Railways in the Philippines

The Philippines: 29.1. - 11.2.2007

No. 7 on the way to the sugar mill, photo: Hans Hufnagel (1985)

The Philippines still has some very nice narrow gauge railways. The once extensive network of sugar cane railways has been reduced step by step and now most of the sugar mills have stopped using railway transport completely. Before the last tracks will have been lifted we want to visit three of the railways in detail. On two lines it is still possible to bring the beautiful steam locomotives back to live. We'll charter these more than 80 years old veterans.

On the main island, Luzon, a giant project for restoration of the Philippine National Railways has been started. After years of neglecting the state railway, they are trying to form a modern railway company. At the moment construction works are undergoing to re-open closed lines as well as to built new ones. Before the new trains will run we'll make a brief visit to the sleeping railway with only two long distance trains per day and not a single freight train on the entire network.


Date Itinerary
29.01. Flight from Europe to Manila
30.01. Evening arrival in Manila, hotel Manila
31.01. Visit to the depots and the workshop of the Philippine National Railways in Manila, Afternoon flight to Dumaguete City. Hotel in Dumaguete City.
01.02. Visit to the narrow gauge railway of the sugar mill Bais. About a dozen of three-coupled Plymouth diesels are active on a 90-km long system. Visit to the depot in the sugar mill. In the evening we'll continue (about 2 hours) to our hotel in San Carlos.
02.02. Today we'll visit the witnesses of a great narrow gauge past on Negros. We'll start with the closed sugar mill San Carlos with some dumped Henschel and Baldwin steam locomotives. We continue to Sagay, (one plinthed loco left), and Lopez, where two Shay geared articulated locomotives are still present. Along the shore we'll continue to Victoria, a mill which recently stopped all railway activities. One steam loco is still on display in Manapla. Evening arrival in Bacolod, where we'll stay for the following days.
03.02. In the early morning we'll head to the well know Hawaiian Philippine sugar mill, 22 km north of Bacolod. We'll take pictures of scheduled trains in the fields which are operated with diesel locomotives.
04.02. Today, a steam locomotive will be under steam in the Hawaiian Philippine sugar mill. Early morning we'll go with the steam locomotive into the cane fields towards Magalona. Here we'll take over a loaded sugar train (14 wagons). We'll bring this train to the sugar mill. In the afternoon we'll start around 14 hrs with a train of empties to Conception. Here we'll take over a loaded train again and haul it to the mill. Ten loaded wagons are possible for our locomotive.
05.02. Very early in the morning our steam locomotive will take us to the loading point 45 (Hda. Binom-an). At around 7:00 am we'll start with nine loaded wagons to the mill. In the afternoon we'll go to the loading point 80 Hda. Malisbog #2 to take over a loaded train with some 14 wagons. Around 15.30 hrs we'll start with this load to the sugar mill. We'll probably reach the sugar mill around sunset.
06.02. Today we'll travel 37 km south to reach the sugar mill La Carlota. The first day we'll enjoy the regular traffic with diesel locomotives. We also ordered a permit for visiting the mill to see the milling process to get an impression how sugar cane becomes refined, white sugar.
07.02 Early morning call again! We'll start with a train of about 20 empties behind a steam locomotive to Ana Maria. Here we've ordered the local fire brigade to fill the tender of our loco. We'll continue to the exciting mountain line, Velez Malaga (maximum eight empty cane trucks allowed). We planned to arrive there mid-morning. Because they lifted all triangles we have to return with the locomotive (light engine) to the sugar mill. Here we'll turn the loco, serve it with water and fuel and return into the fields to pick up a train of loaded wagons. Around 15 hrs our charter train, loaded up to the brim, will start to the mill.
08.02. Because the line is so beautiful, we'll go to Ana Maria again. In the later morning we'll return to the mill and wait for the better afternoon light while having a visit to the depot or having lunch. In the afternoon around 14:00 hrs we'll go to the cane fields at Elena or Salamanca to pick up a loaded train. Around 15.30 we'll start our charter train and bring the load to the mill. In the evening we'll continue by charter bus to a basic hotel in Binalbagan
09.02. Visit to the sugar mill BISCOM in Binalbagan. They still have a small operation with one or two diesels. In the afternoon we'll return to Bacolod and visit two plinthed steam locomotives there. Hotel in Bacolod.
10.02. In the morning we'll fly to Manila. Sightseeing tour through Manila and visit to the two plinthed steam locomotives in the city. Evening return flight to Europe, arrival next morning.
11.02. Arrival in Europe


Line Description

Bais in March 2006: photo: coll. Hans Hufnagel

Philippine islands like Negros and Luzon are of volcanic origin. Their landscape is famous for the volcanoes, nice beaches, palm trees and sugar cane plantations. The lines of the sugar cane railways in places run very near to the mountains, so that you can make nice shots with the (mostly inactive) volcanoes in the backdrop. In the flatter landscape areas there are some nice bridges, banana bushes, palm trees and - of course - much sugar cane.

The small diesel engines are painted yellow, orange or white/green. They are mostly six wheelers delivered from the Plymouth works in the USA. They sometimes operate trains with more than 30 wagons or cane trucks in the fields. The remaining industrial railways all have a gauge of 3 feet (914 mm). From the mainlines, branches lead to the loading points in the plantations. Sometimes there are also transportable rails, or portable track, in use. Tractors pull the four-wheel cane trucks on the rails mostly over special switches from the main line to the loading points in the fields.

