By FERNANDO E. V. SISON
Manila Railroad Company
Published in the American Chamber of Commerce Journal February 1947 issue
The Manila Railroad Company is one of our largest domestic corporations, representing an investment of over one hundred million pesos. As is well known, its railway lines are confined to the Island of Luzon, extending from San Fernando, La Union, in the north, to Legaspi, Albay, in the south, with a number of branches serving areas away from the main lines. The more important branches are the Paniqui-San Quintin, Tarlac-San Jose, Bigaa-Cabanatuan, San Fernando-Carmen, Calamba-Batangas, and College-Pagsanjan. The 1941 kilometreage of the main and branch lines in operation was 1,140.5.
During the period from 1917, when the Philippine Government acquired ownership of the property, to 1941, many millions of pesos have been added to the investment in the property. These funds were derived from surplus earnings of the Company and from purchases of additional capital stock by the Government. Probably the most important improvement was the construction of the line connecting the Legaspi Division to the Main Line South, completed in 1938. This construction covered about 110 kilometers of line between Aloneros, Tayabas, and Pamplona, Camarines Sur. Other notable improvements were the acquisition of new rolling stock, locomotives, passenger coaches, and freight cars, replacement of wooden bridges with permanent concrete and steel structures, grade rectification, construction of numerous new station buildings, installation of storage tanks for fuel oil and water, practically complete replacement of wooden poles with concrete and steel poles for carrying communication wires, the acquisition of a large fleet of auxiliary highway transportation units, and other improvements too numerous to mention
The property in 1941 may therefore be considered as having been in first-class condition, well maintained and rendering absolutely indispensable service to the people of this Island. Then came the war. Almost overnight the picture was changed. Railroads are among the first victims of war, affording as they do ready means for the transportation of troops and military supplies. The first development was the taking of the Company under military control by command of General Douglas MacArthur on December 14, 1941. Then came the body-blow, which was almost a knock-out. On December 30, 1941, Mr. Jose Paez, then General Manager of the Company, received a letter from USAFFE Headquarters directing that the military authorities be permitted to disable or destroy such items of rolling stock, shop equipments and right-of-way facilities as was necessary to the execution of military operations pertaining to the defense of the Philippines. The carrying out of this order resulted in very extensive damage and destruction to the railroad property. Bridges were blown up, shop machinery was disabled, and rolling stock collected and burned. The damage resulting from this military policy was later augmented by lack of maintenance during the Japanese regime, by the intensive air raids of American naval and land aviation in 1944 and early in 1945, and by guerrilla activities, looting, and sabotage. A rough estimate of damage and losses sustained aggregates about forty million pesos.
To cite a few facts by way of illustration, out of 159 locomotives on hand in 1941, still only about 17 were in serviceable condition several months after liberation; 66 were missing entirely or in such condition as not worth repairing; and 73 were repairable. Out of 208 passenger coaches, 143 are missing. Sixty-five rail motor cars were in service in 1941 and there is only one in operation today, although 36 may be repaired if new motors are provided. Sixty-one out of 100 rail motor trailers are gone, as well as 70 out of 94 baggage and express cars and cabooses. The rolling stock situation as can be seen is not so good.
Fortunately, however, the United States Army after taking over the operation of the property in January, 1945, brought in 43 oil-burning steam locomotives, 10 diesel-electric switching engines, and about 1,000 gondola, box, and tank cars. This equipment, except eight diesel-electric engines shipped to Japan, together with undamaged and repaired Manila Railroad locomotives and cars, we are now using.
Although the Army operation was for military purposes and not for the benefit of the Company, the Army deserves great credit for the efficient manner in which the lines were put in operating condition. This has been of the utmost importance to the Company in resuming active control of the property.
With the property so adversely affected by the destruction resulting from the war, the first objective was naturally to restore the railroad lines, rolling stock, bridges, buildings, communication systems, highway lines, and other railroad property to its pre-war condition or better, so as to enable the Company to furnish the transportation facilities so essential to the economic well-being of the country.
Probably the most important accomplishment of the Company since liberation has been the restoration of the Main Line South so that through train service could be furnished from Manila to the Bicol region. The United States Army during its operation from January 16, 1945, to January 31, 1946, made repairs, mostly temporary, to 448.11 kilometers of line out of 1,140.5 kilometers, or about 40%. The Army operations were for the most part on the Northern Lines, the only section of the Main Line South that was restored by the Army being from Manila to College Junction, a distance of 67 kilometers. The restoration of the Main Line South was regarded as of great importance in supplying railroad transportation to the copra- and lumber-producing districts of Luzon, not to mention the fact that the southern provinces are a source of firewood and other forest products, hemp, fruit, vegetables, fish, etc. Many bridges had been damaged and destroyed, particularly on the section between Masaya, Laguna, and Lucena, Quezon, as well as several important bridges farther to the south. The Palikpik bridge, spanning a very deep ravine a few kilometers south of Masaya, presented an especially difficult problem as the entire bridge was destroyed and the erection of very extensive trestle work was necessary. Several steel spans at other locations had fallen into rivers and were otherwise damaged. However by the dismantling of bridge-spans and other materials on certain branch lines and the San Fernando- Sudipen extension installed by the Japanese, the work of restoring the bridges on the entire Main Line South from College to Ligao, Albay, was finally accomplished and through train service was inaugurated on February 20, 1947.
