Showing posts with label transportation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label transportation. Show all posts

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Grab at NAIA Terminal 2

This is somewhat a late post on transport from the airport but it is actually quite useful information for many who are arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). Prior to the arrival of ridesharing/carsharing services, you only have airport taxis and conventional taxis as the most viable options for direct public transport from the airport. Now there are more attractive options for people who feel like they are being cheated by the former options. Grab, for example, now provides a more attractive option to people wanting to take a more exclusive transport mode to their destinations (e.g., home, office, etc.). Then there is also the airport bus (UBE) that now provides express bus services for travelers.

Grab booth at NAIA Terminal 2
One can book a ride with Grab staff or wait at this designated pick-up point after hailing a ride using the app on their phone.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Global Street Design Guide

Here's another quick post and more on the 'work' aspect of my life. I just wanted to share this article with a link to a Global Street Design Guide that was developed by the National Association of City Transport Officials (NACTO) in the United States (US). It's a nice guide that's based on the experiences of many cities in the US including transformations that have made commuting more efficient, enhanced mobility and, most important of all, improved safety. Following is the link to a more direct link to the guide:

NACTO and the Global Designing Cities Initiative Release Global Street Design Guide

This will be a good reference in the Philippines where many cities are in need of transformation to address current and future challenges in transportation.
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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Transport in times of rains and insensitive statements

How important is a good public transport system? Part of the definition of a good public transport system is that it should be an all-weather system. This means that even if there is inclement weather, the system would still be functioning and able to ferry people between their homes, workplaces, schools and other destinations. Of course, the exception here would be the times when there are extreme weather conditions like typhoons passing through cities. The rains today and past other days reminds us how difficult it is to commute even when you have your own vehicle. Those who opt to use their own cars now encounter severe traffic congestion with increasing frequencies while those with only public transport as their choice usually have difficulty getting a ride home.

It is not just unfortunate but rather depressing that Metro Manila and other major Philippine cities have no efficient public transport systems. The current modes of transport are road-based and dominated by paratransit including jeepneys, multicabs and tricycles. The state of disrepair of the PNR and MRT3, the much-delayed extensions of LRT1 and LRT2, and the much-delayed construction of MRT7 and BRT lines all contribute to the hellish commutes people experience everyday. Combine these with what experts regard as deficient station plaza designs that have led to inefficient transfers between the trains and road-based transport. It is no wonder that a person on  bicycle can beat a commuter on a trip between Trinoma in Quezon City and a university in Manila considering the state of MRT3 and the poor transfer conditions between MRT3 and LRT1. This won't likely be the case in Singapore or Tokyo where the proper hierarchies of transport are well established and with the necessary facilities to support their people-friendly systems.

What's more depressing, frustrating and disappointing (if its possible to feel all three simultaneously) is how transport officials, including and especially the top official of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), apparently see our transport woes as "not fatal". Is it really "not fatal"? Increases in the incidence of respiratory diseases due to the increased emissions are attributable to mobile sources (vehicles) and the long hours of road traffic congestion. The increase in the number of fatal road crashes as reported by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is also attributable to a significant increase in traffic volumes. One comment on social media was right on the dot on emergency cases ending up dying due to the ambulances being unable to make it to the hospitals in time for their passengers' treatments.

And so, there were renewed calls for transport officials to get out of their chauffeured cars and take regular public transport between their homes and offices. The dares include riding the MRT3 during the peak periods and actually experiencing the queues and the crowded platforms and trains. It is no wonder that the image of the Dutch ambassador riding his bicycle to his office has been a popular share in social media because a lot of people feel that leaders should be examples themselves on how each one of us can pitch in to solve transport and traffic problems. Attempts by some government officials (including the top official of the transport department) to ride the MRT3, for example, are met with much criticism because they are given special treatment - they skip the lines and have bodyguards escorting them and clearing the way and space for them to ride comfortably. Clearly, this is not what the common commuter experiences everyday when he or she would have to use something short of MMA skills to get a ride.

