"It is safe and reliable and even comparable to imported ones."
Fast and furious it won’t be in all likelihood when it hits the tracks this first quarter, but at the minimum, it will be able to bring you from Point A to Point B with minimum hassle.
That’s the good news for harassed daily commuters already fed up with horrible Metro Manila traffic.
We’re referring to the Hybrid Electric Train or HET, the first Filipino-built train developed by the Department of Science and Technology. The trains will be air-conditioned, with space for 880 passengers. They will run on technology behind Toyota’s Prius hybrid cars.
The Hybrid Electric Train took five years to be developed by DOST engineers, then had to undergo rigorous testing before they can be deployed on Philippine National Railway (PNR) tracks stretching from Metro Manila to Calamba, Laguna.
The DOST claims that the trains are safe and reliable and even comparable to imported ones.
At present, there are only to six to seven of the PNR’s 11 train sets working on any given day, with five others undergoing maintenance. Ideally, the PNR should have 15 trains.
We’re told that the PNR has ordered seven new train sets from Indonesia but these will not arrive until the middle of this year.
The DOST-built trains could be in service by March. They cost P120 million to develop, compared to the $47.4 million or P2.37 billion cost of the Indonesian-made locomotives.
The hybrid electric train was conceived in 2012, at a time when the DOST was helping PNR retrofit its fleet of locomotives. The DOST engineers decided to develop a new train instead of retrofitting the old trains.
In 2013, the engineering team came up with a design for a hybrid electrical train featuring a diesel-powered generator, an electric motor, a bank of electrical batteries, and regenerative braking technology. Similar to Toyota’s Prius, the Filipino-built train taps kinetic energy normally lost when the train slows down or stops, and converts it to electricity which is then stored in 260 lead-acid batteries. The stored energy can then be tapped to propel the HET as well as power its automatic doors, air-conditioning and onboard CCTV security system. This is considered more energy-efficient and environment-friendly.
After coming up with the design, the DOST tapped a local firm, Fil-Asia Automotive and Industries Corp, a manufacturer of bus bodies and special trucks, to fabricate the train coaches. The engine, motor, and bogie—the train’s chassis, axle and wheels—were, however, sourced from abroad. Mass production is expected to bring the cost down and could even lead to the emergence of a train-building industry that could provide more jobs for our growing labor force. And why not?
But let me put all this in context. Japan built its first bullet trains way back in 1964, or 55 years ago, or less than two decades after its defeat in World War II. China was able to build an efficient and highly advanced railroad system in just ten years, if I’m not mistaken. And we’re just starting to build our own trains only now.
Aid from Japan
At any rate, another piece of good news we’d like to highlight is increased assistance from Japan for various development projects, including those in Mindanao.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Japan Foreign Minister Taro Kono recently signed the exchange of notes for the Road Network Development Project in Conflict-Affected Areas in Mindanao (RNDP) in Davao City. The $202-million road network project in southern Philippines is one of many being funded by the Japanese government through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Apart from the road development project, JICA will also assist in the vocational training of former combatants, as well as in capacity building in Mindanao.
In 2017, Japan offered a one-trillion-yen (approximately P433 billion) aid package for the Philippines in the next five years to boost infrastructure development.
The Japanese government is funding the Metro Manila subway project which is scheduled to be partially completed by 2022, the last year of the Duterte administration.
The Japanese company which was awarded the P356-billion Metro Manila Subway Project submitted its proposal to the Department of Transportation last December 2018, but this has yet to be signed. The subway project is expected to start in the first quarter of this year and will be fully completed by the third quarter of 2025.
Other Japan-funded projects in the pipeline include social safety nets to promote inclusive growth, social infrastructure, healthcare promotion, and the rehabilitation of former drug users.
Japan has long been one of our major development partners, apart from the Western European countries and the United States. We’re glad that our bilateral ties with Japan have remained strong since the 1970s up to the present. We need all the assistance we can get from Japan, China, the European Union and the US so we can sustain our development momentum in the years ahead.