Doubling the number of Philippine National Railways (PNR) trains plying the Tutuban, Manila- Sta. Rosa Laguna line can displace 14,000 cars on the road at a per passenger cost that is 1/8th of the subsidy government pays for one Metro Rail Transit (MRT) rider.
This was pointed out by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto in batting for the acquisition of more coaches for the PNR’s 44-kilometer Metro South commuter service which currently ferries 70,000 passengers a day.
Recto said this line, which is part of the longer Manila-to-Mayon railway, is currently underutilized with just 2.5 trips per direction an hour.
“If fully developed and modernized, it can help ease traffic in Metro Manila and provide fast, efficient, and cheap form of transport not only to its residents but those in outlying provinces as well, Recto said.
“Kung saan-saan tayo naghahanap ng solusyon e nandyan naman ang riles, bakit hindi natin gamitin,” Recto said.
But even at its present “neglected state”, the line manages to ferry 25 million passengers annually, Recto said. “Mabilis na, mura pa. The average fare is 70 centavos per kilometer.”
At present, the Tutuban-Sta. Rosa service operates from 5 a.m to 7 p.m daily and stops in 23 stations in between.
While Recto hailed PNR’s decision to add two trips per direction by March 3 as “the way to go,” he said, “there remains a big room for improvement.”
Noting that PNR trains are always full, Recto said government should add rolling stock by tapping official development aid or “even outright purchase using its own funds because in this era of two-trillion national budgets we can certainly find money for such an important expense.”
In the short term, Recto said “budgetary support” should be given to the PNR so it can complete the refurbishing and the retrofitting of 50 coaches the East Japan Railway Co. (JR-East) donated in 2012.
A succession of governments, Recto noted, has been reluctant in pouring more money into the 121-year-old rail service, opting instead to offer it to private companies under various joint-venture schemes, for which there have been no takers.
In June last year, the Private Public Partnership (PPP) Center and the DOTC commissioned a Canadian firm to prepare the feasibility study for a proposed $2.5 billion PNR Integrated Luzon Railway Project.
In the meantime, the PNR is “bravely chugging alone on government subsidy and ridership,” Recto said. For 2014, subsidy to the PNR is pegged at P344 million.
In 2012, the PNR posted revenues and other income of P966 million, received P128.7 million in government subsidy, incurred P1.114 billion in expenses, thus leaving a loss of P50 million.
“But for ferrying 25 million passengers, that P50 million loss is not bad. The government subsidy at P5 per passenger is way below the P40 per passenger in the MRT and the LRT,” Recto said.
“At mas mura ‘yan kesa sa perang ginagastos ng gobyerno sa paggawa ng dagdag na daan para sa dumaraming kotse, sa mga sweldo ng traffic enforcers, sa dagdag na polusyon, sa mga gasolinang nasasayang sa traffic, sa mga lost income opportunities at epekto sa mental health,” Recto said.