The destructive effects of the war on the railroad tracks were from three causes: direct destruction by bombs, shell-fire, and explosives; physical deterioration due to neglect by the Japanese of maintenance and replacement; and looting of materials, especially ties. When the Railroad was turned over to the Commonwealth Government by the United States Army, even the lines in operation were badly in need of ballast, ties, spikes, fishplates, and bolts, despite the fact that the Army had accomplished a considerable amount of repair and maintenance work. Track conditions were especially bad on portions of the Main Line South between Lucena and Legaspi. The tracks at various places lay almost entirely hidden beneath a heavy growth of weeds, grass, and shrubs. The rails at many locations were out of alignment and not up to grade, and low joints were found on long stretches of track. Many ties had been stolen and others were rotting away.
To meet the need for ballast materials, two ballast pits were reopened-the Plaridel ballast pit for the Northern Lines and the Pugod ballast pit for the section between Aloneros and Sipocot on the Main Line South. Considerable quantities of ballast have been distributed where most urgently needed, especially at low bridge approaches. In regard to rails, ties, spikes, fishplates, and track bolts required for the repair of the track structure, new supplies were practically unobtainable and recourse was had to the salvaging of old materials obtained from the dismantling of the San Fernando-Sudipen section and various military spurs which had been installed by the Japanese. In addition, old materials were picked up here and there along the lines, including certain items left by the United States Army, and a considerable number of ties were removed from the Cabanatuan Branch, which might otherwise have been stolen. By such means, the condition of the track has been greatly improved, permitting increased train speeds on both the Main Line North and the Main Line South.
As mentioned previously, the United States Army operated 448.11 kilometers of railway line, or about 40% of the pre-war trackage, whereas at present the Company is operating 867.26 kilometers of line, or about 76.4% of the pre-war trackage. The most important line not yet reopened is the Cabanatuan Branch from Plaridel to Cabanatuan, which suffered so badly from war-damage and looting that it has been impracticable to place it in operating condition. The Batangas Branch, Malvar-San Pablo, Santa Mesa-Taytay, and several smaller branches also have not been restored.
A large number of station buildings and other buildings both north and south of Manila were destroyed or damaged during the war. Due to lack of funds and materials, it was not possible to make speedy and complete repairs to these buildings. Accordingly, only such repairs as were essential for operating purposes were made on important structures. Permanent reconstruction will have to await the providing of additional funds from war damage claims or other sources.
The former communication systems of the Company, -telegraph, telephone and radio, were among the more essential services that were heavily hit by the war, not only because of actual destruction by military action, but also from the effects of wholesale looting. Communication facilities had to be restored on lines where trains were not yet operated and also changes and additions had to be made to the telegraph and telephone systems installed by the United States Army in order to meet the Company's requirements. On the Southern Lines particularly, where many sections had suffered from looting of wires, new copper wires were installed. By the end of June, 1946, an efficient communication system had been established all the way from San Fernando, Union, in the north, to Ligao, Albay, in the south.
The United States Army brought in 45 locomotives and about 1,000 freight cars, which were turned over to the Company when the Army relinquished control of the property on February 1, 1946. This equipment, together with old Manila Railroad rolling stock and such units as the Company was able to recondition subsequently, are now being used in train service. Unfortunately the Army brought in no passenger coaches and a large proportion of the former coaches had been destroyed. To meet this difficulty, a number of the open gondola cars brought by the Army were converted for passenger use by extending the sides upward, putting on roofs, and installing benches for seats. This was necessarily a rather crude resort, but was taken as an emergency measure in order to provide as much passenger accommodation as possible under the prevailing conditions. The acquisition of new modern locomotives, coaches, and cars is obviously one of the principal projects that must be undertaken by the Company as soon as adequate funds are provided.
Before the war the Company conducted extensive highway operations through the Benguet Auto Line in the Baguio district and adjacent lowlands, the Luzon Bus Line in the Central Luzon Area, and the Mindanao Motor Line with headquarters at Cotabato. All units belonging to these three lines (390 in number) were commandeered by the USAFFE and were either lost or destroyed. After the liberation a number of surplus United States Army highway vehicles were obtained through the Government Procurement Commission and converted for commercial use. Subsequently, most of these have been replaced with the latest type of streamlined buses. The Company is therefore now able to supplement its rail service with modern highway transportation units, even if to a much more limited extent than prior to the war.
The most pressing problem confronting the management of the Company has been and continues to be the financial one. When the property was turned back to the Government, the Company was practically without funds and there was urgent need for working capital. Accordingly, in December, 1945, the Philippine Congress, on the recommendation of the President, enacted Commonwealth Act 707 appropriating P20,000,000 for the rehabilitation of the Manila Railroad Company, subject to funds becoming available. Of this amount, P10,000,000 has since been released, which has enabled the Company to meet its most pressing obligations and devote certain amounts to absolutely essential rehabilitation work. However, until the balance of the authorized fund of P20,000,000 and compensation for war damage is received, the Company will necessarily be handicapped in rebuilding the property so that it may efficiently and adequately perform the transportation service which is so vital to the general program of rehabilitation in the Philippines. The plans for future improvements are therefore contingent upon the necessary financial requirements being provided. If these funds are forthcoming, there can be no doubt that, the Manila Railroad Company will be able within a reasonable time to restore and modernize its transportation system and serve the people as fully and efficiently as in the past, and with the aim of making even greater progress in the future. All the efforts of the Company are being concentrated on the attainment of that objective.