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It takes faith to get on a PNR train

/ 05:09 AM February 05, 2019
It takes faith to get on a PNR train

ILLUSTRATION BY STEPH BRAVO

It’s masochistic, choosing to ride the Philippine National Railways (PNR). You have to be in the station 30 minutes before the trip, the safest time if you want to get in the station. You put pressure on yourself because missing one trip means waiting another 30 minutes or an hour. The longer you wait, the more you risk tardiness.

On the way to the PNR station, you hope the gates are still open for the trip. Sometimes, for some reason, only 50 people or less can get in, and the rest have to wait it out or find another route.

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Another route, in my case, means getting on a jeepney, then LRT-1, MRT-3, and a 500-m sprint to the office. That’s an hour or more, two times longer than a smooth PNR trip.

While waiting for the train, you psych yourself up for the balyahan that comes with a field of would-be passengers, mostly macho, and truly, truly determined.

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Not everyone will fit, especially during rush hour. People literally get pushed out. Everyone just needs to be somewhere else, fast.

Run over

Once you’re in and ready for the journey, though, you’re not sure there will be a trip to begin with, that the trip would be on schedule, or that it would be a smooth ride.

You just wouldn’t know if PNR management has canceled the upcoming trip or if someone got run over by a train somewhere, or, as what happened weeks ago, a kidnapping happened in the next station.

One of the more common and less newsworthy scenarios is the train just stopping for something like 10 minutes. Management tells you, over the radio, why it happened, just five minutes in—or they don’t, because they can do that.

The trip got really suspenseful for me one time. Our train jumped off the tracks, apparently because it ran over a rock (this is purely speculation among passengers, no one from PNR advised). I ended up with a thick layer of dust on me and particles of another man’s puke on my slacks and leather shoes.

I was processing the near-death experience and composing a Facebook status to the sound of men and women crying.

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What ensued after those two minutes of being tossed around and hanging on to whatever looked like God’s saving presence (actually, the protocol every time any incident happens) was hell. We had two choices. One, wait for the emergency train to fetch you after 30-plus minutes. Two, cross to the other side of the damn station, ride the damn train back to the station you came from, get your damn refund.

No, you couldn’t get the refund in Paco, you had to go back to España. I chose option one, swearing to never ride the PNR again. The next day, I was back in the España station, hoping for a better trip.

So, yeah, PNR reminds you that the consumer’s right to redress is not perfect, even for state-owned entities. If you complain, you don’t go tagging them on Twitter or sending them a message on Facebook—
you’ll find it easier to take your appeal to God.

Teach the ladies to smile

You say: “God, please tell PNR management to welcome our feedback. In the meantime, please make sure no one throws himself onto an incoming train or leave whatever that could make the train jump off the tracks. Do multiply the new train units, they are wider and better ventilated. And please, teach the ladies at the ticket booth to smile. Amen.”

Faith is a powerful thing for PNR passengers. It is the one thing that prevents us from going loco or punching the person beside us just because we need to put the blame on someone. Because of it, we manage to joke about near-death experiences or laugh at a strangers’ antics.

Faith also makes us humble enough to accept that the hell we might experience on a PNR ride or any of the cheaper alternatives comes with the price.

It’s a mind-set that frankly does the commuter no good but, #realtalk, we generally feel we don’t have the right to expect better when we pay just P15 to go from España to Magallanes.

For those who can afford the costlier options, somehow, such as myself, taking the longer route is so taxing, we end up dead inside the rest of the day.

I can’t afford P500 daily for Grab, and the car definitely won’t maneuver through tight traffic in this labyrinthine metropolis.

Motorcycle-hailing would deal a heavy blow at a low of P120 a trip—oh, and by the way, it is illegal again!

I don’t deserve—uhm, no one deserves—the tedious process of getting into or out of a PNR train, but don’t we sometimes choose the things we don’t deserve, just because they’re what we’ve got?

Only fools wouldn’t dream of better mobility across the metro, more reliable mass-transport systems, more and better road networks, less traffic, etc. etc. We deserve all these.

But life has to go on even as we daydream, we simply have to be on the move.

At least, with PNR, when shit hits the fan, I’m with people like me: people who can’t do anything about it.

Thank God, there are lots of us, right? (I’m getting a tardiness memo this early in 2019, PNR.) —CONTRIBUTED

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