Bicol Express revival hinges on safety issues
Lawrence Agcaoili (The Philippine Star) - December 29, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) said the revival of the Bicol Express service would hinge on the findings of the CPCS Transcom Ltd. of Canada if it is safe to revive the operations of the 422-kilometer railway.

Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said the train service from Metro Manila to Legazpi. Albay would not be revived unless the safety of the commuting public is assured.

“I for one, if I would only look at the economic side of the project would have given it a go signal. However, I am mindful of safety so I have given specific instructions not to run the service unless someone could certify that it is safe,” Abaya stressed.

He pointed out that the agency is awaiting the results of the study of the Canadian firm on the train service operated by the state-run Philippine National Railways (PNR) from Calamba in Laguna to Legazpi City.

“I am answerable to our people and anything that happens to the passengers of PNR is something that my conscience would carry. So I have requested the Canadians to likewise look and comment on areas that we should work on and to certify that the Bicol Express is safe,” he added.

Since the revival of its operation in June of 2011, the Bicol Express line service caters to some 2,000 to 3,000 passengers weekly. The highest ridership recorded during peak travel seasons such as Holy Week, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day, and Christmas season.

However, the operation of Bicol Express has been stalled following a derailment incident in Sariaya, Quezon October 2012 that injured nine passengers. The flashfloods caused by typhoons damaged the rail tracks as well as the rail bridge.

Abaya suspended the train service and ordered a full investigation on the derailment of Bicol Express Train 611. The train was carrying 120 passengers when the derailment occurred.

Earlier, lawmakers from Region 5 or the Bicol Region vowed to appropriate P20 billion to fund the long overdue rehabilitation of the Bicol Express train service.

Engr. Joseph Allan Dilay, general manager of PNR, said the company needs at least P18 billion to upgrade the railway, reconstruct the bridges, and rehabilitate the Bicol Express tracks as well as the locomotive and rolling stock.

But the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) only approved a subsidy of P344 million for the agency under the 2014 budget, enough only to fund the maintenance of the existing PNR facilities running in Metro Manila.

Dilay clarified that the P20-billion allocation does not include the proposed P2.6-billion double tracking of the 36.3-kilometer Alabang to Los Baños railway section and the P22.6-billion 135-kilometer Sorsogon railway extension line.

The PNR currently operates the Metro South Commuter (MSC) line that runs daily from Tutuban to Sta. Rosa in Laguna, as well as the Bicol Commuter that caters to passengers between Naga and Sipocot.

The Bicol Express provides commuters an alternative mode of transportation that is very competitive in price and comfort with provincial buses.


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