A Cartographic Search of Cebu's "Lost Railway"

Have you ever imagined what happened to Cebu's "lost railway"?


Back in the old times, trains used to roar on the railways that linked Cebu from as far as Danao in the north to Argao in the south. Smoke belches out and the distinctive noise of the locomotives can be heard from afar as people line up to get a ride while the disembarking passengers bring out their luggage and all sort of boxes and agricultural produce. Nowadays, Cebu no longer has this viable public transport while politicians and transports officials remain in discussion mode trying to bring back a railway network that the island used to have.

So what happened to the railway system?

History

The Philippines is an archipelago with over 7,107 islands and inter-island transport requires an extensive transport system that is efficient to ensure the transfer of goods and services. It took a while before the railway system reached our shores when the Industrial Revolution and the opening of the Suez Canal opened much of the Philippines to world trade.

On June 25, 1875, when King Alfonso XII promulgated a Royal Decree that directed the Office of the Inspector of Public Works to submit a general railroad plan on Luzon. Eventually, the Ferrocarril de Manila-Dagupan was established on June 1, 1887. The British-owned Manila Railway Company started construction in 1891 and started operating a year later.

When the Americans took over, the Philippine Commission granted a concession to the Philippine Railway Corporation to construct railways on the islands of Panay, Negros, and Cebu on May 28, 1907. It was only in 1911 when the Cebu railway line started operating. The freight lines carried agricultural produce from sugarcane to corn with the central depot transporting these to the port of Cebu for domestic and international markets.

By the end of World War II, much of the railroad infrastructure was destroyed. A combination of the Japanese and American bombing campaigns in the early and later part of the war have destroyed key railways and structures. Some parts may have been demolished by the defeated Japanese. After the war, everything was in a state of disrepair so that trains eventually gave way to jeeps and buses.

The Danao City train station was not maintained and eventually ceased to exist. Similar stations have been reused for other purposes with the one in Carcar becoming a restaurant, the Sibonga stop became a library of a public elementary school, and the Argao station became a fire station. The central station may no longer stand but the area where you pass by is where you get to take the bus going south.

Snapshots from the Past

Nowadays, we can only imagine what it was like to have trains running on tracks from north to south. Old steam trains would have been something of a spectacle back then. Having trains today would have made our provincial transport more efficient since trains can run unimpeded than regular bus lines.


Most towns along the way would have been dotted with similar stations like this turn-of-the-century structure.


As Cebu is a mountainous island, there are lots of areas where land is uneven and so the PRC has to build an elevated rail bridge so that the trains can cross this wide depression especially in Sangat, San Fernando.


This train depot allows incoming trains to unload passengers and all the goods they bring while it also gave time for technicians to do the necessary repair and maintenance of each car while replacing it with a new one.


When all passengers alight at the terminal, a lot of horse-drawn carriages (calesas) awaited for them. Take note of the gentlemen all wearing hats with their light long-sleeved shirts and camisas. Train personnel guard the entrance perhaps to check those who have tickets. There is even a guy on top of the car checking everyone below.


Up north, his railroad crossing in Danao ensures caritelas and caruajes can pass by easily when the railroad technicians closed the railway crossing. It ensures smooth travel of all forms of transportation and pedestrians that pass by the North Road.


Down south, passengers and vendors alike await the coming passenger train. Interestingly, there are a couple of boys waiting for someone who needs their help transporting heavy luggage with their hand-drawn cart.

Mapping the Railway

Using the U.S. Navy's 1944 map that showed the extent of the railway and superimposing it on Google Map, we can see where the railway used to be.

Click to Photo to Enlarge

The train terminal, where all the trains from north and south stop, is currently occupied by the South Bus Terminal, a building construction, Elizabeth Mall, and even part of the SSS building. Trains may have been passing by behind the University of San Carlos.


Interestingly, the current location of the Natalio Bacalso Avenue and Gabuya Street is where the railway track passes by and much of Panganiban Street is where the railway that connects the main track to the track that goes to the Carbon Market and the port. Perhaps, freight trains unload their goods as the passenger trains go directly to the terminal.


Meanwhile, Imus Avenue is where the railway track that goes up north into Danao City.


Having a railway network like that would have made transportation from north to south much more efficient while other modes of transport should complement it. When you walk down the street where the railways used to be, you probably can't help but imagine that the trains might be passing by where you're standing.

The Future of Railway in Cebu

Building an efficient mass transport system in Cebu has not got off from the drawing board. Many experts and transport officials have already envisioned what an MRT and LRT system may look like. The future lies in a provincial rail network that was envisioned to connect Carcar City to Danao but it has remained a proposed plan until now. Only time will tell when trains start rolling back again.

Photo Credits:
All historical photos are taken from public sites. All credits to the original owners.

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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: A Cartographic Search of Cebu's "Lost Railway"
A Cartographic Search of Cebu's "Lost Railway"
Have you ever imagined what happened to Cebu's "lost railway"?
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