The revived Bicol Express Train
The revived Bicol Express Train

I hear the heavy clacking sound of the engines as it starts and the loud honk of the train signalling any living beings to move away from its path. There’s a low grumbling noise under my feet as if something just woke up from a long time slumber. Yes, the Philippine National Railways has revived the Bicol Express and just last night, it started its first commercial run in years. Like a dragon that just woke up, the train howled as it cuts through urban Manila as it heads to Naga City in Bicol.

Old and New PNR Trains
Old and New PNR Trains

A gnawing scenery of slums, dilapidated houses and portraits of poverty parade through the windows as the train makes its way out of Manila and some areas of the provinces we passed through. Perhaps one of the reasons it took some time to revive the Bicol Express Line was the sorry state of the surrounding areas of the rail tracks where people would salvage metals and communities living on the tracks are throwing rocks ( I counted 3 while I was awake) to show how unwelcome the train was. But despite this challenge, I must commend the PNR to have finally revived the line even if it took them quite a while.

The Sleeper Coach Hallway
The Sleeper Coach Hallway

Currently, the Bicol Express is still at its “soft-opening” stage. The staffs at the ticket counter are still grasping the booking system, the guards at the carts still have no idea which cart number or a certain berth area is. That’s understandable since it’s new and there are only a few coaches available. There are 60 reclining and rotating chairs at the last cart and 30 berths on the other 4 carts. PNR is expecting more coaches to be delivered from Japan when it goes full blast by September.

The sleeper is divided in four comfortable berths
The sleeper is divided in four comfortable berths

I stayed at the sleeper area and I found the berths large, soft and comfortable. Better than the ones I tried in Vietnam going to Sapa. Currently there are no pillows or blankets available so it’s advisable to bring them since the airconditioning really gets cool up to a freezing point in the early morning.

Curtains can be closed and each has a personal lamp
Curtains can be closed and each has a personal lamp

The reclining seats area also has very spacious reclining/rotating chairs. I tried them and I found them very comfortable with spacious seats for on an economical price. This definitely tops the hard seat from my 16 hour train ride in China, the cheapest option they have. The restroom and wash area, being new is quite clean at this time. A little cramped but that’s something I would expect on a train.

The wide spaced and comfotable reclining seats
The wide spaced and comfotable reclining seats

There is no food and dining carts yet so bring enough food to go by the night, but hot water is available and there are no stops to buy food along the way. Eventually a dining coach would be added once its operation is full blast.

The reclining Seats Coach with entertainment screens
The reclining Seats Coach with entertainment screens

Being the first commercial run and even having done a few test runs prior to this, unexpected things can still happen. On our way to Sipucot, Camarines Sur, we were stopped halfway from Lupi by the locals at Malaguico to warn us of the condition of a rail track. Heavy rains the other night softened the soil and ground causing the tracks to be misaligned. Good thing we were warned as passing through would have been disastrous.

Clean Restroom and wash area
Clean Restroom and wash area

It would took a while to fix the tracks so some of the passengers opted to take the rail skates to Sipucot while the others like me waited for the PNR Commuter Train from Naga which they contacted. I reached Naga fine and enjoyed the sights we passed by. I think if I’ll take the train again, I’d rather take the day schedule so I could enjoy the scenery. According to reports, the Bicol Express train reached Naga before noon.

Train tracks trouble at Maligaco
Train tracks trouble at Malaguico

I like taking the train, as to quote Paul Theroux on his book Ghost Train to the Eastern Star “…probably the best way of getting a glimpse of how people actually live – the back yards, the barns, the hovels, the side roads and slums, the telling facts of village life, the misery that planes flyover. Yes, the train takes more time, and many trains are dirty, but so what? Delay and dirt are the realities of the most rewarding travel”

Locals uses the rail skates to travel to school and work
Locals uses the rail skates to travel to school and work

There are still areas need to fix, tracks to rehabilitate, but as of the moment, I’m just glad the PNR resumed their operations to Bicol and is on the right direction on strengthening our transportation infrastructure which the country badly needs.

