Meet the Pinay Nurse Who Became an LRT-1 Train Operator

She shares what it's like to be a female train operator.

(SPOT.ph) “Noong una, nagulat sila kasi siyempre babae ako, tapos nursing graduate pa, so [tanong nila], ‘bakit train operator? Hindi ka ba natatakot o kinakabahan?” This is how 29-year-old Christine Cunanan’s family reacted when she first told them she was applying to become a train operator at the Light Rail Transit Line 1. Her answer to the latter question? A big fat yes, of course, but she did it anyway.

As of writing, Cunanan has marked a year of driving trains safely from Baclaran to Balintawak and vice versa as one of the Light Rail Transit Line 1's (LRT-1) eight female train operators—and she couldn’t be happier.

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From Nurse to Train Operator

lrt women workers
Christine Cunanan in the driver's seat.
PHOTO Courtesy of the Light Rail Manila Corporation
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Cunanan holds a degree in nursing, a field she admits is a long way from her current career path, she shares in an online conversation with SPOT.ph. For a few years after graduating, she did work in the medical field as a nurse—but her real joy finally came calling. “Madalas ako dati sumakay sa LRT and madalas ko po makita na may mga female train drivers,” she says. “Since hobby ko naman 'yong pag-drive ng mga sasakyan, nagkaroon po ako ng interest na subukang mag-apply sa LRT.”

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She reached out to a male friend who was working as a train operator for the LRT,  found out about an opening, and Cunanan wasted no time in applying. “Naglakas loob lang ako,” she explains. Soon, she found herself in a stringent three-month training program that lasted eight hours a day, Mondays to Fridays. Of the class of 15, it was just her and another classmate who were women.

Sa una talagang nahirapan ako. Siyempre po galing nursing tapos train operator,” Cunanan said with a bit of a laugh. “Sa akin bago lahat.” The shift from being a nurse to a train operator meant that she had to learn an entirely different field. “’Yong training po namin, hindi talaga siya biro. Malaki responsibility namin bilang isang train operator. Ang dami naming passengers, kailangan i-ensure [ang] safety nila.”

Cunanan spent weeks learning how to operate three different kinds of trains on the LRT-1. Everything from the technical to practical, right down to what to do in case of minor faults. “Noong una, medyo gusto kong sumuko,” she says—until two months into training, when they were finally allowed to test-drive the actual trains. It was then that she somewhat ironically found an even stronger drive to continue. “Nang nakapag-drive na ako ng tren, lalo ako na-challenge, [sinabi ko sa sarili ko] na 'kaya ko 'to.’” Needless to say, she was successful.

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What It’s Like to Be One of the LRT Women Workers

lrt women workers
PHOTO Courtesy of the Light Rail Manila Corporation

A mother of a four-year-old girl, Cunanan made sure to choose the middle shift in order to spend time with her family. “Pinili ko ['yong shift time] para maalagaan ko 'yong anak ko sa umaga, maasikaso bago pumasok,” she explains. Her work usually runs from either 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 12 p.m. to 8 p.m, which means she is up by around 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. Mornings are spent taking care of her daughter. Her husband is currently continuing his studies from home so she cooks lunch for the dad-and-daughter duo before leaving for work past 10 a.m.

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lrt women workers
Cunanan inspecting train controls.
PHOTO BY Courtesy of the Light Rail Manila Corporation

After she arrives at her assigned terminal, Cunanan undergoes inspection—including a breathalyzer testalong with all other operators before being allowed on the platform. “Minsan pagpasok ko sa platform tapos makita nilang babae [ako], natutuwa po sila. Minsan ituturo nila sa mga anak nila, mga senior citizen na namamangha,” she shares. “Masarap sa feeling na pinupuri ka or natutuwa sila.

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Each operator’s shift consists of three loops; one round trip can last for around an hour to an hour-and-a-half, which gives them enough breaks in between, explains Cunanan. She shares that now that she’s been driving trains for about a year, she’s actually beginning to find them easier to drive than cars. There are a lot of things to watch out for when you’re on the road with hundreds of other motorists, but trains rule over their tracks; the most important thing to have is a whole lot of “presence of mind,” she adds.

When she gets home in the evening, there’s usually still time left to play with her daughter and enjoy some downtime.

What Comes Next?

Now that Cunanan is a full-fledged operator, her family has become more supportive—especially her father. “Nagkaroon ako ng inspiration sa daddy ko kasi heavy-equipment operator siya. Kaya nung naging operator din ako, very proud po siya sa akin,” said Cunanan, who is the eldest among her siblings. And on the rather sudden career shift: “Ginusto ko talaga maging nurse, kaya lang hobby ko talaga ‘yo’ng pagda-drive, hindi lang po sa tren, pati sa mga sasakyan,” she explained.

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Gusto ko ‘yong nagtra-travel, nalilibang po ako. So talaga pong nag-e-enjoy ako sa trabaho ko ngayon bilang train operator. Kumbaga, nagtatrabaho po ako at the same time nag-e-enjoy,” she said.

lrt women workers
PHOTO Courtesy of the Light Rail Manila Corporation
lrt women workers
PHOTO Courtesy of the Light Rail Manila Corporation
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A train can carry from 500 to 1,000 passengers at a time, said Cunanan. “Sa una po, nakakatakot,” she says, thinking about all the lives you are in charge of while operating the train. “Sa una po kakabahan kayo, 'di ba? Pero kapag nakabisado niyo naman po and nagkaroon na kayo ng confidence na kaya niyo nang gawin 'yon, masarap po sa feeling.”

Seeing a female own it in male-dominated industries like transportation still feels like a bit of a novelty today. As Cunanan herself explains, “Achievement po sa sarili na nada-drive niyo 'yong ganon, na pang-lalaking trabaho tapos kaya niyo din po.” Still, it is women like Cunanan herself that are chipping away at the old notions we used to restrict ourselves to. 

A year on and Cunanan speaks of her job with pride and happiness, but not quite contentment just yet. She shares that her goal now is to become a train supervisor, the head of operators—a feat that, when she accomplishes it, will make her the first woman in the LRT-1’s history to hold that title.

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