The first railway in the Philippines opened in 1892 from the capital, Manila, to Dagupan in the north of the island of Luzon. It was 195km in length, and built to 3ft 6in (1067mm) gauge. The line was later extended northwards to San Fernando, and southwards to Legazpi, reaching the latter in 1938. Various branch lines were also constructed.
A number of narrow gauge railways were constructed for the transport of sugar cane. These are known to have existed on the islands of Luzon, Cebu, Negros and Panay, and may have existed on other islands. All had ceased operation by the end of the 20th century.
At its maximum extent the main line network encompassed over 1100km of route. Gradual decline meant that by 2006 only the 480km southern main line from Manila to Legazpi remained; in that year the line was badly damaged by two successive typhoons, resulting in closure. Rehabilitation and reopening is planned, but progress is slow.
In 2009, a provisional service was reinstated between the southern city of Legazpi and Tagkawayan. Operation was erratic for a number of years and frequently changed. a regular service, known as Bicol Commuter, now operates between Legazpi and Sipocot.
In 2014, a commuter service began operating between Manila and Alabang, extended to Calamba in 2018, and to IRRI (the International Rice Research Institute) in 2019. The line is planned for upgrade and reconstruction from 2022, to be incorporated into the North-South Commuter Railway.
Construction of the first stage of the North-South Commuter Railway, between Manila and Malolos, began in 2019, essentially a new construction on the line of the previously existing railway. Completion is expected in late 2022. Construction of the second stage, from Malolos to Clark and Clark International Airport, began in 2022.
A regular service between San Pablo and Lucena, known as the Inter-Provincial Commuter, began around 2021.
Manila has a light rail metro, the first line of which opened in 1984. An underground heavy rail metro is under construction.
A 1500km rail network is proposed for the island of Mindanao. The first section is planned to be a 102km line between Tagum City and Digos City. Implementation has suffered repeated delays, and work on the ground had not commenced by mid-2022, despite announcements that a portion of the line between Panabo and Carmen would be operational by the end of the year and the whole line by 2024.
© 2005-2022 Glyn Williams
Picture from a publicity image provided by Philippine National Railways