Bicol Express … derailed again … by squatter shanties along the track.
By MANLY M UGALDE
LEGAZPI CITY: The launch of the full run of the Philippine National Railway (PNR) commuter train has been derailed because of the resistance of informal settlers to vacate the railroad’s “danger zone” as agreed upon.
The “danger zone” is 3m from both sides of the railroad tracks.
The run was scheduled before the end of this month.
The targeted informal settlers apparently changed their mind to vacate the PNR’s so-called danger zone on time, hoping they would get extra compensation from the PNR.
To prove their defiance of their eventual eviction, some of the settlers built concrete houses.
“We will not pay even a single cent. Force demolition would be resorted to, to give these squatters a lesson,” said a source from the PNR who added that the local government units (LGUs) and barangays are equally to blame for the proliferation of the informal settlers inside PNR property.
At least some 500 identified informal settlers who breached the three-meter danger-zone delineation stretching the 102km long Legazpi City (Albay) and Naga City (CamSur) route have been earlier asked to voluntarily demolish their homes to allow the two-coach commuter train to make its initial full run.
The twice-daily train trips have been set at only P82 against the P180 in buses and vans.
The commuter-train ride will take only two-and-a-half hours plying the Naga—Legazpi route while buses normally take three hours.
There are 50,000 estimated informal settlers occupying railroad tracks from Legazpi to Calamba, Laguna. The first batch of 500 families in the danger zone affecting the Legazpi-Naga route were already asked to vacate, said PNR General Manager Junio “Jun” Ragragio.
He said as the first regular commuter trip was nearing the schedule, only a few of the squatters had vacated their place.
PNR officials had warned that the launch of the train would not push through unless the danger zone was fully cleared from any obstruction.
The PNR is now considering the forced demolition as the only option against the 500 informal settlers.
Local PNR official Constancio Toledano said the railroad will send an official notice to the families involved to leave within three months.
Toledano said that due to the refusal of the informal settlers to leave, the start of the operation of the local train service may take time.
He said the PNR would not pay them even if they voluntary vacate.
The Bicol Express commuter train had its test run starting late February and served as a warning for the affected settlers to vacate their place for the scheduled first regular run before the end of March.
During the test run, the PNR commuter train took almost six hours to penetrate the 102km Legazpi-Naga route because of the many obstructions affecting the danger zone.
The PNR test run was bombarded with protests from railroad residents in Legazpi and nearby Daraga town who complained the train was more a danger than a necessity, citing past accidents.
The PNR Bicol Express operation had been suspended for six years after Typhoon Reming devastated the area in November 2006.
It resumed last October, only to be suspended again after a week following damage to the railroad tracks and bridges in Quezon province due to another typhoon. – Business Mirror