The surviving train stations of what used to operate as the Manila – Dagupan line as far back as the Spanish colonial period, make good subjects for photography and travel. But what stories of the past do these old train stations tell? Or maybe, the more important question is, what future is in store for these once useful and now lonely structures?
The Philippine National Railways or PNR used to operate the Ferrocaril Manila – Dagupan line (I just love the sound of Spanish. Sounds elite to me. Hehe), which passes through my home province, Bulacan. I was only a one-digit-older when the Ferrocarril de Manila-Dagupan segment operating in Bulacan ceased operations. In spite of that, I could still recall the train’s hoot hoot sound while it passes near our village.
It is the first ever railway built in the Philippines and it once transported goods and passengers from north to Manila and vice versa. There used to be seven stations within Bulacan province. Only 5 remain at this time. Most are abandoned, some in ruins.
Let me now walk you through of what remains of the old train stations.
The Meycauayan station served as the first station in Bulacan coming from Manila. It’s currently the only railway station in Bulacan with a second floor. I’m not sure though whether this is also true at the time the railway system was still in operation.
As you can see, the structure cries for rehabilitation. The second floor once served as a dwelling for the station masters and some locals, as well. The area around the PNR right of way had been cleared of informal settlers about 10 years ago to give way to the supposed revival of the railway system. More on this later.
Balagtas (formerly Bigaa) Station
Unlike the Meycauyan station which runs parallel and is near the main road (McArthur Highway), the Balagtas station is a bit hidden from the main thoroughfare. I would have wanted to take a quick look inside the facility, which is now dumped with various scraps, as I can see from a distance. However, as I stepped near the doorway, I didn’t notice a dog was guarding inside. He started to bark really loud and instantly had me backing out.
An elder living near the station told us that the place used to be alive with food sellers and commuters.
This station, I guess, is the most popular among the old stations. It lies next to a market and an industrial facility. We went there before sunset and the vicinity is busy with children playing, vendors, cyclers, locals walking home from school/work and by-standers.
I would say the station is the most photographed of them all maybe because of its state in ruins – one side of the wall is gone and shrubs are now growing at the top of its walls. Well, that makes it look very ancient.
This station presently functions as a PNR office, which explains its restored state. As such, you need to enter their gate to see the station. This is the nearest station from where I live.
Unfortunately, I did not have a good picture of the Calumpit station except for the photos below. The area around the station is now used as parking lot for commuter vans and as “tambayan” (hang-out).
The alley on one side of the Calumpit station serves as a spot for playing cards.
What will happen to these old train stations?
Sometime in 2007, rebuilding of the railway utilizing the same right of way began through what was known as the Northrail project. Seeing a number of viaduct columns rise at the beginning of the construction spurred excitement especially to Bulakeños only to find out later that the project will turn to a halt. The reason is an anomalous contract between the government and the Chinese contractor. In other words, “paasa lang pala” (they only gave us false hope). Even worse is that the Philippine government already paid out the loans dispensed for this project without any results. Okay, because this is a travel blog, I’ll stop at that.
If you’re a Bulakeño, don’t put off your hopes just yet because revitalization of the same railway line is now underway. This time, implementation is through cooperation with the Japanese government. Phase I, which involves the Malolos to Tutuban,Manila segment is currently in the detailed engineering design stage. Phase II, on the other hand, will connect Malolos to Clark Airport in Pampanga.
So what will happen with the existing Spanish-built old train stations? I was opportunely part of the local study team that conducted the environmental impact assessment for the Phase I project. Apart from environmental considerations, the potential loss of these historical structures was also considered in the study. I am optimistic that our recommendation to retain/restore or to integrate the old station structures into the new infrastructure will be taken positively.
I am all for using an efficient mass transport system in response to the seemingly hopeless traffic situation in Metro Manila. Apart from speed and convenience, trains are also environment-friendly alternative mode of transport. Lastly, the historical value of the standing train stations deserves preservation.