Vic Nierva, colleague and friend of my brother at the Ateneo de Naga University, and my classmate in the Creative Writing graduate class I took under Charlson Ong at the University of the Philippines Diliman, posted some photos he took on the last test run of the much-awaited return of the Bicol Express, Ltd. With his permission, I am posting the beautiful photos here on my blog as something to look forward to. The inaugural run of the Bicol Express, Ltd. shall be on June 29th, Naga-Manila.

L-R: Karel Brouwers, President of Railways and Industrial Heritage Society of the Philippines, Inc. (RIHSPI); Paul de Quiros, Media Consultant of the Philippine National Railways (PNR); and Jaime Tiongson, RIHSPI Treasurer, on board the refurbished NR1, enjoying conversations on heritage-related topics.

The Naga-bound train chugging along the shores of Villabota, Gumaca, Quezon.

Standard technical stop at Hondagua Station in Lopez, Quezon.

Paul de Quiros

About to cross Malaguico Bridge in Sipocot, Camarines Sur. The train arrived in Naga at 4:55pm, 5 minutes ahead of the 10-hour travel time target. The test run preceded the return of the Bicol Night Express, Ltd. which will resume service by the last week of June 2011.

A 10-hour train ride would be two hours shorter than what I can remember when we used to take the train to Manila when I was a kid. Back then, my father and I were ridiculous travelers and suffered from a bad case of motion sickness. We abhorred taking the bus because front-forward motion made us sick, and the ride through “Bitukang Manok” was especially dreadful for us.

But I have a lot of fond memories of our father-daughter as well as family train rides. I used to accompany my father when he had to go to little towns to attend to agrarian reform cases. I remember going with him to the little remote town of Ragay back when it was only accessible by train tracks. I remember seeing the smallest fighting cocks outside the trial court. I remember throwing up so much that we had to hang out by the door – at that part where one car connected to the next.

I remember when we used to take the sleeper cars and we’d be squeezed in with other families who had dinner, breakfast and snacks with them – not to forget, cans of Ribisco biscuits to sit on.

My last train ride was when I was in high school. I took the train with my parents and my two sisters. We were in the cool spacious airconditioned car and my sister Girlie was telling me about how she said yes to a suitor on November 1st. Just the other day, my daughter and I were watching the animated movie “A Christmas Carol” on HBO – the same book that I brought to read and finished on that same train ride with my sisters.

I remember those funny train trips when we had two cars left behind and the train had to go back for them, and on another occasion, we were the ones on the car who got left behind.

I remember all those afternoons when I’d hear the sound of the train passing by – and immediately know, without looking at my watch, that it is three o’clock.

I have wonderful fond memories of the Bicol Express. I have to say that I am anxious for its comeback. I can’t wait to bring Lia with me on her first 10-hour (hopefully not more) train ride from Manila to Naga. I know it’s longer than the average travel time by bus, which is about seven or eight hours, but I’m taking the train not for anything else but to relive beautiful memories… and hopefully make new ones.