Friday, March 21, 2014

Salceda to charge PNR for use of special train not in Bicol route

LEGAZPI CITY, Mar. 20 (PNA) –- Albay Gov. Joey Salceda has announced here that he is filing charges against the Philippine National Railways (PNR) for using the “premium tourist train” not in the Bicol-Manila route where its acquisition was intended.

The charges would be for gross non-performance of the mandates of its franchise as embodied in its charter, which has resulted in depriving Bicolanos of vital economic services since 2006 and for diverting earmarked resources to another route which comprises constructive malversation.

It could also be a case of route-cutting which, Salceda said, he is filing with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

“I am asking PNR General-Ganager Junio Ragrario to be our principal witness,” he said.

The charges will emanate from the decision of the PNR to allow the premium tourist train to service the Tutuban-Laguna run instead of servicing the Bicol route where it is intended when acquired through a donation from the Japan National Railways which runs touristic routes in northern Japan, according to Salceda.

It was Ragrario who solicited the same trains from Japan, the governor said.

Salceda said he laments the decision made by the PNR that promised to service this city by as early as Nov. 2011.

“Those trains should bear the name 'Mayon Limited' not 'Premiere Train' or PNR-DOTC," Salceda said.

According to the governor, who is also chairman of the Regional Development Council for Bicol, PNR is an independent corporate entity and has its own legislative franchise that precedes even the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) “as we know it.”

Using the train in the Tutuban-Laguna route makes it an incredible abandonment of the people in Bicol and embodies the highest form of social injustice to the rural poor and a disservice to the development of the countryside, he stressed.<->Last February, Ragrario said, the rehabilitation of the south rail track was on its finishing touches, making the PNR confident that it could resume train trips between here and Manila soon.

Recent test run on the Naga-Legazpi route proved successful and, Ragrario said, construction crews are fast tracking the works so that southbound trips ending in this city are resumed the following month.

“We are doing all these pursuant to the government’s commitment for the total rehabilitation of the railways and provision of safe, cheaper and convenient alternative to the riding public,” he stressed.

Rehabilitation of PNR south facilities from Calamba, Laguna, to this city covering a distance of 483 kilometers, which was allotted an amount of P35.15 billion, started in 2005 and scheduled for completion by 2011.

The project, however, suffered a major setback when super typhoons "Milenyo" and "Reming" successively battered Bicol in 2006, rendering crippling damages on the railways between Naga City and here.

Plans then to restore the Legazpi trips were shelved even as the Naga City-Manila trips were maintained intermittently.

In 2011, the administration of Pres. Benigno Aquino III pushed for the resumption of the rehabilitation of the damaged Bicol section of the railways which was eventually completed up to Ligao City, Albay, a year after.

Manila-Ligao trips were restored in early December last year with Salceda expressing optimism during the inaugural run that rehabilitation works for the railway line would be completed at once so that trains would be once more seen traversing its original route deep into the central point of Albay.

Train trips famously called Bicol Express and Mayon Limited have been important component of the regional economy because of its contributions to trade, tourism and transportation, Salceda noted.

The governor said that with the imminent restoration of train trips to Legazpi, trade activities will greatly improve as products from Albay and manufacturers from Calabarzon and Manila will use the railways, thus, this would result in cheaper products, freight cost and fast travel time.

“Rail transport is the cheapest while exerting competitive pressure on the other forms of transportation by increasing supply,” Salceda said.

He also noted that the rail transport is government-subsidized up to 70 percent anywhere in the world in order to equalize opportunities for the rural countryside and promote tourism as well.

For tourism, Mayon Limited will offer a different and distinctive perspective of the countryside to tourists both domestic and foreign as it gives unrestricted view of Mayon Volcano surrounded by the greenery of Bicol farmlands, he said.

“With PNR trains, passengers have all travel options... rail, road or air options between Albay and Manila and the rest of Luzon,” Salceda added.

According to Ragrario, the resumption of the Legazpi trips will “close the loop” linking the North and South Rail project.

He said the refurbished coaches from Japan to be used by the PNR for the Bicol Express and Mayon Limited offer comfort to passengers with a line of first-class coaches, sleepers' coaches, economy coaches, restaurant, and cargo coaches.

The restoration of PNR trips between Bicol and Manila, Ragrario said, proves that trains remain an important component of the mass transportation system in the route for its being more economical, convenient and safe.

With these developments, the PNR, Ragrario added, expects its passenger base to increase from the previous 400,000 a month to 600,000.

“What happen to these promises of the PNR now that the train supposed to be for the Mayon Limited has been fielded in the Tutuban-Laguna route? I am pursuing my case for the Bicolanos to be able to get back that train,” Salceda said.

The special trains now called “premium trains,” according to the PNR, now give commuters an alternative transportation to avoid major traffic jams in certain areas in Metro Manila. (PNA) CTB/FGS/DOC/CBD/UTB