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This February 2011 photo shows a Philippine National Railways (PNR) train stopping at a station. (Philippinerailways)

PNR needs better management

WHERE I STANDIn our column last March 30, we wrote that the Philippine National Railways (PNR) appears to be on the road to perdition due to the public railway’s low standards of safety in securing the protection of its passengers.

Just last week, this dire warning came to pass. A southbound train derailed from the tracks near the Magallanes Skyway exit and almost tumbled on its side. Latest media reports say around 70 people were hurt in the mishap.

A PNR spokesman tried to downplay the impact of the incident, saying commuters only had minor bruises, but it is clear that those who were taken to the hospital were traumatized by the harrowing experience, with the blood pressure of some reportedly shooting up.

Preliminary investigations on the cause of the accident revealed that vandalism of state-owned tracks was the reason for the derailment. PNR engineers deployed to the site reported missing railway parts such as angle bars, rail clips, rail joints and about two meters of the track itself.

What baffles us is why PNR authorities failed to spot these abnormalities on the railroad tracks beforehand. Are there not enough security personnel on the ground to prevent critical railway parts from being cannibalized by petty thieves? This is a big embarrassment to the PNR.

This is what we have been saying in this column. The PNR clearly needs better management. In the first place, there should have been enough precautionary measures involving regular inspection of railway facilities to ensure that the trains and railroad tracks are safe for passengers.

Last Wednesday’s grim incident was an accident waiting to happen. And incidents such as these keep happening, again and again.

A few months ago, a Filipino OFW here on vacation from Taiwan was killed when she was hit by a train in Makati. To date, the victim’s family has not received any financial help from the PNR. I wonder how many of these grieving families receive this kind of shabby treatment from the railway company.

These ordinary people are ill-equipped to debate with PNR authorities with regard to legal matters, like right of way. They do not have the lawyers or the means to argue their case when all they need is financial help to tide them over due to the sudden demise of a family breadwinner.

More often than not, it is the victim who is hit by the train, or the passenger who is bruised black and blue, who suffers the burden, when there are important underlying issues like lack of safety precautions that need to be considered.

Just recently, PNR General Manager Joseph Allan Dilay was able to secure a P2.3-billion budget for rehabilitation projects.

Despite this unprecedented inflow of public funds, however, we have yet to see an improvement in the PNR’s services. Are we going to wait for another major accident involving fatalities before GM Dilay leaves his air-conditioned office to see for himself the difficulties daily commuters?

There are talks that the billions of pesos allocated to the PNR by this year have attracted the attention of unsavory contractors and suppliers intent on cornering the bulk of the projects. Worse, our sources say they are being spearheaded by a very close relative of a high PNR official.

Our PNR sources have identified the relative as “Madam.” She is said to have a very strong personality. “Madam” is also a consultant and supplier of PNR’s mother agency, the DOTC. She has allegedly been operating from the time of the LRT-1 extension project being proposed by a Canadian firm.

While PNR’s commuters suffer from the sweltering heat in packed coaches, PNR trains get derailed and scores of passengers are hurt, and families of victims that get hit by PNR trains get the run-around, GM Dilay appears blissfully relaxed in his office.

Where is the sense of urgency? Or should we wait for “Madam” to wield her power to the throne?

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