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Illuminated for the Christmas season, two old black trains “guarding” the main gate of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) compound along Mayhaligue Street in Manila’s Tondo district are big hits among lovers and families shopping in droves in Divisoria.

The two trains are among the oldest in the PNR fleet. Steam power was used to run them.

Both of the PNR trains, the Cabanatuan and the Dagupan locomotives, are part Ferrocaril de Manila-Dagupan (Manila-Dagupan Railway), the forerunner of today’s PNR.

These trains which ran in 1905 were engineered by Kerr Stuart.

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Historical and academic accounts trace the origins of the present PNR to the royal decree issued by King Alfonso XII of Spain in 1875, which created the first line of the present railway company.

The royal decree instructed the then Office of the Inspector of Public Works of the Philippines to submit a railroad plan for the entire island of Luzon. The plan, crafted by Engineer Eduardo Lopez Navarro, was called the “Memoria Sobre el Plano General de Ferro-Carriles en Isla de Luzon” (Memory on the General Plan of Railroads on the Island of Luzon).

Transport history scholars described the plan, approved in 1883, as “the first and most comprehensive study of railroad utilization for economic growth in the country.”

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The plan was designed for trains to pass through Central Luzon provinces, linking Manila to Dagupan, and connecting key trading areas to spawn development in locales where stations were to be built.

The Manila-Dagupan line was constructed between 1875 to the early 1900s. During the period, there were also plans to connect Manila and Batangas via trains.

With Tutuban as the first and the central station of the railway, the Ferrocaril de Manila-Dagupan’s first section was completed on March 24, 1891. The 45-kilometer line connected Manila to Bagbag (present-day Calumpit town in Bulacan).

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Spanning a total length of approximately 195 kilometers, the entire Manila-Dagupan line was completed and started commercial operations on November 24, 1892.

From 1895, the train system operated simultaneously with “tranvias”, or horse-drawn streetcars, notably serving the high-passenger volume Manila’s central business district.

The two transport services were interdependent on each other. Trains ferried passengers to Manila from the Northern provinces, while the tranvias served passengers within the districts of Manila. ##