Dodging traffic, and death, on Manila’s railway carts

Scores of commuters in the city of about 12 million are propelled to their destinations daily by so-called “trolley boys.” (AFP/Noel Celis)
Updated 25 November 2018
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Dodging traffic, and death, on Manila’s railway carts

  • Commuter trains travel nearly two dozen times a day along this 1.2-kilometer (one-mile) stretch of rail in the Santa Mesa district
  • “Our job here is very dangerous, you need to know what time the train will pass by”

MANILA: As soon as the train rumbles past, the men heave their home-made pushcarts back onto the tracks and passengers hop aboard — cheating death and beating Manila’s notorious traffic.
Scores of commuters in the city of about 12 million are propelled to their destinations daily by so-called “trolley boys” pushing metal carts that ply a few segments of the sprawling capital’s railroads.
Passengers save time and money — paying just 10 pesos (20 US cents) a trip — but must face the constant risk of being crushed by a passing locomotive if they or the trolley boys don’t move fast enough.
“Our job here is very dangerous, you need to know what time the train will pass by,” said 57-year-old Rene Vargas Almeria, who has been at it for nearly 20 years.
Commuter trains travel nearly two dozen times a day along this 1.2-kilometer (one-mile) stretch of rail in the Santa Mesa district, where authorities grudgingly tolerate the carts due to their popularity.
The trolley boys also ply a few other stretches of Manila’s battered rail system, that carries an average of 45,000 passengers a day.
Incredibly, casualties are relatively rare. Police do not keep statistics, but said they couldn’t remember the last time a fatality occurred.
The same cannot be said of close calls — anyone who spends time pushing or riding the carts seems to have a hair-raising story to share.
Rodolfo Maurello’s scariest near-miss in almost two decades as a trolley boy came when he failed to notice the train behind him as he was pushing a cart packed with passengers.
“The train was just meters away,” the 60-year-old said, recalling how he turned around with only seconds to spare and waved it to a stop.
“The sound of its brakes screeching was very loud.”
Almeria has a similar tale, which happened one day when his mind wandered and his sole passenger was looking the other way.
“I swung my head around and saw the train coming and yanked my trolley off the tracks,” he added. “It was really close.”
On a good day the trolley boys can make up to $10, ferrying passengers seeking to escape Manila’s infamous gridlock — a collision of poor infrastructure, weak public transit and an increasing number of cars.
Even as Manila’s population grew 50 percent from 1995-2015, investment in the city’s creaking transport system has not kept up, opening a gap for informal options like the pushcarts to fill.
Most journeys lack life-or-death drama, with workers in office attire and students clutching their lunch bags and pecking at their smartphones, a tattered beach umbrella providing the only protection from the burning sun or frequent downpours.
“There is no traffic,” 46-year-old Noemi Nieves told AFP. “It is convenient for us and the fare is just right for our budget.”
Despite the risks and minimal comforts, commuters say the trolley carts offer a welcome shortcut to spending hours in traffic only to travel a few kilometers.
Danica Lorraine, 25, shaves nearly an hour off her daily commute, spared from having to take two additional buses each way.
“You just need to be cautious — very, very, very cautious,” she said.
Kerkleen Bongalon, a teacher, has — for the most part — gotten over her unease at riding the carts.
One stretch of her journey passes over the Pasig river — with a 15-meter (50-foot) plunge between the rail tracks and the water below.
“At first it was scary,” she said. “I don’t know how to swim so if something happens while we are on the bridge I really don’t know what would happen.”
“But nothing will happen because the trolley boys know the time the train will pass by,” she added.
“I trust them.”


Dutch, UK polls open, starting 4 days of European elections

Updated 16 min 40 sec ago
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Dutch, UK polls open, starting 4 days of European elections

  • Voters across Europe will elect 751 lawmakers in the elections
  • UK’s 73 lawmakers in the EU Parliament will lose their jobs if the country leaves the union

THE HAGUE: Dutch and UK polls opened Thursday in elections for the European Parliament, starting four days of voting across the 28-nation bloc that pits supporters of deeper integration against populist Euroskeptics who want more power for their national governments.
A half hour after voting started in the Netherlands, polls opened across the United Kingdom, the only other country voting Thursday, and a nation still wrestling with its plans to leave the European Union altogether and the leadership of embattled Prime Minister Theresa May.
The elections, which end Sunday night, come as support is surging for populists and nationalists who want to rein in the EU’s powers, while traditional powerhouses like France and Germany insist that unity is the best buffer against the shifting economic and security interests of an emerging new world order.
French President Emmanuel Macron says the challenge is “not to cede to a coalition of destruction and disintegration” that will seek to dismantle EU unity built up over the past six decades.
In a significant challenge to those centrist forces, populists appear largely united heading into the elections. On Saturday, Italy’s anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was joined at a rally by 10 other nationalist leaders, including far-right leaders Marine Le Pen of France’s National Rally party and Joerg Meuthen of the Alternative for Germany party.
On Thursday morning, UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn released a message with a warning that “the far-right is on the rise” and adding that “the actions we take now will have huge consequences for our future.”
Voters across Europe elect a total of 751 lawmakers, although that number is set to drop to 705 when the UK leaves the EU. The Dutch make up just 26 currently and 29 after Brexit. The UK has 73 European lawmakers, who would lose their jobs when their country completes its messy divorce from the EU.
Results of the four days of voting will not be officially released until Sunday night, but Dutch national broadcaster NOS will publish an exit poll after ballot boxes close Thursday night.
The Netherlands could provide a snapshot of what is to come. Polls show the right-wing populist Forum for Democracy led by charismatic intellectual Thierry Baudet running neck-and-neck with the center-right VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
While the country, an affluent trading nation, profits from the EU’s open borders and single market, it also is a major contributor to EU coffers. Skeptical Dutch voters in 2005 rejected a proposed EU constitution in a referendum.
Baudet, whose party emerged as a surprise winner of provincial elections in March, identifies more with hard-line Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban than with the nationalist populist movement led by Salvini, although in a debate Wednesday night he called Salvini a “hero of Europe” for his crackdown on migration.