By: Paolo G. Montecillo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The train service that can take travelers from Metro Manila to Naga City in under 10 hours is set to make a comeback in the next few months, promising to help the Bicol Region maximize its immense potential for economic growth.
Following a test-run earlier this month, the PNR on Wednesday declared that the dream of reviving the fabled “Bicol Express” could soon be a reality.
“In my assessment, the Bicol test-run we conducted was 95-percent successful and we are nearing our objective to put back in operation the commercial PNR trips to the Bicol region,” PNR General Manager Junio Ragragrio said.
“We were delighted to reach Naga City from Manila in less than 10 hours. We were even more in high spirits on our return trip to Manila the following day since it only took us nine hours going back,” he said.
Ragragrio said the 10-hour mark had become the PNR management’s yardstick because it takes an average of 10 hours to get to Bicol from Manila by bus. Making it in less time means the PNR train service can become an alternative means of transport for people who cannot afford to go by plane.
He said the resumption of the Bicol Express would open doors of opportunities ranging from boosting local tourism to stirring up economic activities in Southern Luzon.
Another eco-tourism destination is the town of Donsol in Sorsogon, where tourists are able to swim with whale sharks.
Ragragio, who hails from Naga City, added that several projects were on the table for the Bicol Express route, including the renovation of several train stations traversing the provinces of Laguna, Quezon, Camarines Sur and Albay.
“The PNR would like to be among the major catalysts and a partner in the further development of the country connecting provinces via a comprehensive railway system,” he said.
“The railways system during the early growth of this nation during the Spanish and American times was the very backbone of social and economic progress. It was done before and it can be done again,” he said.
The test-run was conducted during the weekend using a newly refurbished locomotive train with several tourist-class coaches and covered a distance of more than 400 kilometers.
Ragragrio said he personally supervised the test.
Earlier, Ragragrio said PNR would spend P1.8 billion for the rehabilitation of the train line. About P200 million would go to the acquisition of new trains and rehabilitation of existing ones.
The rest would be spent to fix the 400-kilometer stretch of track from Manila to Bicol that had deteriorated and become unusable in the past few years due to neglect.
He said train cars donated from Japan called “sleeper coaches” were used during the test-run to check its journey worthiness. All train coaches in the Bicol Express will be air conditioned, he said.
Also included in the test-run was a locally refurbished passenger coach with several reclining chairs with a fit and finish comparable to imported train cars. It has better amenities to compete with imported first-class air-conditioned bus.
“We are offering three classes of train cars once we start operations of the Bicol Express. We have the tourist class where we have reclining chairs with more leg room compared to commercial buses,” Ragragrio said.
He said these newly installed amenities should help attract more passengers to use the train line, which he sees as a better alternative to busses.
Other amenities include widescreen LCD monitors with state-of-the-art sound system to allow passengers to comfortably watch movies during the long trip.
“We also have two types of sleeper coaches. One is a family suite that is good for a family or ‘barkada’ of four to six persons. And we also have the executive class for passengers who would like extra privacy during the lengthy tour, and part of the attraction is the inclusion of a dining car with an ambiance of first-class restaurant,” Ragragrio said.
Note: Original article can be found here – http://business.inquirer.net/2517/bicol-express-making-a-comeback.