Are we helpless against such insensitivity of our officials, many of whom are politicians and professionals associated with oligarchs? Not totally. And next year's elections offer the commuting public a chance to express what they think about transport in this country and in their cities and municipalities by making transport and traffic urgent issues that need to be addressed and prioritized. Will you vote for candidates who had a hand in the continuing deterioration of transport in the Philippines and who consistently dismiss transport and traffic issues as secondary and just a by-product of non-inclusive economic growth? I surely won't and will be very critical of candidates' platforms and proposed programs should they win and become the leaders of this land. A big part of those programs should be how to address transport and traffic issues especially the deficiencies in infrastructure. Addressing these pressing issues on transport and traffic will go a long way in improving the quality of life of Filipinos and ensure a sustainable and inclusive growth for the country.
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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sta. Fe Train Station, San Diego, CA

A highlight of my 'do-it-yourself' tour of San Diego, CA was the Sta. Fe Train Depot or Railway Station. The depot was celebrating is centennial and for me represented part of America's railway heritage being part of a railway line stretching along the US' Pacific coastline. Following are photos in and about the Sta. Fe depot.

The historic Sta. Fe Train Depot building as seen from the San Diego MTS trolley station.
Front of the train deport showing a fountain and the main doors to the station building.
Entrance to the building, which contains the ticket office and waiting room for passengers and well-wishers.
One is greeted by this splendid view of the building's interior evoking a time when trains ruled in land transportation. An information booth is seen at the right while the food kiosk is at the left. The ticket windows are further at the center.
A closer (brighter) look at the interior of Sta. Fe Rail Station showing the wooden seats and antique chandeliers. The ticket office is clearly seen in the photo.
The kiosk inside the station building provides sustenance to passengers, well-wishers and passers-by. Note, too, the mosaic designs on the columns of the building.
A closer look at the station's ceiling and chandeliers shown arches emanating from the columns to support the roof. Such features are of earthquake resistant structures in this earthquake-prone region and particularly in the State of California.
Non-motorized pedicab, the San Diego trolley and the Sta. Fe Station
I took some refreshments at the kiosk in the station. The hotdog sandwich was good and the coffee was strong. I took the trolley from the station to explore San Diego along its commuter train lines. More on San Diego's trains and stations in future posts.
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Thursday, November 27, 2014

"Unsung heroes" for sustainable transport in the Philippines

A "Bayanihan sa Daan" is being held today at Malacanan. It is supposed to be a recognition of sorts for organisations, local governments and individuals who have contributed or advocated for people-friendly (i.e., pedestrians and bicyclists) roads and cities in the Philippines. I am glad to see some cities that we have assisted or advised being recognised as well as organisations that we have collaborated with who are present at the event. Unlike them, we were not invited to the event nor have we been recognised by the current administration for our efforts in promoting sustainable transport. Perhaps it is because it is a given in our center's mandate and the recognition is really for those who went out of their way to initiate, promote or implement programs and projects for people-friendly transport.

There are names I could mention in our organization who have done a lot for sustainable transport in general, whose works in more than a decade have helped increase awareness on environmentally sustainable transport (EST) among national agencies and local governments and have spawned. They have conducted so many workshops, seminars and consultations with agencies like the DOTC, DPWH, DENR and MMDA, and LGUs including all Metro Manila cities and municipalities, Cebu City, Davao City, Cagayan de Oro City, Baguio City, Iloilo City and others. These were done at a time when these entities had little knowledge of sustainable transport and international agencies were uncertain about whether they should engage and who they should engage for EST and related initiatives. 

I defer from naming these responsible and progressive-minded people as I know they would prefer to remain rather anonymous but working effectively to realize sustainable transport in the Philippines. I do know they are selfless and tireless in their advocacies for sustainable transport unlike others who seem to be on-board because of the bandwagon or because it is fashionable to do so. There are those, too, who seem to be in it for the past many years but are actually only hangers-on and interested more in the funding and not in coming up with sustainable transport systems. I hope that these sustainable transport initiatives can themselves be sustained. It's one thing to be loud about your advocacies and appear as a hardcore proponent but actually ningas cogon and in it for the attention, and another to be a silent worker whose works actually formed the foundation for current initiatives and continue to work behind the scenes to effect EST in the Philippine setting.

