Philippines first hybrid electric train on track for commercial service

08, May. 2019

The first Philippine-made hybrid electric train begins free public runs as part of a validation test. The Philippine National Railways aims to start regular commercial services in July.
The first Philippine-made hybrid electric train begins free public runs as part of a validation test. The Philippine National Railways aims to start regular commercial services in July.

By Darlene Basingan

MANILA, NNA – The Philippines’ first domestically produced hybrid electric train is set for the launch of commercial service as early as July as part of a plan by the state-owned Philippine National Railways, the country’s oldest rail line, to boost its capacity.

Engineers from the Department of Science and Technology developed the hybrid electric train (HET), which is powered by both diesel and battery. It is the first time the Philippines, known for its inefficient transportation infrastructure, has developed such a mass transport vehicle.

The 120 million pesos ($2.3 million) HET began test runs on Monday, in which passengers can ride free of charge, as part of a 19-day, or 150-hour, validation procedure before the PNR decides whether to approve it for commercial operations. If approved, the ministry will turn over the train to the PNR in July.

The PNR is “quite confident” that the HET can clear this final test stage, since there were no major problems in the first stage, Joseline Geronimo, manager of the PNR’S operations department, told NNA in a phone interview.

The PNR, which runs across parts of Metro Manila and the province of Laguna, has 14 trains, but five of those are not running as they are undergoing maintenance.

Geronimo said the PNR needs more trains to carry a potential 240,000 passengers daily. “As of now, we can only accommodate up to 45,000 passengers due to our limited train services,” she said.

The new HET can accommodate up to 880 passengers. It is equipped with security cameras, automatic stop safety features, and televisions in each coach.

“If it can make eight trips a day, then it would mean around 6,000 to 7,000 additional passengers that we can serve,” Geronimo said.

Unlike the other PNR rolling stock, the windows of the HET’s cars are made of polycarbonate that can withstand the impact of trash thrown at the trains, a long-time problem for the operator. Residents of illegal shanty towns along the PNR line throw bottles, other trash, and even rocks, at passing trains, according to news reports.

“This hybrid train is better than the old PNR coaches because it is cleaner and has good air-conditioning,” said Risa Bertune, a regular passenger on the PNR.

The HET has been in development since 2013, said Pablo Acuin, the engineer leading the team behind the technology at DOST’s Metals Industry Research and Development Center.

Up to now, the Philippines has procured used trains from Japan, Indonesia and other countries for the PNR. By domestically producing hybrid trains, it is hoping to develop the country’s first rail industry. The cost of making hybrid trains domestically is lower than the cost of procuring them from abroad, Acuin said.

“Because we have the capability, we just need the opportunity… like someone who will invest, and the demand to manufacture more trains,” he said.