In the harvest season trains are running 24 hours. Most of the locomotives are supplied with radio sets and so they can be located in the fields. We have the chance to ride the trains and stop them at nice positions, or we can chase them by bus on the rough ways into the plantations. Trains are very slow, so we can take several pictures by chasing them on bad roads.

In the mills at La Carlota and Hawaiian-Philippine they still have steam locos in working condition. So we can charter them! We will try to operate normal trains, just replacing diesel by steam. To get a maximum of pictures we will also charter a few trains, for instance in the best light when normally no trains are running.

We are going to operate the steam locos chimney first. Because there are no triangles left in the fields, we have to drive the locos back to the mill for turning the engine.

BISCOM, Lopez, and San Carlos haven’t issued permission for entering the depots inside the mills, but photography from outside has been allowed. We are still negotiating with these three mills to get access to the depots.

map La Carlota

map Hawaiian-Philippine on Negros


Small Print

After some terrorist attacks on some southern islands (very far from Luzon and Negros) nothing happens in the Philippines without permits any more. Please do not wonder - even when we can show our permission letters – sometimes we have to pass some complicated security checks. This can last 15 minutes. After we have reached the fields with out trains, everything will run without any hassle. Unfortunately, free access to the mills is - unlike Indonesia - denied. But we have requested for a permit. Because nobody has done this before, the answer is unsure. A visit is planned but can't be guaranteed.

The steam locos are used only for charter trains these days. Please consider that an 85 years old engine, which was out of use for a while may face some technical problems. In this case we need to remain patient. The railway staff is very good in improvisation and making repairs. They will resolve most of the problems in a short time. Because of bad weather or other technical problems, some of the lines can get inoperable. Please understand, that we cannot guarantee a certain line, departure or arrival time, number of wagons or a certain locomotive. The itinerary shows all details we have discussed with the sugar mills. This doesn't mean that everything will run perfectly, but we will do our best and it gives you a good idea of what we have planned. The number of cane trucks given in the itinerary has been discussed with the administration of the mills. We'll tried to get the optimum for our group. On the one hand we want to have long trains, but on the other hand we don´t want the locomotive to fail with an overload. The length of the trains depends also on the progress of the harvest. If the milling process stops due to technical reasons it is possible that no trains are running at all. In such a case we'll head for another mill.

No. 100 with a loaded train on one of the eastern lines, photo: Hans Hufnagel

Light conditions are tropical. The best light is between 06:30 and 09:00 am and in the afternoon around 15 to 17:30 hrs. We planned our activities for these times. We will not have breakfast at 7 and leave the hotel at 8. If you have problems with an early morning call, outwit your mind: just put your clock two hours forward. So You'll get up at 6.30 instead of 4.30, sunrise is at 8 am and sunset at 8 pm. Wouldn't that be convenient - Its actually easy to do when you fly such a long way, and you just adjust to a slightly different time zone.

Time doesn't matter in the Philippines. The schedule in our itinerary is only for your information. Sometimes the "early morning train" leaves the yard just at sunset.

A Shay, dumped for years in Sagay (close to Lopez), photo: Hans Hufnagel

The temperatures are tropical. In the morning temperatures rises quickly up to 30 degrees Centigrade and don't drop below 22 in the night.

People are friendly and helpful. But, especially in the big cities like Manila you should keep a careful eye on your belongings. Thefts are on "shopping tour"! Avoid going into the slums and certain districts during night.

For a long time, Negros had problems with rebels. These people operate from the remote mountains. In the recent years no incidents have been reported. Anyhow, for our security we will stop our activities after sunset. In the mills, on the main roads and in the villages you are safe also in the night. Bacolod has a moderate crime rate, you can compare it with New York, not with Manila.

Electricity : 220 Volts, 50 Hz - sometimes blackouts can happen. The Mobile network is relatively good. European mobile phones can be used, but, check roaming rates with your provider before using your mobile extensive.

Our hotels provide AC, bath and toilet in the room. Charter buses represent the domestic standard. We'll not take one of the luxury A/C busses. These buses are not able to manage the unpaved roads in the fields. In addition it is not wise to take an A/C bus and then having to adjust to temperatures getting on and off several times. Most of the Europeans and North Americans who are not used to use an A/C day by will quickly catch a cold while travelling with A/C busses and jumping on and of 20 times a day. We will learn to stand the temperatures while taking pictures anyhow, so we can stand it in a bus as well. After two days you'll be happy with this solution and feel cold when entering our hotel. Wear light clothes and a hat, drink sufficient water.

For citizen of the European Union no visa is needed. You need to carry a passport which valid at least for six month beyond the planned departure and must have one free page.

Please bear in mind that accommodation and transportation in the Philippines fall short of EU/US safety standards. Always use common sense when crossing roads and railway tracks. Please remember that being close to an active railway is risky, so please be careful. There are no platforms along the line, the only thing you may face is a ditch when getting off at a photo location. FarRail Tours cannot be held responsible and will not accept any liability whatsoever in the case of any accident or damage. We suggest you take out a comprehensive overseas accident and health insurance policy.

Registration period ends October 15th, 2006

Diesel no. 11, photo: Bernd Seiler, 2006



Railways in the Philippines from 10 participants £1,875 $3,490
29.01. – 11.02.2007 6 to 9 participants £2,140 $3,850
Single Room Supplement  £125 $225

Land only (tour from/to Manila): please deduct £605 or $1.050)

Minimum number of participants:     6
Maximum number of participants:   25

The price includes:

Not included are:

A loco fromLa Carlota with an empty train in the fields, photo: Hans Hufnagel

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