Gov’t revives trains to Bicol

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    ‘The bad side in this development is that the movement of people is at once enhanced, at a time when the nation is suffering from record number of infections that sometimes reach as high as 1,200 daily.’

    THE Philippine National Railways (PNR) has ferried more than 300 locally stranded individuals (LSIs) from Metro Manila to several towns in the Bicol region, as part of the government’s Hatid Probinsiya program. Depending on where you are in the political spectrum, this piece of news may be perceived as either good or bad.

    Good because it means long-haul and large-capacity public transportation, which has always been in the plans of the Department of Transportation (DOTr), has not been abandoned even in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the standstill of all construction work for several weeks under the enhanced community quarantine. This means the economy will be helped in its recovery by reliable trains that carry more passengers than the usual buses, and at long distances.

    The bad side in this development is that the movement of people is at once enhanced, at a time when the nation is suffering from record number of infections that sometimes reach as high as 1,200 daily. Our worst dreams are now seeing the light of day. For instance, the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) which is our prime hospital for COVID-19 patients has reported that it has been running out of beds to accommodate the number of patients checking in.

    It is well to note that the government has tapped the existing train system, using six sleeper and electric multiple-unit coaches, for the special trips to the Bicol region. On board were more than 300 people who had been stranded in the National Capital Region (NCR) in mid-March when the government suddenly declared a lockdown and even tried to downplay it with the euphemism “enhanced community quarantine” or ECQ.

    The PNR trains’ travel to Bicol is also some sort of an inspection trip to confirm that the railroad tracks have not been taken over by residents and encroachers, for Filipinos have this knack for putting PNR property in good use for their own personal interest. Luckily, the train reached the PNR stations in Ragay, Libmanan, Naga City, Iriga City, and Ligao City, and the passengers were picked up by officials and personnel of local government units from Camarines Sur and Albay, for the mandatory quarantine and tests.

    This positive development shows its downside at this point, because the towns and cities in Bicol, especially those which have no COVID-19 breakouts year, necessarily would not want to increase their population with “untested” and “suspected” residents, even if they are native to the place.

    There is nothing like complete rapid tests for the coronavirus for the LSIs before they board the trains in Manila for the long travel to Bicol. These safety and health protocols are for everybody and nobody should be exempted from undergoing it.

    In the meantime, the PNR, the DOTr and Secretary Arthur Tugade should be lauded for conducting this dry-run of the train trip to Bicol, which they conducted even as the rehabilitation of the tracks continued despite the delays in the delivery of trains parts due to supply chain disruptions and the strict restrictions on movement of people, employees and workers, during the past weeks.

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