City in Pangasinan, closed.[8]

It was only during the presidency of Fidel Ramos that a semblance of recovery was seen at PNR. A one-billion peso loan from the Asian Development Bank financed the rehabilitation of the Main Line South to Legazpi, with John Holland of Australia replacing decayed wooden sleepers (ties) with pre-stressed concrete ones. The contractor, however, used the same old pre-WWII steel rails. Ramos even visited Legazpi for the ceremonial re-opening of the line, performed by DOTC Secretary Arturo Enrile, and the inaugural run.

During the Estrada administration, PNR was able to secure "new" coaches from the East Japan Railway Company — actually 12-year-old coaches no longer needed in Japan following conversion of a number of main lines in that country to standard gauge. Being lower and slightly narrower they provide a much better ride than the 30-year-old coaches built in Madras.

Today the southbound overnight train leaves Tutuban station in Manila at 16:00 and on a good day arrives in Legazpi at around 7:00 the following morning. Trains often arrive late, however, one of the main reasons for delay being the need to slow down for the many level crossings. Despite constant application of the train's horn and the provision of "stop-look-and-listen" signs, road traffic frequently ignores these signals, resulting in a large number of crossing accidents, although the number has reduced in recent years.

Passenger services

PNR operates various passenger train services, which traverse (or have traversed) various parts of Luzon, as well as commuter train services in Metro Manila. It presently serves Metro Manila, as well as the provinces of Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, Camarines Sur and Albay. In the past, it also served Cavite and the northern provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan and La Union.

For regional passenger services, PNR designates first-class coaches as De Luxe. These usually have 2+2 abreast reclining seats that can be rotated for face-to-face meetings. Tourist coaches are similar to De Luxe but without air-conditioning. Economy coaches have face-to-face seats, 2+3 abreast. Passengers sleep sitting upright. More expensive than air-conditioned coaches with reclining seats, first-class sleeping-cars are air-conditioned, with two-tier bunks provided with fresh linen. One can also opt for non-air-conditioned sleepers and stretch out for the night's journey at much lower fares.

Metro Manila services

Exterior or Buendia station with a departing Commex commuter train

Commex and Metrotren

The Commex and Metrotren services serve as the backbone of Metro Manila's regional rail services, serving Metro Manila's various train stations, as well as areas as far south as Calamba City in Laguna. Trains have various frequencies and can be seen (and heard) running throughout the day. Blue and orange-painted General Electric locomotives attached with Commex or Metrotren cars of the same colors can be seen especially by those driving on the South Luzon Expressway. Some of these trains have a white band with "NORTHRAIL" written on the bottom, which indicates that it is a northbound rail service, rather than the more common southbound rail service.

Regional services

Mayon Limited

The Mayon Limited was more popular with the middle class. It had a dining car, air-conditioned sleeping cars, air-conditioned coaches with reclining seats, tourist class which also with reclining seats, as well as economy-class seating. Hauled by a General Electric locomotive, this heavy train was assisted up the steep gradient leading to Camalig station in the foothills of Mayon Volcano by another locomotive pushing from the rear.

The Mayon Limited today still runs as a non-air conditioned service, with the air-conditioned service being taken over by the Peñafrancia Express.

Prestige and Peñafrancia Express

The Prestige, with its 100% Japanese-built self-propelled coaches (it was the only train not to be hauled by General Electric locomotives), not only departed last (at 20:00) but was frequently the first of the three express trains to arrive. With priority over all other trains on its route, and calling only at Daraga, Ligao, Naga, Lucena, and Paco, it normally arrived in Tutuban station, Manila's Grand Central, before 5:00, making it a popular service with businessmen. The Prestige's 48-seater air-conditioned coaches were somewhat narrower and lower than those built in Madras, which also contributed to the faster run.

The Prestige has since been replaced with a similar service called the Peñafrancia Express, which run the same self-propelled Japanese coaches. However, unlike the Prestige, the Peñafrancia Express calls at Naga, Lopez, Pagbilao, San Pablo City and Sampaloc, and runs somewhat slower than the Prestige.[4]

Express services

In the past, PNR operated two types of Express services: the Dagupan Express to Dagupan City and the Bicol Express to Legazpi City. These services were all-economy and originated at Tutuban station going north (for the Dagupan Express) or south (for the Bicol Express). These services are no longer being operated today. The Peñafrancia Express is not an Express service.

