“Lack of government funding and continued neglect result in the deteriorating quality of services, overcrowding of coaches, and a plethora of safety issues.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – When the Philippine National Railways (PNR) train was derailed along the segment between EDSA and Nichols station, 4 p.m. on April 29, some reports attributed the mishap to missing steel tracks, which were allegedly stolen. But in a statement emailed April 30 by a commuter’s group, the Train Riders Network (Tren), it traced the cause of the derailment to the decades-long government neglect of the PNR. Even the PNR website itself said last November that it suffers from neglect.
“The line receives very minimal investment and subsidies from the national government. Most of the funds made available barely cover the operation of the line, leaving no funds for expansion, modernization and rehabilitation and resulting in its current motley state,” said Tren spokesperson James Relativo.
The neglect results in shoddy services of the trains, Relativo said. The PNR trains (and the MRT now) run slow, often congested, and worse, accident-prone. At present, PNR only serves commuters from Metro Manila to Calamba City, Laguna, and certain parts of the Bicol Region. But in its heyday, the cheapest, most efficient and least pollutant mode of transport used to operate on an extensive route from La Union to the Bicol Region, according to a previous press release by PNR.
Accidents in the railways are no longer new to Filipino commuters. Relativo recalled how the EDSA-bound MRT (Metro Rail Transit) crashed through its barrier in Taft Ave. in August 2014, leaving passengers hurt and a handful hospitalized. Then and now TREN is demanding a thorough investigation into the government’s management and running of PNR.
Some 70,000 plus commuters ride the PNR each day according to its website last November. Most of these riders are ordinary wage earners, students, urban poor and small store owners buying supplies in Divisoria, Manila, said the Anakpawis partylist in a recent statement.
Yet, “the government has abandoned the railway service, letting it become a milking cow of corrupt government officials and private contractors,” said Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap.
“The country’s commuter railway system is a public utility and service that is essential not only to PNR commuters but to the country’s economy as well. It is the government’s obligation to subsidize the railway’s operation, maintenance and improvement,” Sammy Malunes, spokesperson of Riles Laan sa Sambayanan (Riles), said in another statement.
Late last year PNR requested some P11 billion from the Department of Budget, saying the amount will be used for the rehabilitation of tracks from Manila to Bicol, the purchase of new trains, and the repair of existing ones. It also suggested some track improvements through double tracking, which they believe will allow trains to run faster than their 40 kph average speed today.
But the government responded with only P2.3 billion budget this year, which it recently gave to PNR.
To finance PNR’s rehab, the Aquino government, through the Department of Transportatio and Communication, said it wants to double the fares, a move which commuters, labor groups and the Makabayan bloc of lawmakers fiercely opposed.
“There is no justifiable reason to increase fares in the PNR,” Malunes of RILES Network said. He said the increase would not even be used to improve the railway’s service but to pay PNR’s debts to private corporations.
“It is enraging that we commuters are being forced to pay PNR’s debts. We do not even know where these debts were spent because it was obviously not used to at least ease the rapidly decaying conditions of the railway service” Malunes said.
Riles insisted that with its fare box ratio alone, the PNR has sufficient funds for its operations.
But for as long as the trend of neglect continues, commuters fear accidents will continue. Relativo of TREN warned, “Lack of government funding and continued neglect result in the deteriorating quality of services, overcrowding of coaches, and a plethora of safety issues.”