NAGA CITY: The 50-year corporate life of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) will end on June 19 but the train service will continue as the Senate would have already passed on May 26 the bill that will extend its operation for another five decades.
Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate committee on government corporations and public enterprises, made the assurance on Monday.
In an interview over the phone, Villar said “the railway services will not stop after all because, she said, the bill that extends the corporate life of the PNR will be approved in the third reading on May 26.”
The Philippine train system was founded on November 24, 1892 as Ferrocaril de Manila-Dagupan during the Spanish colonial period.
It became Manila Railroad Co. (MRRCo.) in January 1917 during the American colonial period and was running from Manila to Dagupan and vice versa. The first commercial operation to Bicol started on January 31, 1938.
MRRCo. was changed to PNR on June 20, 1964 through Republic Act No. 4156 with a corporate life of 50 years.
Villar said the bill will not pass through bicameral conference and it will be approved before the Senate’s recess on June 11.
She said it has been passed also in the House and there is no discrepancy between the two bills, so they will do away with bicameral conference and approve it before June 20 to prevent the end of PNR’s operation.
Villar said the bill is simply extending the term of the PNR for another 50 years based on the short-term and long-term plans submitted by the company and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).
“Right now it is operating the Manila to Sta. Rosa (Laguna) and Sipocot to Naga route, with 100,000 passengers a day and with the cheapest cost of transport. The operation of Manila to Bicol will be resumed in September this year and the test run will be done in June,” she said.
Villar said the PNR also plans up to 2022 the so-called commuter rail with services from Manila to Malolos, Malolos to Calamba, and Manila to Calamba to ease the traffic in greater Metro Manila.
She said the PNR wants its renewed operation to be financed through the Japanese Official Development Assistance with a minimal loan interest of 0.8 percent per year.
Villar said the PNR wants to resume its operation going north, from Manila to La Union and vice versa, and over the long-term, up to Sorsogon in the south.
“Even though the PNR has failed in its operation, the local government units in Southern Tagalog and Bicol are very supportive because the rail is the least expensive mode of transportation, cheaper than buses and jeepneys” she said.
Villar said the cost of renewing the operation of the PNR is being reserved to who will be the government partner, “like for example if Japan loans us for the commuter railways, it will require equity which the government will put up and the rest will be loan.”
For the long-term plans, the PNR (Manila-La Union; Manila-Bicol) is looking for the Private-Public Partnership (PPP) scheme in every aspect of it like the way the government partnered with private sector in the operation of toll ways because of the huge amount required to revive the full operation.
The Manila-to-Bicol train service has been suspended since October 2012 because of the typhoon-damaged bridges.
Originally, the railways covered some 300,000 route kilometers but at the peak of PNR’s operation in the 1970s its trains were running on 1,100 route kilometers from La Union in the north to Legazpi City in the south.