POSTSCRIPT / July 6, 2017 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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My past rolls back on Tutuban trains

THE REVIVAL of the rail line from Tutuban to Clark in Pampanga perks up this commuter who has traveled much on trains, from the black coal-fired steam engines of old to the Pullman electric trains that replaced them on the now dead La Union-Manila-Albay routes.

Thirteen train sets of eight cars each running at up to 120 km/hour are expected to carry some 350,000 passengers in the first year of operations. Construction will start in the last quarter of 2017 and completed by the last quarter of 2021. The two-hour trip by bus between Clark and Manila will be slashed to some 55 minutes by train.

The trains will serve the stations in Tutuban (Manila), Caloocan, Valenzuela, Meycauayan, Marilao, Solis, Bocaue, Balagtas, Guiguinto, Malolos, Calumpit, Apalit, San Fernando, Angeles, Clark, Clark International Airport and the proposed New Clark City.

The P211.4-billion needed by the Tutuban-Clark segment of the 106-km Philippine National Railways’ North Project will come from Official Development Assistance from Japan.

“We’ve been waiting for this for more than 12 years,” Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said at the marking on June 26 of the first five stations. “Now, you have a President, a no-nonsense performer… a no-nonsense Cabinet. Wala pong bahid pulitika. Now, we’re ready to put into a reality that dream.”

Unlike Sheldon Cooper of “The Big Bang Theory,” I did not have the chance as a kid to play with electric toy trains. But trains ran through my early life, because my father, Tatang Dikong, worked with the railroad. This July 17 happens to be his 116th birth anniversary.

From grade school until the time I went to the university in Diliman, I had a pass for free train rides. Conductors came to know me by face and never checked my pass. In time, I grew adept at chasing to board a departing train when I arrive at the station a bit late or, as it approached my destination, jumping off before it came to a full stop.

The three hours needed to negotiate by bus the 93 kilometers of the MacArthur Highway between Mabalacat and Manila were cut to two hours by train under the old Manila Railroad Co. and its successor the Philippine National Railways.

With Manila brought closer to us by the trains, my Ima, Apu Liling, thought nothing of taking me often to Tutuban to buy me Marvel comics and treat me to pancakes and pineapple juice at Divisoria after she bought dry goods for her sari-sari store back home.

So attached to trains was I that when invited for a US exchange visit in 1965, I asked that my itinerary include a train trip from Chicago to San Francisco over the Rockies – so I could have a Stateside experience to share with my Tatang, then an ailing PNR retiree.

 The tired trains just stopped rolling

BUT one by one, segments of the lines to Bicol in the south and La Union in the north, and the spur lines to special service areas that included sugar cane plantations and mills, fell to disuse and decay.

Personnel, including retirees like my father who needed urgent treatment for his failing kidneys, could not collect on time what was due them.

The trains simply stopped rolling due to poor maintenance and the absence of replacement parts. As the trains dwindled and eventually failed to show up, squatters occupied the strips of land and the stations. The steel rails were plucked out and sold por kilo.

This railroad kid is super glad about the return of the trains – as if with a vengeance under President Duterte bent on crisscrossing the main land masses of the archipelago with rail transport lines.

The billions needed to buy and clear right of way, lay out new rail tracks, acquire the rolling stock and establish an efficient railroad network will come from a mix of local and foreign funds, according to Budget and Management Secretary Ben Diokno.

As seen in countries that used railroads for the efficient transporting of people and goods, a nationwide railway system is akin to the human body’s circulatory system, pumping life and stimulating growth to a nation poised for takeoff.

Using the transportation sector to improve the quality of life of Filipinos is in the clean and capable hands of Secretary Tugade, a logistics and management expert. Before joining the Cabinet, btw, he was the president/CEO of Clark Development Corp.

 Clark Freeport reports banner year

TALKING of CDC, this government-controlled private entity managing the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga marked its 24th anniversary this year boasting of these indicators:

+Economics — There are now 900 locator firms in Clark with combined investments of US$1.044 billion. As of 2016, the value of total exports of Clark companies reached $5.09 billion. CDC is investing P1.2 billion this 2017 for on- and off-site projects. Workers hired by locators hit the first 100,000 mark in February 2017. Clark under the Americans as a US air base had only 25,000 direct and indirect hired personnel.

+Finances — CDC’s revenues from 1996 to 2016 totaled P16.64 billion, while its net income was P3.78 billion and its ending cash position in 2016 was P5.08 billion. It paid cash dividends amounting to P2.5 billion.

+Tourism – Clark is a favorite site for leisure, tourism and many global and local sporting events.  Clark bagged the Sports Destination of the Year Award in 2016. Its Hot Air Balloon Festival is still its crowd drawer.

+Utilities– Clark has a new $40-million, 22-MW solar plant and a new 230-KV transmission line, water treatment facility and a state-of-the-art sanitary waste management facility (100 hectares, 20-million gallon capacity, 1,000-3,000 tons daily). Telecommunication facilities have dual fiber-optic backbone digital exchange system connecting to more than 200 countries.

+Clark Airport — Clark International Airport Corp., under its president Alexander Cauguiran, has 232 flights per week — 138 international (Incheon, Busan, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Dubai, Doha) and 94 domestic (Cebu, Caticlan, El Nido, Davao, Puerto Princesa, Busuanga, Kalibo, Cagayan de Oro, Tagbilaran, Bacolod).

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 6, 2017)

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