The sole operator of the most extensive Intra-Island Railway in the Philippines

The state-owned Philippine National Railways (or Pambansang Daangbakal ng Pilipinas in Filipino), commonly abbreviated as PNR, is the sole operator of the most extensive intra-island railway on Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. 

It operates two commuter rail services in Metro Manila and the Bicol Region. The Bicol service is currently under rehabilitation in preparation for the resumption of the Bicol Express run to Naga City in Camarines Sur province, and eventually to the southern terminal in Legazpi City in Albay. The existing and well-patronized commuter service in Metro Manila is part of the metropolitan transit system and is referred to as the Orange Line.

PNR officially began operations on November 24, 1892 as the Ferrocarril de Manila-Dagupan, during the Spanish colonial period, and later becoming the Manila Railroad Company (MRR) during the American colonial period. It became the Philippine National Railways on June 20, 1964 by virtue of Republic Act No. 4156. The PNR is an attached agency under the Department of Transportation and Communications.

Rehabilitation and Revival

PNR used to operate over 797 km (495 miles) of route from La Union down to Bicol. However, continued neglect and damage from natural calamities in past decades reduced PNR's efficiency and railroad coverage. Persistent problems with informal settlers in the 1990s contributed further to PNR's decline. In 2006, Typhoons Milenyo and Reming caused severe damage to the network, resulting in the suspension of the Manila-Bicol services.

In 2007 the Philippine government initiated a rehabilitation project aiming to remove informal settlers from the PNR right-of-way, revitalize commuter services in Metro Manila, and restore the Manila-Bicol route as well as lost services in Northern Luzon. Government actively pursued the rehabilitation and revival of Philippine rail transport through various investments, despite the numerous problems involved.

By 2011, work was ongoing for the total reconstruction of rail bridges and tracks, including replacement of the current 35-kilogram track with newer 50-kilogram tracks and the refurbishing of stations. The first phase, involving the conversion of all the tracks in the Manila metropolitan area, was completed in 2009. On July 14, 2009, PNR launched its diesel multiple units (DMU) newly acquired from South Korea.
In mid-2011, a test run of the Bicol Express between Manila and Naga City was conducted although it encountered a problem with the tracks and typhoon-damaged embankment in the Malaguico, Sipocot area. Full repairs have been undertaken since then.

Rolling stock: maintenance & increase in hauling capacity

Four types of rolling stock run on PNR's lines. These are the locomotives, the Commuter Express or Commex cars, baggage cars, diesel rail cars or DRC, and the newly acquired Manila commuter trains, the Korean diesel multiple units or DMUs. There are 14 locomotives, 18 Commex cars, two baggage cars and eight DRC currently operating.

PNR recently acquired (November 2010) surplus sleeper coaches and passenger cars from Japan Railways East, while more rolling stock are expected to arrive. As of July 2011, these units have been installed with safety window screens and the exteriors repainted.

PNR's hauling capacity has also been increased with repair, reconditioning, and repainting of seven (7) units of Diesel Electric Locomotives (DEL). At the same time, passenger convenience once the Bicol run is resumed will be augmented with on-board dining as the repair and conversion of the line's dining car has been completed.

Green & Orange Lines

The Philippine National Railways owns two different rail lines, namely the North Main Line (Green Line) and the South Main Line (Orange Line), along with the three spur lines, which serve various parts of Luzon. The only operating line and presently under rehabilitation, is the South Main Line (Orange Line), which serves as the regional rail backbone of Southern Luzon.

The PNR currently operates in the Manila metropolitan area and the provinces of Laguna, Quezon, Camarines Sur and Albay. In the past, the PNR also used to serve the provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan and La Union on the North Main Line, and Batangas on the South Main Line. The North Main Line will be partly replaced under the current North Rail project. Plans are also afoot to revive previously discontinued services.

Passenger services: Commuter Express

The Commuter Express (also Metro Commuter), commonly called the Commex, serves as the commuter rail service for the Manila metropolitan area, extending as far south as Binan, in Laguna. The PNR uses GE locomotives hauling Commex passenger cars, as well as newly procured Hyundai Rotem DMUs, for this service.
Commex service using the new DMUs is currently offered between Tutuban and
Alabang in Muntinlupa City, while a daily Commex run between Manila and Bi├▒an City, Laguna runs using GE locomotives. Currently, Commex trains make 38 daily trips, 19 in each direction.

Bicol Commuter

The Bicol Commuter service serves as the commuter rail backbone of the Bicol Region, serving stations between Tagkawayan, in Quezon province and Ligao City, in Albay, with Naga City in Camarines Sur acting as a central terminus. The service was launched on September 16, 2009, in time for the feast of Our Lady of Pe├▒afrancia, but was once suspended due to typhoon damage and pending full rehabilitation.

When service is restored, Bicol Commuter trains will make seven trips a day, alternating between Tagkawayan, Sipocot, Naga and Ligao as termini. Five trips will run using a Commuter Express DMU sent to the Bicol Region, while two trips use GE locomotives.

Station layout

All PNR stations are at-grade, using a side platform layout. Most have only basic amenities: platforms and ticket booths, while rehabilitated stations along the Metro Manila line have been fitted with wheelchair ramps. Several stations have extended platforms, having an upper platform catering to DMU services, and a lower platform for regular locomotive-hauled services.

Peak Ridership

While there are spotty records for actual ridership levels and quantities during the PNR's "best years" during the late 1960s and early 70s, existing data on train operations show such daily passenger figures or ridership during peak seasons as follows:

For the Metro Commuter Operation, an estimated 47,000 passengers rode 24 motor cars at 62 trips per day to six routed destinations. This was when services extended between Tutuban and such destinations as San Jose, Nueva Ecija; Carmona, Cavite; Calamba and College, Laguna; Malolos, Bulacan; and Guadalupe.

For Mainline North, PNR had six trips daily from Tutuban to San Fernando, La Union using 14 passenger cars. Estimated peak ridership was at 3,000 passengers daily.

For the long-distance trains of the Mainline South, the estimated peak ridership was at 7,560 passengers daily on ten trips using 36 cars to various destinations in the Bicol Region.

Virtual monopoly on land travel

The factors surrounding these figures included PNR's virtual monopoly of long-distance land travel and commuting, when it had much less competition in either the Metro Commuter or the two Mainline train operations. Highways were less developed, there were not LRTs, no diversions roads.

The PNR then had 47 open stations from Manila to Legazpi and 26 to San Fernando, La Union. In Metro Manila, all commuter stations were manned by PNR Station Personnel, while the company itself employed more than 7,000 personnel in plantilla positions compared to 264 today.

Overcoming the odds

From the time the first rail tracks were laid in the Manila-Dagupan Ferrocaril line near the end of the colonial period, until today, without the interventions of two world wars, two revolutions, countless typhoons, volcanic eruptions, bureaucratic neglect and mismanagement, our trains would have been running for 121 years.

Again, the need is constant. And responding to the people's need has been the paramount motivation of PNR's hardworking Board and Management to set the agency's long-term directions and to begin realizing these in current operations.

But even more important now is the savvy leadership of DOTC Secretary Mar Roxas and the full backing of President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino for the proper development of the rail industry. He knows how much the public awaits it. He knows how much resources must be mustered.

Today, PNR can only respond in kind by overcoming all the odds of its recent history. It must maximize existing resources, improvise if needed, and go full speed ahead.