LEGAZPI CITY: Eight years after it was destroyed by Typhoon Reming in 2006, the Bicol Express Train service of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) remains in limbo.
To this day, the proposed train service from Naga City to Legazpi has not started and some say it may never push through in the light of fears that the newly installed railroad ties are unsafe and pose a threat to passengers.
Early this week, the Citizens Crime Watch (CCW) filed criminal charges against PNR officials headed by former General Manager Junio Ragragio over the importation in 2012 of what it described as “inferior” wooden railroad ties to replace the damaged ones.
The CCW Bicol Chapter claimed that the ties bought from China for P49 million are of the softwood variety and cast doubt on its stability and safety.
PNR officials, however, denied the accusations and said the purchased larch ties are used in many countries like Japan, China, Canada, and the United States.
The PNR engineering department has certified the stability of the tracks that are now being inhabited by squatters that mushroomed in the absence of the train service.
While the repair of damaged ties continues, PNR Regional Manager Constancio Toledano said there was no certainty yet as to when the Manila – Bicol operation would resume.
The proposed commuter train service covering the 90-kilometer long Naga City to Legazpi operation is scheduled to run three times a day. It is composed of three coaches that could accommodate a total of 300 passengers. Passengers were looking forward to the service since it would cut travel time by 30 minutes and have 30 percent lower fares compared to buses.
Early last month, the Naga City Council filed a resolution urging the PNR to start its much-awaited commuter train service following complaints about the heavy traffic due to the ongoing construction of roads and bridges along Maharlika Highway in Camarines Sur.
But Toledano said the operation of the commuter train rests in the hands of the new general manager. He said that from 2008 – 2010 under General Manager Manuel Andal, the said commuter train service was suspended since it failed to make money. Toledano said there were only 17 passengers per trip and the government was losing a lot of money.
When Ragragio assumed the post of PNR general manager from 2010 – 2013, he, too, hesitated in resuming the service and said that Andal was actually forced to operate the train because of pressure from Albay Governor Joey Sarte Salceda.
Salceda has openly supported the need for the train service, saying that it could help boost the country’s economy.