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Uber vs taxi

I have two blogs, this one and another devoted to transport and traffic. I sometimes have the same articles on both sites if the topic happened to be about something of common interest to both sites. The LTFRB decision against Uber (recently recalled by the DOTC) has been a hot topic lately and I wanted to express my own opinions on the matter. Following is what I wrote over at my other blog site:

To regulate or not to regulate. That seems to be the issue here in the case of Uber. One respected former top government official, offered his opinion on the matter through his newspaper column where he mentions a "regulatory overreach" by the Land Transport Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). Perhaps the agency did not exert all efforts or go the extra mile to assess the situation regarding Uber? Perhaps the agency acted in favor of taxi operators who have complained about Uber services? The information available states the affirmative. The LTFRB itself confirmed that it acted on the complaint filed by a group of taxi operators but they memo alone is unclear of how the board ended up with their decision. Maybe they did not really have a more exhaustive deliberation, looking at the Uber case from other (more progressive) perspectives.

One lawyer friend of ours gave an opinion that Uber should not be treated as a regular taxi whose services are available to everyone and therefore requires a franchise being a public utility. Rather, Uber can be seen instead as an exclusive club with members providing and/or availing of services. Membership in the club is not automatic but has to go through an application process with certain criteria to be satisfied by applicants just like any other exclusive organizations. In Uber's case, the application process as well as the means to avail of services are facilitated by an app, a software available now through smartphones or tablets. Being an exclusive club, it can also charge for services rendered and fees can be agreed upon by members just like what is done in other clubs. This is an acceptable interpretation of how Uber can be seen though it still does not address liability issues in case a vehicle and its occupants are involved in a crash. However, this last concern is precisely what the LTFRB should be discussing with Uber and perhaps insisting for the service to address immediately. This would be the more progressive and proactive approach in handling this case.

I agree that there is a need to review many of our laws, not just on transport, in order to address the many changes that has happened over the years and especially in light of the rapid developments enabled by technological advances and innovations. Many years ago, we have worked with the DOTC to come up with an initiative to review road transport laws and regulations in order to determine, for example, which are outdated and which are conflicting with others. Unfortunately, this initiative seems to have evaporated with the change in the administrations of involved transport agencies back in 2010. So far, what we have read and heard are calls for reviewing laws and regulations specifically related to public utility vehicles in relation to taxis and consequently, Uber.

Meanwhile, taxi services in the country and especially in Metro Manila continue to be found wanting in terms of quality of service. Many continue to be shunned or turned down by taxi cab drivers who tend to be selective of their passengers' destinations. The most common reason for this is perceived (or imagined) traffic congestion along streets leading to the destination. Then there are the more serious cases of swindling, holdups, abductions, and even murder. Modus operandi include taxi drivers collaborating with criminals to rob or kidnap passengers. News and social media are full of these horror stories that make one think twice about riding a cab, especially at night. Of course, not all taxi services are like this and  there are examples of good taxi services in Metro Manila and other cities. On top of my very short list is a certain taxi company that's popular in Iloilo City, Light of Glory. However, these examples are not enough to convince many that they should not have a more comfortable, more secure and perhaps safer option for transport, which is what Uber is claiming it provides. Ultimately, though, public transport services in Metro Manila and elsewhere in the country need to be improved and fast in the interest of most people who take public transportation everyday. That way, many people won't really need to avail of other, more exclusive services, for their transport needs.
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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Flying again

The Clairvoyant's post this morning read like this: "after months of nesting, hitting the skies again." While its not been so long since the last time she traveled overseas (the last time would be May 2014 in Hong Kong), that was almost 5 months ago. We moved into our new home only last March right after we traveled together to Tokyo in late February. Since then, I have had the more recent trips, both domestic, to Iloilo and Puerto Princesa only last month.

Her trip to London will be a long one, around 15 hours non-stop. I just hope that her aircraft is a good one. We've been reading a lot lately about Philippine Airlines downgrading the plane used in its Manila-London-Manila flights. They started out with their newly acquired long-range Boeing 777's but now are using "used" Airbus A340's for the flight, which happens to be their only one in a European destination. I make a big fuss out of this because the sleek B777's are better equipped for long flights even for people traveling on economy (or Fiesta Class as PAL terms it). The A340's are supposed to have been leased by PAL from Airbus and were previously utilized by another airline so they have had some mileage among them. Shame on PAL for downgrading the aircraft. They don't seem to realize how much "word of mouth" and online buzz this is generating that will eventually hurt their ridership along this route. Apparently, as one online article points out, PAL has decided to deploy their B777's to the US routes. The direct flights to San Francisco and Los Angeles had been utilizing the B747s that were already retired recently. So it seems the focus is the US market where, of course, there is a considerable number of Filipinos that they think will likely take PAL between Manila and SF or LA.

