Manila to Legazpi City in 4.5 Hours? The PNR Bicol Could Make It Reality

The "Bicol Express" train line is finally making a comeback.

PNR trains, for illustrative purposes only.
PHOTO BY DOTr Facebook page

(SPOT.ph) The PNR San Pablo-Lucena line reopened on June 25—almost 10 years after it shut down. The Philippine National Railways once transversed many points in Luzon, stretching all the way from La Union to Albay, and this recent reopening is a hopeful step towards bringing back its old glory. One train line we're sure you're hoping will make a comeback is the PNR Bicol; well, here's the good news: The San Pablo-Lucena line is part of the steps toward a massive project that will bring back the old "Bicol Express."

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The Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Long Haul Project, a.k.a. PNR Bicol

"The PNR San Pablo-Lucena line is vital in restoring the PNR Bicol or 'Bicol Express,' which connects Metro Manila to Southern Luzon provinces, including Laguna, Quezon, Camarines Sur, and Sorsogon," said the Department of Transportation in a Facebook post on June 24. The reopened line stretches 44 kilometers between San Pablo in Laguna and Lucena in Quezon, cutting travel time down to 30 minutes from around one hour.

This reopening is part of the PNR South Long Haul Project, a.k.a. Bicol Express or PNR Bicol, a massive project that aims to deliver 560 kilometers worth of train lines. 

The Department of Transportation (DOTr) inked a P142-billion deal with a Joint Venture of China Railway Group Ltd., China Railway No. 3 Engineering Group Co., Ltd., and China Railway Engineering Consulting Group Co., Ltd. in January. This will create the first stage of PNR Bicol: a 380-kilometer train line connecting Banlic, Calamba to Daraga, Albay. The multi-billion pricetag is one of the DOTr's costliest contracts for a single as of writing. 

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The first phase will span 39 cities and municipalities, four provinces, and two regions. A total of 23 stations, 230 bridges, 10 passenger tunnels, and a 70-hectare depot in San Pablo, Laguna are all part of the construction plans, said the DOTr. Works ideally started in the first quarter of 2022, slated to be completed in 2024, and with operations to start during the third quarter of 2025. 

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Contract packages for the rest of the project's phases and needs are scheduled to be completed between 2024 and 2026. The final deadline for the PNR Bicol's complete comeback? 2027, according to the DOTr and PNR as of January

In total, the PNR Bicol will span a total of 560 kilometers, stretching from Manila to Albay via Laguna, Quezon, and Camarines Sur. There are also plans for an extension line in Sorsogon and a branch line in Batangas.

Passenger trains could go somewhere between 120 to 160 kilometers per hour while freight trains are set at around 80 to 100 kilometers per hour. This sets travel time at a very optimistic six hours, or even just four hours and a half for the express trains; a massive drop from the typical 14 to 18 hours it usually takes to go south. Expected travel time is according to the DOTr.

Also read: A Look at The New Train Lines in the Works for Metro Manila

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This massive project is happening alongside the North South Commuter Railway, another train line partly using the old PNR tracks. It is slated to span around 150 kilometers between New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac, and Calamba, Laguna. The route will have 37 stations—some old, some new—across 26 local government units in three different regions.

There is also the planned Luzon Spine Network of roads that aims to cut down travel time from Ilocos to Bicol to just nine hours.

Also read: Ilocos to Bicol in 9 Hours? The Luzon Spine Expressway Network Could Make It Happen

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