How to catch a train in Manila?
Manila saw its first commuter train service in 1984, the LRT, or Light Rail Transit System. There were other trams and trains running through the city before this, on the Philippines National Railways (PNR) track, but that doesn’t count for several reasons. A lot of the track is hemmed in by squatters that stand back as the trains pass through, moving their awnings and stands of goods out of the way then putting them back once the train has passed. Hardly a modern commuter network to rival the New York Subway, London Tube or Paris Metro. But the LRT was a huge leap forward.
It runs on elevated rail tracks above the city streets from Monumento in the north to Baclaran down near where EDSA starts, just off Roxas Boulevard. When it opened it was known as the Yellow Line, but today it is called the Green Line. The New Yellow Line is the MRT-3, the LRT is also called the LRT-1, now that there are other lines. The second of these was the MRT-2, Manila Mass Rail Transit System, when opened in 2004 it was the Purple Line, but now it is the Blue Line. Are you keeping up with me, here, people? The MRT-2 follows EDSA and runs from EDSA station to North Avenue in Quezon City.
The MRT-3 kind of intersects the two, running from the LRT-1 station at Recto to Santolan, cutting the MRT-2 at Araneta Center-Cubao. There are extensions planned and in the works and they may be operating by the time you read this, but for now, we’ll stick with the LRT-1, owned and operated by the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA), the MRT-2, also owned and operated by the LRTA and the MRT-3, owned and operated by the private Metro Rail Transit Corporation, or MRTC. There is also the commuter run operated by the PNR, making three different operators on four different systems, none of which really connect seamlessly. But then, that’s the Philippines for you.
The older LRT stations are a nightmare, have no disabled access to speak of and if you want to change trains and go back the way you came you have to leave the station, walk down to the street, cross the street, climb back up to the other platform and buy another ticket. The MRT-s stations are more modern, better designed and easier to get through. I haven’t ridden the MRT-3, personally, but I will make it a must-do next time I’m in Manila.
There are safety concerns as pickpockets are rife at times. I have watched one pick away at a pocket in front of my eyes. I was sitting and could see a finger picking at a pocket to make it wider right in front of my face. The train was very crowded. I have also caught a pickpocket trying to get my money out of my front jeans pocket on the LRT-1. I grabbed his arm, which was greased up and quickly wriggled free. Another ‘passenger’ stepped in between us to assure me the man wasn’t picking pockets (obviously an accomplice). As the train stopped the thief tried to get off but was grabbed by the shirt by the two other foreigners travelling with me; both my martial arts students and handy lads to have. Then three other ‘passengers’ all started to accuse us of attacking poor Filipinos and I told the guys to let the thief go. He ran, followed by four other ‘passengers’. So be warned, they do operate in gangs. The good news is the trains can save huge amounts of time otherwise spent sitting in traffic sucking diesel fumes, they are cheap and a great way to see the city rooftops, not to mention some sweet Filipina fellow passengers.