I was reminded of one flight from San Francisco where people expected a B747 only to board what seemed to be an older A330 heading back to Manila a couple of years ago. That was definitely a letdown in terms of comfort and a lot of passengers were probably thinking that they won't be flying PAL again after that. This is basically the sentiments of a lot of people who flew between Manila and London after the downgade. And to think that the options prior to the direct flight by PAL were Singapore Airline via Singapore, Thai Airways via Bangkok or Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong - all excellent carriers. There are no shortcuts to getting back the confidence of travelers and earning back a reputation for good service (PAL was excellent before!) and PAL definitely needs to determine (and quickly!) whether it is lining up as a budget carrier or a legacy and full service airline that it should be.
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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Conveniences at train station platforms

Japan is also famous for having a lot of vending machines dispensing everything from snacks, softdrinks and beer to toys and electronics, and even shirts and underwear! At the train stations there are also many vending machines in addition to the kiosks that are basically convenience stores. Here are a couple of vending machines and the garbage disposal bins beside them.

Vending machine and telephones behind a kiosk at a JR Line platform

Vending machine at a Tokyo Metro platform

 Within the larger stations, there are also restaurants or eateries for those wanting a quick meal but happen to have already gone past the turnstiles. These are not your typical holes in the walls or fast food types. Instead there are also full service restaurants or cafes. Then there are food courts where commuters may have a good variety to choose from like the Tokyo Food Bar that I found at the JR Akihabara Station.

This food bar is very much like the food courts we find at malls. These offer a variety of selections for the hungry commuter. The signboards show the menus of establishments inside the food bar.
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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Limousine bus services from Narita

There are several options for passengers to travel between Narita Airport and their destinations in the Kanto area. There are many train services connecting the airport to Tokyo, Yokohama, Chiba or other destinations. These include the Narita Express (N'EX), the Airport Narita trains of the JR Yokosuka-Sobu Line, and the Keisei Skyliner. Another option is to take limousine buses from the airport, which includes the Airport Limousine bus from Narita. Information on fares and schedules are available from the internet links I provided.

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The Airport Limousine counter at the arrival area where people may inquire about routes and schedules, and purchase tickets
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Bus stops are located just outside Narita Terminal 1
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The information boards on Airport Limousine stops provide information for the next bus for a particular destination in both Japanese and English.
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Smoking areas are located outside the airport and are enclosed (there's ventilation).
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A bus bound for the Yokohama City Air Terminal (YCAT) is shown loading passengers. I used to take this bus as an alternative for going to Yokohama, where I lived for 3 years in the 1990s. My other option was the Airport Narita trains of the JR Yokosuka-Sobu Line.
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Back of a bus bound for Shibuya and Futako Tamagawa in western Tokyo.

When I was still residing in Yokohama, I usually took the train to Narita and the bus when returning from the airport and via YCAT. This was because I usually travelled lighter when going to Manila than when I was returning since I brought back some food items for times when I was feeling homesick and longed for something familiar to eat. Cost-wise, the airport limousine bus service cost a bit more but was more convenient for my return trips. Later, in my stays at Saitama, the obvious choice was the bus to and from Narita through Omiya Station as traveling by rail was more complicated due to the transfers. The additional cost is easily justified by the convenience and comfort provided by the bus service.
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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Getting reacquainted with the Tokyo subway

Back in Japan after almost 5 years, I was excited to go around Tokyo during our free time after our meetings. With all the information available online now, it is quite easy to do a desk review of public transportation in Tokyo. Since our hotel and meeting venue were near subway stations, it was practical to know about the metro lines near us. Whenever I was in Tokyo, I always took the trains whether it was by subway or by Japan Railways (JR) lines. There are two companies operating the subways in Tokyo. One is Toei and the other is Tokyo Metro. I seldom, if ever, used the bus or taxi preferring to walk between train stations to/from my meetings or appointments.

