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Bicol Express train back in business

by Jeremiah de Guzman

[ manilastandardtoday.com ] June 29, 2011
The Philippine National Railways will hold a “soft run” of rail services between Manila and Bicol today, but it will forego with the grand commercial launch due to a change in leadership in the Transport Department.

PNR general manager Junio Ragrario said that the Bicol Express, an inter-city train system that runs from Tutuban in Manila to Naga, will be made available to commuters starting today.

“What we planned was to have a ceremonial launching attended by key officials but since Secretary Jose de Jesus resigned, we will just push through with a soft run [today],” he said.

Ragrario said that a grand launching of the train system will depend on Transportation and Communication Secretary-designate Manuel Roxas II who will assume his post next month.

PNR will offer daily round trip tickets at P600 per passenger for air-conditioned coaches and P800 per passenger on coaches with sleeping areas.

He said the agency will offer extra trips, possibly full service at four round trips a day with a six-coach, 400-passenger capacity, in September, in time for the pilgrimage to the Festival of the Virgin of Peñafrancia.

Ragrario said travel time from Manila to Naga, whose length is around 378 kilometers, will be 10 hours and 40 minutes, provided that there will be no interruptions along the way.

The test run last Wednesday experienced minor problems that were immediately addressed by the train operator, he said.

The restored service, Malacanang has said, will offer tourist-class coaches with reclining seats and in-coach movie and sound systems, as well as a dining car with first-class amenities.

The trains will have two kinds of sleeping cars—one with family suites accommodating groups of four to six people per compartment, and executive class suites with individual compartments.

Some 16 extra round trips begin next year, the Palace said.

The train system going to Naga ceased operations in 2006 due to damage on the railway tracks.

The Arroyo administration rehabilitated a third of the railway, and the Aquino administration the rest. The PNR earmarked P1.8 billion for the repair of the line and P250 million for the purchase of new trains.

The Japanese government donated 83 air-conditioned sleeper and commuter coaches that were due to arrive this year.

PNR will employ 1,000 workers for the rehabilitated line, including railway police to patrol the tracks.
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