Naga city, March 8 — The commuter train test run of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) from Naga city to Legazpi city has shown problems that require immediate attention before its planned regular run next month.
Passing through 102 km railways from Naga Station to Legazpi station, the commuter train has to maneuver carefully amidst cluster of communities with structures almost touching the moving trains while several crossings still need keepers to warn vehicles and pedestrian of the incoming train.
But one major problem is the competitiveness of its operation against buses and passenger vans plying the route Naga-Legazpi with only two round trips daily and the duration of each trip.
While the train ride is cheaper at P82 against buses and passenger vans charging P180, the commuter train travel is 45 minutes longer than the latter means of transportation. The frequency of trips is another problem with vans and buses leaving the terminal every 15 minutes.
Constancio Toledano, area manager, revealed that the existing commuter train operation from Sipocot town to Naga started during the Arroyo administration has always been a losing operation with 70 percent subsidized by the central office of the PNR.
But Toledano said the advantage of commuter train against the traditional means of transportation is that the train accommodates more passengers and cargos.
Another one is the problem with informal settlers living within the 15-meter right of way and 7.5-meter danger zone that put risks to lives and limbs to people living there. Within the Bicol area, from the boundary town of Del Gallego to Legazpi City, there are some 50,000 families of informal settlers that are still to be relocated.
Maria Lourdes S. Cañeda, clearing consultant, disclosed that so far the PNR has only relocated 51 families in Naga City and it will still take a long way to clear the 15-m right of way from both sides of the railways.
Cañeda said the PNR is working to hasten the clearance of railways with structures within the 7.5 meters danger zone that are still in thousands of family from Naga City to Legazpi City.
She said the total clearance of the 15-meter right of way is a tall order because of the Urban Development Housing Act 7279 that protects the rights of informal settlers.
Cañeda said it requires collective efforts between the National Housing Authority (NHA), local government units and other agencies to relocate informal settlers out of the 15 meters right of way.
During the test run, it took five hours to reach Legazpi from Naga because rail police have to serve notice of clearance to families and village officials.
As the train traveled the 102-km. stretch from Naga to Legazpi, a cow tied to the rail was bumped off, a dog almost ran over, an old woman almost hit by the incoming train, vehicles and domestic things left very near the tracks, people seemed unconscious to the dangers and structures almost touching the moving train. PNA/ John Mark Escander