This boy ready to go to school via the rail skates
This boy ready to go to school via the rail skates

Bicol Express Train Schedules:
Manila to Naga leaves Tutuban Station by 6:15pm arriving tentatively by 4:15am. Currently there is only 1 trip leaving for Bicol. Pick-up points would be Tutuban, Pasay Road and Alabang

Naga to Manila leaves Naga Station at 7:15pm arriving 5:15am the next day.
(Update July 1) Currently The Naga and Manila schedules operate on alternating days. They expect daily trips on both ends by July 15, 2011. The engineers already worked on the section at Sipucot.

The PNR Bicol Commuter Train comes to the rescue
The PNR Bicol Commuter Train comes to the rescue

Train Fares:
The Sleeper Berth cost P950
The Reclining Seats cost P548
*Update: PNR Operations to Bicol just resumed last Sept 5, 2011

For more information and seat reservation please call PNR Operations:
Tel: 319-0041 local 122

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Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.

106 Responses to “In Transit: Manila to Naga via the Revived PNR Bicol Express Connection”

  1. You got to ride its maiden voyage. Awesome!
    Being half-Bicolana, i’m happy that they resumed the trains’ operation. I hope everything goes well from hereon out. I remember riding the old PNR when I was younger when we’d have to go home on a quick notice coz plane tickets were very much expensive then and though buses were cheaper, they weren’t as cheap as the trains. 🙂

  2. Jun of Pio del Pilar, Makati

    I am so excited to take the train again to Bicol. My last ride on the train was way back in 1969 when my father took me to a vacation in his hometown of Casiguran in Sorsogon. Though I sat on a big can of mixed biscuits from Pio del Pilar station all the way to Legazpi city, I enjoyed the trip (way back then, the Bicol train coaches were always fully occupied by travellers) . There were many scenic spots I saw and the sunrise by the sea in one of the towns in Quezon was really amazing. Now that the train is back, it is my turn to take my son for a train ride to Bicol and head to Legazpi City.

  3. Riding the Bicol Express is something I’ll look forward when I visit Pinas. I hope the authorities can find a way to deter those rock throwers! Is this a cheap thrill for them or an expression of anger at the PNR, the passengers or something?

  4. edwin

    i want to correct you, the place where the train stops due to the erode part of the tracks is malaguico, sipocot, camarines sur not maligaco…i was there in the bct…

  5. Thanks for sharing this post sir!.. I was looking for an updated info about the train scheds and routes to Bicol but found incorrect ones. 🙂 Luckily I found this shared on my FB wall and it showed me a glimpse of the new PNR train.. especially how the seats and restrooms Looking forward to a trip to Sipocot or Naga by next weekend!.. 🙂 This looks promising! 🙂

  6. pinoydad

    Thanks for the share. Nice photos too. Would you by any chance know if the second trip (last night) made it on time to Naga? Were there no more hitches? My friend is scheduled to go to Naga on Sunday, I told her to try the train instead, that would be fun – she will be travelling with a little boy in tow. Thanks again

  7. Airnel

    Well written article. I am sure you experience as well the culture among train passengers that you will not find to bus riders. I’ve been riding the Bicol express since 2005 until its stoppage in 2006. I’ve joined the prior test runs as well. Riding trains is more practical and really mass oriented since this is the primary transportation among developed countries. Especially we are the one of the first Asia to have a railway system. Since 1892. 🙂

  8. Hi Ferdz, great pics! Nakaka-enganyo tuloy magplano ng last-minute out-of-town joyride, hahaha 🙂 for the sleeping berths, one section can hold up to 4 pax ba? Parang I noticed there are beds on top. Also, for the Pasay pick-up point, what time does it pass that area, and do riders pay the same full fare?