Freight services

PNR operates a limited freight train service, known as Cargo Express. Normally hauled by General Electric locomotives, these trains are usually scheduled to run in the evenings, to ensure that the goods they convey reach Legazpi City in time to be shipped to various locations in the Philippines and abroad the next day.

Unfortunately, PNR's financial difficulties have meant that Cargo Express operations, formerly an efficient freight service, are now much reduced. Many PNR freight cars can be seen stored out-of-use and in a dilapidated state in various station yards.[4]

Future expansion

Exterior of Vito Cruz station

Plans to rehabilitate and expand the Philippine railway network has been made a top priority of various administrations, since such actions would not only reduce the burden on the Philippine road network, but also cut down on traffic congestion, reduce travel times and spur economic growth. The rehabilitation and expansion of the PNR network is one of the key projects in the ten-point agenda of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.[12]

So far, South Korea and the People's Republic of China have offered to help restore Philippine railway services, with the former assisting with the rehabilitation and modernization of Southrail,[9] and the latter helping to finance, build, and operate a rationalized Northrail service,[13] as well as helping to rehabilitate and modernize Southrail as well.[14] The Korean-funded portion covers the section of Southrail from Manila to Calamba, although present funding only covers the section of Southrail from Caloocan City to Muntinlupa City,[15] which also serves as the Northrail-Southrail connection.[16] The Chinese-funded portion covers the section from Calamba to Legazpi and further on to Matnog, Sorsogon. The Korean-funded Southrail project was originally expected to cost some 50 million US dollars but now costs around 70-100 million dollars.[9] No figures have been released for the Chinese-funded portion of Southrail.

The Northrail project involves the upgrading of the present-day single track to a dual-track system, linking Manila to Malolos City in Bulacan, and further on to Angeles City and the Clark Special Economic Zone, as well as Diosdado Macapagal International Airport. This project is estimated to cost around 500 million dollars, with China providing some 400 million dollars in concessionary financing, as much of the right-of-way on Northrail will be brand-new.[17] Construction began in early November 2006.[10]

Congress has lately passed a bill to restore, rehabilitate, and modernize old existing lines, and extend lines northwards to Tuguegarao City in Cagayan and to Laoag City in Ilocos Norte,[17] which could benefit from Thai financing,[18] and the restoration of the two-line Panay Railway,[17] which was not originally operated by PNR.


  1. ^ GMA Launches transit system, Philippine Star, July 15, 2003
  2. ^ NUMBER OF MOTOR VEHICLES REGISTERED: Comparative, JAN.- DEC. 2003, 2004, 2005, Land Transportation Office, January 23, 2006
  3. ^ Manila Light Rail Extension, Philippines, Railway Technology, retrieved August 28, 2006
  4. ^ The MRT Line 2 System - The Purple Line, Light Rail Transit Authority Railway Operations, retrieved August 28, 2006
  5. ^ abcd The train to Legazpi, Lakbay TV, retrieved August 27, 2006
  6. ^ abc Views from the Pampang: Railroad Towns], Alex R. Castro, published in the Sun.Star Pampanga, taken from the Kapampangan Homepage, retrieved August 29, 2006
  7. ^ SONA - Executive Summary, July 2005, Office of the President, July 21, 2005
  8. ^ ab Rehab of busy railway, Manila Standard Today, December 15, 2005
  9. ^ Arroyo gives China go signal for Northrail, Philippine Daily Inquirer, December 11, 2005
  10. ^ China to fund extension of south Luzon railway, Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 22, 2006
  11. ^ South Manila Commuter Rail Project, Phase 1, National Economic and Development Authority Project Profile, retrieved August 28, 2006
  12. ^ South Manila Commuter Rail Project, Phase 1, National Economic and Development Authority Official Development Assistance Loan Data, retrieved August 28, 2006
  13. ^ abcd RP, China break ground for Manila-Ilocos railway, Malaya, April 6, 2004
  14. ^ De Castro bats for hiring of squatters for NorthRail project, Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 6, 2006
  15. ^ Mindanao Railway System, Segment 1, Phase 1,National Economic and Development Authority Project Profile, retrieved August 28, 2006
  16. ^ /South Manila Commuter Rail Project, Phase 1, National Economic and Development Authority Official Development Assistance Loan Data, retrieved August 28, 2006
  17. ^ abcd RP, China break ground for Manila-Ilocos railway, Malaya, April 6, 2004
  18. ^ Mindanao Railway System, Segment 1, Phase 1, National Economic and Development Authority Project Profile, retrieved August 28, 2006

See also

External links

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