Tokyo subway map that is downloadable from the internet

One can purchase tickets at the station using these machines. These have bilingual features so you only need to press the button to have the interface in English. Maps overhead provide guidance about stations and fares.
Subway turnstiles where passengers enter and exit for the platforms
Information on transfer stations and the cars nearest the stairs. This information is helpful so passengers can easily position themselves in the car to minimize transfer time from one train to another.
"Manner mode" sticker on the subway train near the door advises passengers to refrain from making calls while on the train. This is considered rude and annoying to fellow passengers.

Metro line information overhead at the train doors include a line map and a message board announcing the next station in Japanese and English.

One can also purchase special tickets or passes from the stations. Ticket vending machines may also have the capability to issue the popular Pasmo or Suica IC cards that can be used in almost all transport modes in Tokyo and other cities. Information on these cards are easily found in the internet. There are also online route or travel planners that people can use to plan their trips. One such tool is Hyperdia, which provides information on lines, transfers, travel time and fares.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Commuting using the Bangkok subway

I have gone around Bangkok in the past using the BTS Skytrain, buses, taxis and once using the tuktuk. I have only used the subway once as it has only one line and in the past trips to Bangkok I really didn't need to use it considering most of my destinations were within walking distance of a Skytrain station or required the services of a taxi. And so I took the opportunity to take some photos at the Bangkok Metro during one commute to meet up with a friend.

Descending from the Skytrain station to the entrance to the subway station
Directional sign pointing towards the subway station
Descent to the subway station plaza
User interface for the Bangkok subway - commuters who can't read Thai may opt to go for the English option.
The station is spacious and there seems to be still few passengers using the subway - Fares have been criticized before for being expensive compared to bus and Skytrain. As such, the system is not as crowded as Singapore's MRT or the Philippines' elevated rail systems.
Platform doors are synchronized with the train doors, ensuring safety for commuters.
Turnstiles are similar to those in Singapore and Japan
I think the Bangkok subway is still a good option along the corridor it serves though it would be better if it is extended to increase its reach and consequently its ridership. Issues on interconnectivity with other modes especially the Skytrain have been addressed to some extent but remain. Its most difficult challenge pertains to fares and is something that would probably be difficult to tackle given the financial implications but is necessary to encourage more people to use it regularly.
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Monday, October 1, 2012

Rabbit card for commuting in Bangkok

I was in Thailand for at least once a year during a certain stretch in the last decade as I represented our University to the ASEAN University Network - Southeast Asia Engineering Education Network (AUN-SEEd/Net). Whenever I was in Bangkok, I bought a one-day pass for me to have practically unlimited use of the BTS Skytrain for a day. Those times in the past, there were no IC or stored value cards for use in commuting in the Thai capital. And so I was quite happy to see the availability of a stored value card when I familiarized myself with the Skytrain last week.

The Rabbit card, as it was called, is a stored value card that still has limited use for commuting and other purposes. At present, it can only be used for the BTS Skytrain and a few shops. It cannot be used for buses, taxis or the MRT (Bangkok's subway). There are three variants for the Rabbit card - one for students, one for senior citizens, and another for adults (all other people).

Rabbit card for adults
Back of the card where pertinent info for its use are written in both Thai and English
The Rabbit card is not yet as useful as Singapore's or Japan's version of the stored value card. Still, it is an improvement that will surely and steadily have more uses in the future. And so I look forward to the next trip to Bangkok when perhaps my Rabbit card will be useful for other modes of transport as well.
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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Melaka central bus terminal

Trips between Singapore and Malaysia are quite frequent given the proximity between the two countries (Singapore used to be part of Malaysia.) with a lot of people employed just across the borders and Malaysia being a popular destination for shopping and recreation. In fact, the first Premium Outlet in Asia is located in Johor, Malaysia, which is just across the border from Singapore. On a weekend trip to Melaka (Malacca), we took an express bus that made only 3 stopovers including one each for immigration control/processing in Singapore (exit) and Malaysia (entry). On the way back, we only had an extra stopover due to a fellow passenger requesting for a toilet break.

Arriving at Melaka, I was impressed with the central bus terminal, a sprawling complex that connected with commercial establishments around it. Inside the terminal, there are many shops and restaurants so one doesn't need to leave the terminal to eat or to make some last minute shopping. Good buys are rubber sandals much like those being sold under Brazilian brands. Malaysia is a major producer of rubber and the sandals made in Malaysia are of high quality but less expensive than the Brazilian and perhaps Chinese counterparts.

