By SENATOR SONNY ANGARA
During a recent Senate session, Senate Majority Floor Leader Migz Zubiri delivered a privilege speech highlighting the need for steps to be taken to make our cities more walkable and bike-able. He then reiterated his call for elevated walkways and bikeways to be built along EDSA, as part of his concept of inclusive and people-centric mobility.
In support of his speech, I manifested what an official from the Philippine National Railways (PNR) revealed to us earlier that day. In 1938, there were 2,400 kilometers of railroad tracks in the country. Now, only 77 kilometers are left, including the MRT and LRT lines.
Clearly, we have regressed and have allowed the dominance of the automobile. We need to reboot our thinking. Expanding and rehabilitating our railways systems should be the first step taken by government to decongest traffic in Metro Manila if we want to make an impact right away.
Much of our rail network was destroyed by Japanese and American forces during the Second World War, leaving only 452 kilometers of track intact. There was a resurgence in railroad infrastructure construction in the 1960s and 1970s, but the construction of a Pan-Philippine highway, neglect, and natural disasters brought our national railroad network to where it is today.
In an earlier briefing on the proposed P147-billion 2020 budget for the Department of Transportation (DOTr), Secretary Arthur Tugade acknowledged that increasing the number of trains within and outside of Metro Manila would be important to reducing the number of vehicles on the Metro’s roads.
DOTr officials then pointed out that for every train pulling eight cars, 448 vehicles could be taken off the roads, if we assume that each car carries five passengers. Imagine how this would help decongest Metro Manila. And how it can alleviate the plight of our commuters who line up for hours every day to ride the MRT and other public transportation, or our motorists who spend hours on the road—hours that could have been spent with their families and loved ones.
Thankfully, many government projects are underway. Construction of the first phase of the Metro’s subway system will start this November. The MRT-3 EDSA line will be rehabilitated. The LRT-1 extension to Cavite is also under construction, and it will connect that province to Metro Manila. The PNR, too, will be up for improvement, including the construction of a high-speed railway to connect Manila to Batangas, and from there to Sorsogon. Cebu is now looking at a proposal for a monorail transit, and the first phase of the Mindanao Railway Project, from Tagum to Davao and then to Digos is also up for implementation.
Traffic congestion has weighed heavily on our economy for far too long. The Japan International Cooperation Agency estimated that in 2017, we were losing as much as P3.5 billion a day because of traffic, and that if nothing is done, the figure will balloon to P5.4 billion by 2035.
If we can make our trains safe, comfortable, and well-integrated with other mass transit options that carry more people over long distances, maybe we can start seeing what Gustav Petro, former Mayor of Bogota and now Colombian Senator, said—that “a developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.” (30)
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Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years—9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 6 as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He recently won another term in the Senate.
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