Monday, July 16, 2007

The First Philippine Railways

From: The Philippine Islands. A political, geographical, ethnographical, social and commercial history of the Philippine Archipelago and its political dependencies, embracing the whole period of Spanish rule. By John Foreman, F.R.G.S. New York,: C. Scribner's sons, 1899. pp 265-267.

Philippine railways were first officially projected in 1875, when a Royal Decree of that year, dated August 6, determined the legislative basis for works of that nature. The Inspector of Public Works was instructed to form a general plan of a railway system in Luzon Island. The projected system include (1) a line running north from Manila through the Provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga, and Pangasinan. (2) A line running south from Manila, along the Laguna de Bay shore and eastwards through Tayabas, Camarines, and Albay Provinces. (3) A branch from this line on the Laguna de Bay shore to run almost due south to Batangas. The lines to be constructed were classed under two heads, viz. : (1) Those of general public utility to be laid down either by the State or by subsidized companies, the concession in this case being given by the Home Government: and (2) those of private interest, for the construction of which concessions could be granted by the Gov. General.

In 1885 the Government solicited tenders for the laying of the first line of railway from Manila to Dagupan – a port on the Gulf of Lingayen, and the only practicable outlet for produce from the Province of Pangasinan and Tarlac District. The distance by sea is 216 miles – the railway line 196 kilometers (say 120 miles). The subsidy offered by the Government amounted to about P.7,640 per mile, but on three occasions no tender was forthcoming either from Madrid or in Manila, where it was simultaneously solicited. Subsequently a modified offer was made of a guaranteed annual interest of 8 per cent on a maximum outlay of P.4,964,473.65, and the news was received in Manila in October, 1886, that the contract had been taken up by a London firm was issued in February, 1888. The line was to be completed within four years from July 21, 1887, and at the end of ninety-nine years the railway and rolling stock were to revert to the Spanish Government without compensation. The rails, locomotives (36 tons and 12 tons each), tenders, coaches, wagons, and ironworks for bridges all came from England. The first stone of the Central Station in Manila (Bilibid Road, Tondo) was laid by Governor General Emilio Terrero on July 31, 1887. In 1890 the original contractors failed, and only the first section of 28 miles was opened to traffic on March 24, 1891.

Many other circumstances, however, contributed to delay the opening of the whole line. Compensation claims were very slowly agreed to; the Government engineers slightly altered the plans; the company’s engineers could not find a hard strata in the bed of the Calumpit River1 (a branch of the Rio Grande de Pampanga) on which to build the piers for the bridge; and lastly the Spanish authorities, who had direct intervention in the work, found all sorts of excuses for postponing the opening of the line. When the Civil Director was applied to, he calmly replied that he was going to the baths, and would think about it.
Finally, on appeal to the highest authority, Governor General Despujols himself went up to Tarlac, and in an energetic speech, reflecting the dilatoriness of his subordinates, he declared the first Philippine railway open to traffic on November 23, 1892. For about a year and a half passengers and goods were ferried across the Calumpit(1) river in pontoons. Large caissons had to be sunk in the river in which to build the piers for the iron bridge, which cost an enormous sum of money in excess of the estimate. Later on heavy rains caused a partial inundation of the line, the embankment of which yielded to the accumulated mass of water, and traffic to Dagupan was temporarily suspended. The total outlay on the line far exceeded the company’s original calculation, and to avert a financial collapse fresh capital had to be raised by the issue of 6 per cent Prior Lien Mortgage Bonds, ranking before the debenture stock. The following official quotations on the London Stock Exchange will show the public appreciation of the Manila Railway Company’s shares and bonds: -

Up to July 1, 1905, the interest has been regularly paid on the Prior Lien Bonds. No interest has been paid on the debentures (up to December, 1905) since July 1, 1891, nor the 7 per cent Cumulative Preference Shares since July 1, 1890. On January 6, 1895, these shares were officially quoted, for sellers, 0.

Including the termini in Manila (Tondo) and Dagupan, there are 29 stations and 16 bridges along the main line, over which the journey occupies eight hours. There are two branch lines, viz.: from Bigaa to Cabanatuan (Nueva Ecija), and from Angeles (Pampanga) to Camp Stotsenberg. From the Manila terminus there is a short line (about a mile) running down to the quay in Binondo for goods traffic only. The country through which this line passes is flat, and has large natural resources, the development of which – without a railway – had not been feasible owing to the ranges of mountains – chiefly the Cordillera of Zambales – which run parallel to the coast.

The railway is ably managed, but when I traveled on it in 1904 much of the rolling-stock needed renewal.

In 1890, under Royal Order No. 508, dated June 11 of that year, a 99 years concession was granted to a British commercial firm in Manila to lay a 21-mile line of railway, without subsidy, from Manila to Antipolo, to be called the “Centre of Luzon Railway.” The work was to be commenced within one year and finished within two years. The basis of the anticipated traffic was the conveyance of pilgrims to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Voyage and Peace; but, moreover, the proposed line connected the parishes of Dilao (then 4,380 pop.) Santa Ana (then 2115 pop.), Mariquina (then 10,000 pop.), Cainta (then 2,300 pop.), and Taytay (then 6,500 pop.) – branching to Pasig and Angono – with Antipolo (then 3,800; now 2,800 pop.). The estimated outlay was about P.1,000,000, but the concession was abandoned. The project has seen been revived under the American auspices.

(1)The extra delay was quite a year, and the cause having become common talk among the natives in the neighborhood, many of them suggested that an evil spirit prevented the foundations of the bridge being built. They proposed to propitiate him by throwing live children into the river; consequently many mothers migrated with their infants until they heard that the difficulty was overcome.

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