Terminal building and parking
A look at the spacious parking area around the terminal
Directional sign to guide visitors (probably sponsored by the emporium indicated at the bottom)
Pedestrian overpass for people crossing the busy highway in front of the terminal
There are many restaurants and shops inside the terminal, which is by itself a commercial establishment.
Hotel/accommodations information for travelers are posted at the terminal
The different bus companies operating out of the terminal have their booths were travelers may buy/reserve tickets.
The ticketing area is spacious and there were no long lines, in part due to the availability of online (internet) ticket purchases. Seating is not free for all so travelers need to reserve or purchase tickets ahead of travel in order to get good schedules and seats.
One can purchase tickets to any point in Malaysia (local long distance trips) and Singapore (another country) is among the most popular destinations. Schedules and fares are posted for information of travelers.
There are many choices among the bus companies but I would strongly recommend Starmart Express buses when traveling between Singapore and Malaysia. They provide excellent service and have well-maintained buses. One can purchase tickets online and claim these at their booths/stations.
Interactive information screen at the terminal
Static information board for the locations of bus company booths at the terminal
Travelers lining up before a booth to purchase tickets
Buses berthed at the terminal departure area
Typical long distance limousine bus plying routes between Malaysia and Singapore
The central bus terminal at Melaka is a good example of terminal design for long distance buses. Such concepts are also found in the Philippines but with some significant variations in the design. Among the notables are the terminals in Mabalacat (Pampanga), Lucena (Quezon) and Legazpi City (Albay) in Luzon. Other terminals in the Philippines are not good examples in the sense that many are not developed or well-planned, many without the amenities or features of a modern terminal. Perhaps local and international examples of terminals should serve as templates for central terminal development in the Philippines including those being conceptualized for Metro Manila.

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Reviving the Bicol Express

Part of our field visit at the PNR included a tour of the depot where the maintenance and refurbishing works are undertaken. Among the cars we saw were those intended for train sets to serve the recently revived Bicol Express. The service to Bicol was recently re-started with a once-a-day trip to Naga City in Camarines Sur, which was eventually extended all the way to Ligao, Albay. The revival hopefully could be the start of something big - a renaissance - for the once famed Bicol Express. For older people, this could be a nostalgic service while for younger people it could be an adventure of sorts. Perhaps it would be a welcome alternative to air and road travel to the region given that the PNR ROW offers a better view along the way into Bicol including breathtaking Vistas of Mayon Volcano, the Pacific Ocean, Lamon Bay, Ragay Gulf and the Bicol countryside. Unfortunately, for now Bicol Express trains travel mainly at night from Manila and so the views will come up only after Naga City, which the train reaches at around 6:00 AM in the morning, and from there proceeds to Legazpi City for the next few hours.


