Senators: PNR expansion will ease metro’s transportation burden

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014


IN ORDER to ease the horrendous traffic in Metro Manila, senators urged the need to consider doubling the number of Philippine National Railways (PNR) trains plying the Tutuban, Manila to Sta. Rosa, Laguna route.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said if the government will consider this proposal, based on studies, this will displace an estimated 14,000 cars on the road at one-eight the subsidy the government pays for one Metro Rail Transit (MRT) rider.

Recto, in batting for the acquisition of more coaches for the PNR's 44-kilometer Metro South commuter service, which currently ferries 70,000 passengers a day, said this line, which is part of the longer Manila-to-Mayon railway, is currently underutilized with just 2.5 trips per direction an hour.

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"If fully developed and modernized, it can help ease traffic in Metro Manila and provide fast, efficient, and cheap form of transport not only to its residents but those in outlying provinces as well, Recto said.

"Kung saan-saan tayo naghahanap ng solusyon e nandyan naman ang riles, bakit hindi natin gamitin," Recto said.

But even at its present "neglected state", the line manages to ferry 25 million passengers annually.

"Mabilis na, mura pa. The average fare is 70 centavos per kilometer," Recto said.

While Recto hailed PNR's decision to add two trips per direction by March 3 as "the way to go." He said, "There remains a big room for improvement."

Noting that PNR trains are always full, Recto said government should add rolling stock by tapping official development aid or "even outright purchase using its own funds because in this era of two-trillion national budgets we can certainly find money for such an important expense."

In the short term, Recto said budgetary support should be given to the PNR so it can complete the refurbishing and the retrofitting of 50 coaches the East Japan Railway Co. (JR-East) donated in 2012.

A succession of governments, Recto noted, has been reluctant in pouring more money into the 119-year-old rail service, opting instead to offer it to private companies under various joint-venture schemes, for which there have been no takers.

In June last year, the Private Public Partnership (PPP) Center and the DOTC commissioned a Canadian firm to prepare the feasibility study for a proposed $2.5 billion PNR Integrated Luzon Railway Project.

In the meantime, the PNR is "bravely chugging alone on government subsidy and ridership," Recto said. For 2014, subsidy to the PNR is pegged at P344 million.

In 2012, the PNR posted revenues and other income of P966 million, received P128.7 million in government subsidy, incurred P1.114 billion in expenses, thus leaving a loss of P50 million.

"But for ferrying 25 million passengers, that P50 million loss is not bad. The government subsidy at P5 per passenger is way below the P40 per passenger in the MRT and the LRT," Recto said.

"At mas mura 'yan kesa sa perang ginagastos ng gobyerno sa paggawa ng dagdag na daan para sa dumaraming kotse, sa mga sweldo ng traffic enforcers, sa dagdag na polusyon, sa mga gasolinang nasasayang sa traffic, sa mga lost income opportunities at epekto sa mental health," Recto said.

For her part, Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the committee on government corporations and public enterprises, recommended the 25-year extension of the PNR renewable for another 25 years.

PNR, the state-owned agency that operates the railway system running in Luzon, is only given until June 19 this year to operate under Republic Act 4156.

Committee Report No. 22 recommends amending its charter and extending its operation by 25 years, renewable for another 25 years.

"As an archipelagic country, we require efficient and safe transport networks--both in land and on the sea. We need a seamless transport system to connect our main islands of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, plus the 7,100 more islands we have as well as to transport passengers and goods via freight movement," Villar said.

"Instead of giving PNR another 50 years outright, we are extending it to 25 years but renewable for another 25 years so that we can review its performance," Villar said.

Compared to jeepneys and buses that charge P2 per kilometer, PNR provides the cheapest mode of transportation to our people by charging only 71 centavos per kilometer, Villar noted.

"We are extending the operation of PNR because we want to provide our people in the lowest-income bracket a transport system that they can afford," she added.

Villar said PNR should work to develop rail connectivity in the country, as practiced in developed countries like USA, Japan, Malaysia, India, and China.

"Sa atin, we discovered na umikli pa ang route kilometers ng PNR. The Philippines has a total of 300,000 route kilometers. In its heyday during the 1970s, so to speak, PNR is running on 1,100 route kilometers (from La Union to Legaspi). Now, it is down to only 85 route kilometers (from Tutuban to Sta. Rosa and from Naga to Sipocot)," she said.

Last year, Villar said about 20 million passengers or 55,400 commuters daily were serviced by PNR. This year, between 80,000 to 100,000 passengers per day use the PNR trains.

Presently, PNR operates commuter lines from Tutuban to Sta. Rosa, Laguna (covering 23 stations over a stretch of 50 kilometers) and from Naga to Sipocot (with route length of 35 kilometers).

The long-distance service to Legaspi, Bicol has been suspended in October 2012, because of damages to bridges due to typhoons. But according to PNR, they plan to resume the service by September 2014 with a test run by next month. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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