Passenger train service has been in existence in the Philippines way back to the Spanish Colonial era. However, when the Americans took over from the Spaniards late in the 19th century, they noted that “there was but one steam railroad of any consequence in the Philippine Islands1.” This was the Manila to Dagupan line, operated by a UK registered corporation named the Manila Railway Company, Limited.
A commuter tram service also ran from Manila to Caloocan via Malabon, and this service predated the Dagupan service. In Mindanao, tracks had been laid down for a military railroad, while there were short rail lines in the island of Cebu. These apart, however, train service in the Philippines was remarkably limited.
The work was then cut out for the new American colonial government in its effort to improve transportation service around the country and also to stimulate economic development. As early as 1903, it started soliciting bids for the construction of rail networks around the country, including those within the province of Batangas.
The particulars of the rail network that was desired in Batangas, including branches to Laguna and Tayabas2 were detailed in a 1906 report of the War Department:
”...a line from Manila, or from a point on the Manila to Antipolo line, to Batangas and Bauan, an estimated distance of 73 miles, and for a branch therefrom from Calamba to Santa Cruz, an estimated distance of 22 miles, with the right to extend such branch for a farther distance of about 5 miles for the purpose of extending the line to or building via Magdalena and Pagsanjan, and for a branch from Santo Tomas to Lucena, an estimated distance of 39 miles, with the right to extend the same from Lucena a farther distance of about 8 miles to a point on the coast at which the Government may decide to construct a harbor3.”
By the following decade, construction of the rail network in Batangas was well underway. However, instead of branching out from Santo Tomas to Lucena as was originally proposed, the line would branch out from the town of Malvar, instead. Tracks had been laid down “9 kilometers beyond Lipa” or beyond the town of San Jose and was approaching the town of Batangas.
The subsequent opening of rail service in southern Luzon went beyond what government officials had hoped for, and had “an almost magical effect in stimulating industry and fostering production... particularly in the Provinces of Batangas, La Laguna and Tayabas4.”
However, even before the American colonial government had started soliciting bids for the building of rail networks, it had in fact already embarked on improving the road system that the Spaniards did not really have an appetite for. As early as 1900, the Americans had begun building the Calamba to Batangas road.
What the Spaniards had left behind was a series of rough roads between the towns of Batangas and Calamba; and the Americans intended to build ditches to the sides of these and then laying modern pavement over them. This road would pass through the towns of San Jose, Lipa, Tanauan and Santo Tomas in Batangas and then go on to Calamba in Laguna5.
Although the motorized transport was still in its infancy in 1900, and the road building was being undertaken by the Americans more with horse-draw vehicles in mind, the roads would ultimately also be beneficial to motor vehicles when they eventually become more common.
Motorized transport would, in fact, be the very reason why passenger train service in Batangas would eventually disappear, and even before the outbreak of war in the Pacific in 1941. By 1940, the volume of passengers availing of train service had declined to the point whereby the Manila Railroad Company, which operated the Calamba to Batangas Line, had to cut down on the number of scheduled train runs.
By the 2nd of September 1940, the passenger train service between Batangas and Calamba was suspended as a matter of economic necessity. The reason for the suspension was explained in the annual report of the company’s general manager:
”...the volume of traffic had declined to the point where the losses on operation were to heavy to justify continuance of the service and maintenance of station personnel. For some, the Luzon Bus Line has been operating over the highway between these points, which closely parallel the railroad line, and as mentioned in the report for the previous fiscal year, this service between Batangas and Calamba was also extended to Manila, thereby giving direct bus service between Manila and Batangas via Calamba by units of the Luzon Bus Line. This new service has been well received by the public as the inconvenience of transfers from train to bus or vice-versa at Calamba Junction has been eliminated and passengers are enabled to reach their destinations in shorter time than before6.”
For this same reason, passenger train service between Malvar in Batangas to San Pablo in Laguna would also be suspended by the 1st of April 1941. The railroad tracks, however, would continue to be used for freight service, particularly during the sugarcane harvesting season.
Notes and references:1 “Transportation in the Territory of Hawaii,” by L. E. Pinkham, published 1907 in Honolulu.
2 Tayabas is presently known as the Province of Quezon.
3 “Annual Reports of the War Department for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1906, Volume X, Acts of the Philippine Commission (Nos. 1408-1538, inclusive) and Public Resolutions, Etc. from October 19, 1905 to September 15, 1906,” published 1906 in Washington by the Government Printing Office.
4 “Report of the Governor General,” by William Cameron Forbes, part of the Report of the Philippine Commission for the Fiscal Year ending 30 June 1910, published 1911 in Washington D.C.
5 “Report of Lieutenant W. G. Caples, Corps of Engineers, US Army, Upon the Construction of the Calamba-Batangas Road, Luzon, P.I.,” published 1903 in Washington D.C.
6 “Report of the General Manager for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1941, published 1946 by the Manila Railroad Company.”