The old Cebu Railway
Erica Jean Palmera (The Freeman) - May 15, 2014 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - Railway trains bring nostalgia. In the movies, we see characters choosing the window seat and watching the scenery - and life itself - swish by. In newer films, action sequences often take place aboard trains, where villains chase heroes from section to section, all the way to the roof.

In Manila, the LRT and MRT are now considered the "Ride of the Stars," as some celebrities choose to hop on trains to avoid the heavy traffic that plagues the capital.


Cebu, too, has had its time with trains, something that many Cebuanos today do not know, especially the new generation. But those who know of it look back to that time with good memories. The old Cebu railway system is noted for its contribution to the rise of the "queen," the city eventually becoming the "Queen City of the South."

Thirty-six years before World War II, the Philippine Railway Construction Company (PRCC) had a 57-mile mainline track connecting the municipalities of Danao in the north and Argao in the south. The track was primarily built to facilitate transport of sugar, coal, and other products from all over the island to Cebu City, from where these found their way to the rest of the region.


The junction of now Leon Kilat and P. Del Rosario streets used to be the Central Station of the railway - from the current Development Bank of the Philippines up to the recently condemned Cebu City Medical Center building. From there, the track led to the north and to the south, and a shorter one to the port area, as Cebu was the inter-regional trade center during the Spanish times.


In going south, the train would halt in two municipalities before reaching Argao - in Valladolid, Carcar and in Sab-ang, Sibonga. Back then, wagon or horses would greet train passengers and take them to their homes.


The station in Valladolid, Carcar is one of the only four remaining train stations in Cebu, and is currently utilized as a restaurant. In Sab-ang, Sibonga, the former train station is now used as a library of Simala Elementary School. The train's last stop in Argao currently houses the town's fire station. The entire way from Argao to Cebu or vice versa cost third class passengers Php 1.20, already quite a costly sum in those days.


Unlike the many stops in going south, the northern route directly proceeded to Danao. Its unloading station was at the current Sitio Estasyonan, a name the place got from the word "station." Unfortunately, the old station building had been neglected and was soon gone. The Rotunda in Poblacion, Danao was where the train would turn around to go back to Cebu City.


Cebu's position as the second most important trade center of the Philippines is mainly due to the considerable volume of products that pass through the city.  This has its beginnings in the pre-war period, with sugar, abaca, and copra among the goods transported by railway, partnered by a bustling port where products from the provincial municipalities are transported to the other regions, and even to the rest of the world.


Negros may be the sugarcane capital of the country today, but during the Spanish era Cebu was at par with Negros in sugar production. Lush sugarcane plantations covered most of the northern part of Cebu. Furthermore, abaca weaving was already widespread in the island long before the Spanish occupation. When Magellan and his group came, they noticed that the natives were wearing clothes made from abaca fiber.


Abaca plant is indigenous to the Philippines. At the present, Cebu has 240 hectares planted with abaca, in Barangay Magsaysay, Balamban. Copra is also a major Cebu export since the late 1800s. Coconut farms are found all over the island to this day.


The growth of Cebu as an economic and trade center is the theme of this year's "Gabii sa Kabilin" (Night of Heritage), on May 30. "Rise of the Queen" traces the growth of the city from its early days to the present. The old Cebu railway system is certainly part of the highlights, as it was instrumental in transporting the products and, thus, stimulating trade activities in the province.


Museo Sugbo, one of the many museums participating in the "Gabii sa Kabilin," is showing a video presentation on the old Sugbo Train. At the same time, the Sacred Heart Parish Church - Alternative Contemporary Arts Studio exhibits textile products proudly made of native abaca fibers, during the heritage event. An old sugarcane cattle press, which was used in extracting sugarcane juice for processing into sugar, is presently on display at the University of San Carlos Museum.


Sadly, the old Cebu railway system did not survive World War II. The bridges, the rail tracks, and the Central Station were all bombed down. The resulting damage was so extensive that the railway was never rehabilitated. The coming of buses after the war also further discouraged PRCC to rebuild the railway.


But the big contribution of the old Cebu railway system in the development of not just Cebu City but the entire province as well is without question. Far-flung municipalities have been drawn into the economic upswing initially because of the trains. Cebu owes a lot to that long, black string of coaches that brought it to where it is today. (FREEMAN)

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