Off The Beaten Track: Railing the Philippine National Railway

You are a male teenager. You are testosterone-pumped, thrill-seeking and adventurous. You’re very iffy about people whom you don’t know yet are open-minded. You live in Las Piñas while your school is in Manila. Suddenly and inadvertently, the mayor decides to ban all buses to the city. What do you do then? That’s right. You explore alternative routes to go to the bus-free city.

Perhaps a little bit out of necessity, more of curiosity, I saw this opportunity as an excuse to explore places untraveled and ways untraversed to the city or going home from school. I took this opportunity to satisfy my wanderlust, albeit bound within the confines of Metro Manila. I wanted to experience new stuff, which actually turned out to be very old. Just one time, I endeavored in going home to Las Piñas using the Philippine National Railway.

Typically, like most Lasallians who commute home to the south, I would hop on a bus along Taft and voila, I am home. With Erap’s new rule, for a few days, students went through hell to ride a bus, but I thought differently. So one sunny and polluted afternoon in Taft, I set my mind on riding the PNR going home. The nearest station to school was the Vito Cruz station along Osmeña highway, so I thought that it would be a piece of cake.  That cake turned out to be not worth it.

To get to the PNR station, one must ride a jeep from Vito Cruz to cross Osmeña highway to the other side of Vito Cruz. It sounds easy, and it actually was. Once you go down the jeep and cross the wild grass to the stairs going up the platform, you get the vibe that this train ride would be different to the feel of the MRT and LRT, and your gut would prove you right.

Firstly, there’s no ticket booth such as in the MRT and LRT. All you’ll see is a small monobloc table which is the makeshift counter. So I bought my ticket which was a piece of paper then waited for 10 minute intervals within which the train would arrive. After 10 minutes or so, a train did arrive.

It was as cramped as the MRT during rush hour, but with the airconditioner seeming to be not turned on. Unlike the MRT, the PNR is mostly filled with blue-collar workers with the aroma of their day’s work filling the air inside the train. With each passing minute with me clinging onto a pole I could barely grab, I hope that the ride be quicker. Ironically, it seems as if it’s slowing down. Seeing that the train track is parallel to SLEX, I could see how fast the cars are going as compared to the train which is expectedly faster, but of course, it does not meet expectations. Basically, I was in a cramped, odor-filled train, with me barely fighting inertia by clinging onto a pole with a few stations to go before Alabang and it was painstakingly slow too.

Alas, the train comes to a final halt and I alight at Alabang station which is behind Starmall. I make my way down an informal and uncemented path towards the mall and I find myself treading wild grass once more. I take a jeep and a tricycle going home.

Here I am writing about my experiences a few weeks back and it brings back fond memories of a train ride I wanted to take but never should have taken anyway. It isn’t deemed fit to be a counterpart of the MRT and LRT. Now I’m only left wondering if it were truly at par with the LRT and MRT, going around Metro Manila would be so much easier, faster and more convenient, but we are left with dilapidated and antiquated train cars. The train would have been a delight rather than an ordeal. The train system in Manila would be comparable to that of Singapore and Hong Kong if we are without budgetary constraints.

But the train ride was in itself an experience. I tried something new and I can proudly say that I rode the PNR. However, it is not a ride for the weak at heart and those who have sensitive olfaction. It is not a ride for those seeking comfort. It is not the kind of ride I’d ever repeat again. I am not a stranger to public transportation, and neither should other Lasallians be, but as the bus ban continues, and I no longer wanting to ride the train, bringing my own car to school wouldn’t be such a bad idea now.

Jonathan Mendoza

By Jonathan Mendoza

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