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.”


India’s Modi stares at biggest election loss since coming to power

Updated 11 December 2018
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India’s Modi stares at biggest election loss since coming to power

  • Analysts say a big loss for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party would signify rural dismay and help unite the opposition
  • Poll analysts cautioned that with the counting in preliminary stages, it was still too early to predict the outcome of state races involving millions of voters

NEW DELHI: India’s ruling party could lose power in three key states, four TV networks said on Tuesday, citing votecount leads, potentially handing Prime Minister Narendra Modi his biggest defeat since he took office in 2014, and months ahead of a general election.
The main opposition Congress party could form governments in the central states of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, and in the western state of Rajasthan, all big heartland states that powered Modi to a landslide win in the 2014 general election.
Analysts say a big loss for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party would signify rural dismay and help unite the opposition, despite his high personal popularity in the face of criticism that he did not deliver on promises of jobs for young people and better conditions for farmers.
“We’ve all voted for Congress this time and our candidate is winning here,” said Bishnu Prasad Jalodia, a wheat grower in Madhya Pradesh, where it appears as if Congress might have to woo smaller parties to keep out Modi’s party.
“BJP ignored us farmers, they ignored those of us at the bottom of the pyramid.”
The elections are also a test for Rahul Gandhi, president of the left-of-center Congress, who is trying to forge a broad alliance with regional groups and face Modi with his most serious challenge yet, in the election that must be held by May.
In Rajasthan, the Congress was leading in 114 of the 199 seats contested, against 81 for the BJP, in the initial round of voting, India Today TV said.
In Chhattisgarh, the Congress was ahead in 59 of the 90 seats at stake, with the BJP at 24. In Madhya Pradesh, the most important of the five states that held assembly elections over the past few weeks, Congress was ahead, with 112 of 230 seats. The Hindu nationalist BJP was at 103, the network said.
Three other TV channels also said Congress was leading in the three states, with regional parties leading in two smaller states that also voted, Telangana in the south and Mizoram in the northeast.
Poll analysts cautioned that with the counting in preliminary stages, it was still too early to predict the outcome of state races involving millions of voters.
Local issues usually dominate state polls, but politicians are seeing the elections as a pointer to the national vote just months away.
Indian markets recovered some ground after an early fall as the central bank governor’s unexpected resignation the previous day shocked investors.
The rupee currency dropped as much as 1.5 percent to 72.465 per dollar, while bond yields rose 12 basis points to 7.71 percent after the resignation of Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel.
The broader NSE share index was down 1.3 percent, with investors cautious ahead of the election results.
“As the three erstwhile BJP states have a large agrarian population, the BJP’s drubbing could be interpreted to mean that farm unrest is real,” Nomura said in a research note before the results.
“A rout of the BJP on its homeground states should encourage cohesion among the opposition parties to strengthen the non-BJP coalition for the general elections.”
Gandhi, the fourth generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, has sought to build a coalition of regional groups, some headed by experienced firebrand, ambitious politicians.
Congress has already said it would not name Gandhi, who is seen as lacking experience, as a prime ministerial candidate.
“When one and one become eleven, even the mighty can be dethroned,” opposition leader Akhilesh Yadav said of the prospect of growing opposition unity.