Diesel-electric locomotive that pulls PNR trains - unlike those I rode in Japan, Philippine trains are no electrified and have to be pulled  by locomotives.
Technical tours - our hosts were very gracious and generous to provide us with a grand tour of the depot and the rolling stock. Such tours help our students to understand railway engineering "from the source." Perhaps some students may be inspired to join a rail company
Sleepers - not referring to the rail ties but to the sleeper cars of this train, which has the family cabins consisting of 4 beds (0n 2 double-deckers) each cabin.
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Side view - the same diesel electric locomotive, which is actually a mobile power plant. Diesel is used as the fuel for the engine that produces electricity to power the locomotive.
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Upper deck - the cabins have 2 double deck beds with the upper deck bed having straps to prevent passengers from falling. While much of the PNR's tracks have been rehabilitated, they are said to be still far from providing the smooth ride of their Japanese counterparts.
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Hallway - our students pose for photo along the corridor to illustrate the space in a sleeper car. There is a small seat that can be unfolded from the side wall across from each cabin door. Perhaps this is not really for use by the conductor but an extra seat for groups having a huddle or individuals wanting a seat to get a good view from the other side of the train. There's are thick curtains that serve to provide privacy for each cabin. Each car is connected to each other so it is certain that passengers from other cars may be walking along these corridors.
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Wash room - the sleeper cars are equipped with washrooms and toilets for the long ride, amenities not usually found in most long distance buses serving the same corridor.
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Dirty toilets? - not really because this train has not yet been put into operation. The amenities like toilets and sinks are part of the refurbishing activities, we were told. Of course, this would have to be validated by actual passengers who would, by now, have taken the Bicol Express trains to/from Bicol during these Holy Week holidays.
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Conductor's cabin - each car has a cabin assigned for the conductor or whoever is assigned to assist passengers during their journeys.
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Double-deckers - the photo affords a better view of the double deck beds in a family cabin. The handles on the vertical bar on the center when pulled apart will reveal steps for persons to climb to the upper deck beds. There are also curtains for persons to have privacy particularly while sleeping or when sharing the cabin with other people.
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Driver's console - the controls for the train give a hint on how old this unit is, noting that it has been retired in Japan. I remember looking at similar dials and levers during my first visit to Japan in 1996 when we usually stood behind the cockpit to see how the train is operated.
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Recliners - inside the cars are reclining seats that seem to be as comfortable as business class seats on airliners. I tried one of the seats and the cushions are still quite firm for something that's more than a decade old. I couldn't smell any traces of tobacco so I guess these were already sanitized. Smoking cars are quite common in Japan and seats and entire cars can smell of smoke that tends to stick to the furniture and your clothes if you happen to be in one during a trip.
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Rotation - the seat can be configured so that groups may face each other. Many seat two people kind of like love seats perfect for snuggling on long distance trips. There are also pull-out trays for eating, writing or working on your computer to update FB status or tweet about the experience.
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Entertainment - Yes, that's a television set at the far end of the cabin. I can imagine that like in buses, the PNR will be showing some movies during trips to help passengers wile away the time. We were informed that big groups could actually take a car for themselves so it is also possible to have activities like workshops in the train. Perhaps groups could even have karaoke if they had the entire car to themselves.
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Reserved - the seat numbers remind ticket holders which seat they are to take and the characters remind us where the trains came from. That's a hook (for hanging your coat or other belonging) in the lower center of the photo.
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Toilets - the toilets are western-style with support bars for those requiring stability and a paper towel dispenser for the convenience of passengers.
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Toilets for PWDs and others - this has larger space for people requiring space including persons with disabilities, senior citizens, pregnant women and those with babies or small children.
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No reservations - in Japan "Non-reserved" means that seats on the car are first come, first served. One could purchase either such seats or the more expensive reserved seats from the train station.
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Executive class - the double deck cars containing Executive Sleepers or individual cabins for the Bicol Express.
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Airconditioned - the Executive Sleepers have air-conditioning, which is a requirement for all services of the PNR that is part of the attraction for passengers. Some cars were fitted with generator sets to supplement the power provided by the locomotives. Note again that the PNR lines are not electrified so power required for lights, aircon and other equipment have to be provided by these generators.
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Dining car - the Bicol Express trains include dining cars like this one also being refurbished by the PNR.
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The Bar - the car included a bar where people could have drinks. This feature of the train elicited a lot of questions and some excitement among our students.
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Dining tables - there's ample space for diners though we were not able to ask who may actually be allowed to use the dining cars. There are 4-seater and 2-seater tables in the car.
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4-seaters - a closer look at the dining tables show comfortable seats and a good view from the window. Unfortunately, the Bicol Express trains travel at night so there's really not much to see while in transit. 
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Singles - passengers may also opt to eat at the bar, especially for the case of individuals who might end up hogging a table and depriving groups of space.
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Executive sleeper - the cabin has a bed that doubles as a seat. Note the foldable arm rests and back cushion by the window. Also, there is space for a small bag located at a more secure part of the cabin.
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Lights and aircon - each cabin is equipped with a desk, adjustable lights and individual air-conditioning control for the convenience of the occupant.
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Window seat - each cabin has a window and generous space for the individual. The same features are found on the cabins on the upper deck but I guess the view is better upstairs so these would be the choice cabins for the Executive Sleepers.
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I look forward to finally riding the Bicol Express, perhaps with family or friends, as I visit relatives in Bicol (my mother hails from Sorsogon). Though I can ride the train to Legazpi City, Albay, it is just a short trip by bus from that city to my mother's hometown. Of course, there are other cities of interest for me including Naga City, my father-in-law's hometown and Legazpi where there are many attractions around. My father has told me a lot about the Bicol Express, which he took with his sisters en route to Sorsogon to wed my mother. And so, part of the attraction to the train is sentimental in nature.
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