    • Hi Rezy! Yup, it’s up and down. The train leaves tutuban at 6:15pm so expect around 20+ minutes or so for the Pasay Road pickup. Yup, same fare for everyone regardless of pickup points

  9. Thanks for shedding more light on this Ferdz.

    I was already quite thrilled when I heard about the Bicol Express being brought back.
    THen I read about a friend’s boarding it in the final test run this month.

    And your article above is just like cherry on the top of my sundae. Can’t wait to try this out!

  10. It looks nice and clean inside. But the railroad tracks are quite a sight with the people and those makeshift trains. 🙂 I remember my lolo used to take that train. Good they revived it. Hope they develop the Philippines’ railroad system… this will really unclog our highways.

    I just took the fast train here in Russia last weekend. Very modern and classy.

    Interesting post as usual. 🙂

  11. Thank you very much for this. I’m glad that inspite of the hitches during the revival run, you decided to look at it from a positive light. While many people, particularly in the traditional media (De Castro of Ch. 2 and Enriquez of Ch. 7) were just waiting for something wrong to happen and make a big issue of out it, you chose to highlight the bright side. I am a Bicolano and I look forward to really riding the train again which I’m sure will trigger a flood of memories for me. Your article has already done that.

    • Hi Chito! I haven’t seen the TV coverages yet. I wasn’t expecting everything to be perfect for a “Soft Run” so I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I do hope that the PNR would strengthen the rail tracks more to avoid any unnecessary hitches in the future.

  12. This is good news and will definitely makes Bicol trip more exciting. I have lots of friends there and I want to try the trains too.
    Hopefully they could also do something with the squatters living near the tracks. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  13. francis jay

    Hi Fredz, thanks for the info, nakakamissed kasi umuwi ng bicol pag nakasakay ng train, sobrang saya, although cheap ang pamasahe pero sulit din 🙂

  14. The official of the PNR as well as the the DPWH and DOTC should realizes the danger the train will make through accident to human and houses as well as properties near the railways along the way to destinations if , the local governement tried not to mind this situations for the safetiness of their locals who live near the railways .
    Sana naman tigilan nyo na ang papogi lang ang kayang gawin , isipin nyo rin ang kapakanan ng mga buhay ng tao na madadamay sa kapapapogi yo …

    Both national and local government should plan ahead in clearing the railways areas ( both left and right side of the railways for safe travels …
    Governemt project under the implementation of the so called honorable politicians , engineers dept. head and mayors , as well as the governors and congressmaen should count not only the cost of the machines or equipment to be installed but also the safetiness it should be once in operations …
    Thanks ans more power…

  15. great blog about the PNR-Bicol Express! ive just been to Bicol a few days from now and i enjoyed it so much! i would love to return and take another mode of transportation like the Hogwarts Express. ^^>

    keep your blog updated! peeps will use this as their reference.

  16. im so happy ist time ko sumakay…masarap ang byahe sna meron n din s araw pr maganda mkita mu ang mga view habang nagbja2xhe………..mlamig p aircon nila….try nu na…. nxt ko sleppery me..

  17. Just wondering when PNR will run from Manila to Legaspi? I believe they now have trips between Tutuban and as far down south as Ligao. Sana naman before Christmas 2012 pwede nang mag-train papuntang Mayon 🙂

      • Enjoyed looking at your travel photos. Somehow they reminded me of my passion for travel and photography too. Though I’ve never had any formal training, I could tell you got the gift to see real beauty everywhere. Pag nauna ka sa Mayon.. sana ikwento mo agad dito kasali na ang mga pictures. Good luck and have lotsa fun with your journey!

  18. planning to see the famous mayon volcano and would love to take the train going there … il be with friends and my daughter… is there a promo fare this december 26 or 27, 2012? will stay for the whole day fun filled day in mayon volcano … hope i can get a promo price for a barkada trip to see mayon volcano … many thanks … 🙂

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