The Rails Before Us A homage to the prosperity brought about by iron horses

Shergen Q. Villanueva

Before the short cusp at the eventide and amidst the incurable insomnia of the lustrous

city, you cycled your way through the majestic sights of the long Muelle Loney Bridge, with the

nippy breeze from the river satisfyingly fluttering your hair. As you wait for the change of colors

to pass by the large intersection that overlooks the Iloilo Provincial Capitol, you thought of how

much the city has changed for years amusingly and how distant we seemed from the past we

used to live in.

When the lights turned green, you continued with your mini-journey. After crossing

the second intersection, you noticed the newly-painted mural on one of the exterior walls of a

shipping incorporation near Arsenal Street. You slowly pulled up at the pavements and stared

at it for a while. You observed the smiling faces of the children that dominantly occupied the art

along with the sugar canes at their backs. Your eyes travel through its details, and later on, you

cross the streets to get a full view. You then realize that this is what they call the “smile train,” a

tribute to the railway company that whistled through the towns of Iloilo.

In bygone days, those were trains that subtlety shakes the ground and horns the stations it stops through, the ones that were almost in constant motion to allude a sense of comfort to the residents and the freights, and the far yesterday that can only be seen as alleyway cracks − these are the rails that came before us.


Once, metal horses made the meets end. From the top of the island, all the way down to the mainland, the train interconnected cities through the tumultuous rains and the throes of the heat with its smoke curls that die away whenever it passes each station post.

More than a century ago, in 1907, being the first line outside of Luzon, the construction of the Panay Railways commenced. In 1912, five years after its completion, the inauguration was conducted, and after which the operations for the freights and the passengers also began. The track is initially 117 kilometers long with 19 permanent stations, 10 flag stops, and 46 bridges. The train traversed from the main station and headquarter in Lapaz to Jaro, Pavia, Sta. Barbara, New Lucena, Dingle, Dueñas, then Passi, the end of Iloilo province. It extended to Dumarao, Capiz, which they call the “summit”, Dao, Panit-an, Cuartero and Loctugan in Capiz, and the last point is in Roxas City.

During the 1980s, the lines added 12 more kilometers, passing from Due ñas going to Calinog. The reason for this is to serve the Sugar Refinery of Iloilo with transportation. However, after more than 70 years, the railway ceased operations for passengers in 1985 and freights in 1989.

Since then, the talks for the revival of the railways have been on and about for years. Three main proposals surfaced during these discussions. The first plan was to continue the management back to its original roots. Consequently, the construction of a line near the Iloilo International Airport has also been suggested. The last one, in 2005, was to build the second phase of the tracks in Caticlan, Aklan, which would require the demolition of 44 bridges because of the other exceptions in regards to the historical value of these places. However, the government turned down these referrals because of the high demand in their estimated expenses.

What was then the principal mode of gliding through various towns with different purposes in mind was suspended and left unscratched in our history.


Charging along the meadows and the sights of painted stations, the railway is the carriage of ease for the passengers and the businessmen as they travel to other towns. Just like how the children’s poem goes, “Faster than fairies, faster than witches,” the trains catered to the needs of the people while slipping from site to site in a wink of an eye.

The Panay Railways was one of the primary means of transportation in the 1900s. Its superiority stemmed from the low cost and easy access of the tickets. This reason refined the standard of living of the farmers because of the favorable system of traversing. Moreover, the cheap rates made the demands of the products and the commodities to be affordable. Even with the low price, still, the farmers could utilize and maximize the money for an extensive or various range of items.

“I experienced riding the train with my mother whenever we go to New Lucena. The tickets were really cheap and the train was fast so there was no main problem when we go from town to town. It was airconditioned and the seats were comfortable enough for us. It would be declared full if all the seats were occupied so no passengers were allowed to stand up, which was actually advantageous for us because it would not be crowded,” shared Socorro Jaro, one of the Panay Railways passengers.

Furthermore, through the trains, the vendors could even vary the choices of goods and services. These ideals benefited the populace of Iloilo in a nutritional diet because of a great deal of options on what to consume. The improved health of the residents helped the leaders as it reduced their time to formulate action plans for the welfare of the people.

In the view of services, the railway line opened employment opportunities because the public could mobilize and apply for jobs in other places. When it comes to punctuality, the train was on the side of the employees because of its incredible speeds. Additionally, a bunch of businesses, mainly the eateries, were established at the stations as well. They were able to appease the demands of the people who are waiting for the following rides.

The previous prosperity of our cities was deemed possible by the advent of the trailers that advanced surely and briskly through the residential areas of Iloilo.


As we leap to another generation under the 21st century, the enhancement of vehicles paralleled our age growth. Besides Manila, other regions in the Philippines, like Iloilo, started adapting and depending on the tricycles and the Public Utility Vehicles (PUV), commonly known as jeep or jeepney.

“In today’s time with the COVID situation, maybe it would not be necessary to relive the trains anymore. However, at some point, it will benefit the people because of the cheap ticket. Also, there would be less accidents because it has a specific route by its rails,” added Jaro in an interview with The Augustinian Mirror.

A possibility to decongest the traffic situation in Iloilo City will emerge if the operation persisted until now. That will lead people to be less anxious about commuting to work and school with the reduced hassle. Besides, the affordable cost of the train would be of assistance to the farmers to market their harvest to the city where there are more customers because there is a transportation that will carry them to places with specific stops at the stations.

On the contrary, the maintenance of the trains is expensive, especially with the modernization of mechanical technology. The models would need renovations to match the grounds we are on. Left behind in a vintage memory of the past, the Panay Railways requires a myriad of modifications to complement the era we are in right now.


After carefully examining the art, you left and cycled back to your house. You slowly grasped that you are one of the people who did not have sufficient knowledge about the railways at all. But subsequently, in the sight of the “smile train”, you discerned the value of recognizing the past in order to live up to the conflicts in the present and cast a realistic vision of the future.

“There was a saying that goes like this: ‘Knowing the past we may be able to understand the present, knowing the present, we may be able to project the future’. We need to treasure the glorious past of the Panay Railways [because] that is the grandeur of the Iloilo at that time. We cannot deny that the students nowadays are more inclined in technology rather than knowing the past [so] it is pleasure in the part of the [history] teacher to inculcate on what was really happening during the [past] periods to the students. It’s time for us to know about our local past,” stated Evelyn Grey, a historian and full-pledged professor from West Visayas State University.

The more we dwell on our ways towards the future, the more we become distant from the past, from the 100-year-old stories that define our positions right now. This part of our history will remain untouched if we let it be. We need to instill the importance of this portion of our being, the tread that accompanied the sweats of our ancestors, the success known for more than eight decades – we seek wisdom through these anecdotes and by the knowledge of the rails that came before us, we then comprehend ourselves, the very reason of why we are here, and the once unfathomable ways of living in the present.

We know us by knowing what came before us.

Published: April 25, 2022