A "Must" Reading for Regional and Urban Planners and Railroad Enthusiasts Alike

Leonardo Q. Liongson


Book Review
The Colonial Iron Horse: Railroads and Regional Development in the Philippines, 1875-1935. Aturo G. Corpuz. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press (1999). 274 pp.

by Leonardo Q. Liongson

A railroad enthusiast's opening

The lore of railroad travel is one form of enjoyment experienced by very few Filipinos of the post-World War II (WWII) generation. In the Philippines, motor vehicles and paved highways have superseded the pre-war suburban and provincial railway systems. The renaissance of the light-rail versions for urban commuting in Metro Manila-the LRTs and MRTs-is a belated development of the last 15 years.

Railroad enthusiasts could easily enumerate the civilized conveniences of rail-based travel: being free to choose and being able while passing the long hours aboard a train to sit, read, converse, sleep, stand, stretch, stroll, eat, socialize, or visit the lavatory, which nowadays are actions mostly permissible only inside airplanes and ships. The relative safety (and survivability in case of crashes and detailments) of conventional trains compared to flying and floating crafts adds to its attraction. A train, with exclusive right-of-way, ordinarily stops only at stations, unlike other land vehicles which have to stop and wait at crossings and intersections. Senior citizens can transfer without much effort from the elevated station platforms to same-level train landings or "estrebos" without the risk of falling and breaking their brittle bones. The ergonomics are unbeatable. The romance of horns, soot, steam, and click-clack locomotion has been the subject of literature and movies.

On the basis alone of providing a smooth ride to masses of people, one can extol the virtues of this invention of the Industrial Age, but as Arturo G. Corpuz has ably demonstrated in his book "The Colonial Iron Horse: Railroads and Regional Development in the Philippines," the railroad is much more than that. It is also an engine of regional growth and development. In the concluding chapter, the author states that "The railroads of Luzon benefitted many of the settlements along its route by significantly improving their regional linkages and thus providing local economies more opportunities to respond to a larger market."

The metaphor "iron horse" suggests the early days of railways, when in early 19th century racing contests the iron-clad steam locomotives started to outrun horse-drawn coaches and wagons. The period 1875-1935 is significant to the Luzon railroad. "In 1875, King Alfonso of Spain ordered the Office of the Inspector of Public Works in the Philippines to submit a railroad plan for the island of Luzon...." In 1935, the Philippine Commonwealth was inaugurated, ushering in the last period of major railway expansion prior to WWII. The period covered by the book is the first half-century of the Philippine railroad.

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