The LRT's roots date back to 1878, when an official from Spain's Department of Public Works for the Philippines submitted a proposal for a Manila streetcar system. The system proposed was a five-line network emanating from Plaza San Gabriel in Binondo, running to Intramuros, Malate, Malacañan Palace, Sampaloc and Tondo. The project was approved and in 1882, Spanish businessman Jacobo Zobel de Zangroniz, Spanish engineer Luciano M. Bremon, and Spanish banker Adolfo Bayo, founded the Compañia de los Tranvias de Filipinas to operate the concession granted by the Spanish colonial government. The Malacañan Palace line was later replaced with a line linking Manila to Malabon, and construction began in 1885. Four German-made steam-operated locomotives and eight coaches for nine passengers each, composed the initial assets of the company. The Manila-Malabon line was the first line of the new system to be finished, opening to the public on October 20, 1888, with the rest of the network opening in 1889. From the beginning it proved to be a very popular line, with services originating from Tondo as early as 5:30 a.m. and ending at 7:30 p.m., while trips from Malabon were from 6:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m., every hour on the hour in the mornings, and every half hour beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon.
With the American takeover of the Philippines, the Philippine Commission allowed the Manila Electric Railroad and Light Company (Meralco) to take over the properties of the Compañia de los Tranvias de Filipinas, with the first of twelve mandated electric tranvia (tram) lines operated by Meralco opening in Manila in 1905. At the end of the first year around 63 kilometers (39 mi) of track had been laid. A five-year reconstruction program was initiated in 1920, and by 1924, 170 cars serviced many parts of the city and its outskirts. Although it was an efficient system for the city's 220,000 inhabitants, by the 1930s the streetcar network had stopped expanding.
The system was closed during World War II. By the war's end, the tram network was damaged beyond repair amid a city that lay in ruins. It was dismantled and jeepneys became the city's primary form of transportation, plying the routes once served by the tram lines. With the return of buses and cars to the streets, traffic congestion became a problem. In 1966, the Philippine government granted a franchise to Philippine Monorail Transport Systems (PMTS) for the operation of an inner-city monorail. The monorail's feasibility was still being evaluated when the government asked the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to conduct a separate transport study. Prepared between 1971 and 1973, the JICA study proposed a series of circumferential and radial roads, an inner-city rapid transit system, a commuter railway, and an expressway with three branches. After further examination, many recommendations were adopted; however, none of them involved rapid transit and the monorail was never built. PMTS' franchise subsequently expired in 1974.
Another study was performed between 1976 and 1977, this time by Freeman Fox and Associates and funded by the World Bank. It originally suggested a street-level railway, but its recommendations were revised by the newly-formed Ministry of Transportation and Communications (now the DOTC). The ministry instead called for an elevated system because of the city's many intersections. However, the revisions increased the price of the project from ₱1.5 billion to ₱2 billion. A supplementary study was conducted and completed within three months.
President Ferdinand Marcos created the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) on July 12, 1980, by virtue of Executive Order No. 603 giving birth to what was then dubbed the "Metrorail". First Lady Imelda Marcos, then governor of Metro Manila and minister of human settlements, became its first chairman. Although responsible for all operations of the LRT, the LRTA primarily confined itself to setting and regulating fares, planning extensions and determining rules and policies, leaving the day-to-day operations to a sister company of Meralco called the Meralco Transit Organization (METRO Inc.). Initial assistance for the project came in the form of a ₱300 million soft loan from the Belgian government, with an additional ₱700 million coming from a consortium of companies comprising SA Ateliers de Constructions Electriques de Charleroi (ACEC) and BN Constructions Ferroviaires et Métalliques (today both part of Bombardier Transportation), Tractionnel Engineering International (TEI) and Transurb Consult (TC). Although expected to pay for itself from revenues within twenty years of the start of operation, it was initially estimated that the system would lose money until at least 1993. For the first year of operation, despite a projected ₱365 million in gross revenue, losses of ₱216 million were thought likely.
Construction of the Yellow Line started in September 1981 with the Construction and Development Corporation of the Philippines (now the Philippine National Construction Corporation) as the contractor with assistance from Losinger, a Swiss firm, and the Philippine subsidiary of Dravo, an American firm. The government appointed Electrowatt Engineering Services of Zürich to oversee construction and eventually became responsible for the extension studies of future expansion projects. The line was test-run in March 1984, and the first half of the Yellow Line, from Baclaran to Central Terminal, was opened on December 1, 1984. The second half, from Central Terminal to Monumento, was opened on May 12, 1985.
Overcrowding and poor maintenance took its toll a few years after opening. In 1990, the Yellow Line fell so far into disrepair due to premature wear and tear that trains headed to Central Terminal station had to slow to a crawl to avoid further damage to the support beams below as cracks reportedly began to appear. The premature ageing of the Yellow Line led to an extensive refurbishing and structural capacity expansion program with a help of Japan's ODA.
For the next few years LRT operations ran smoothly. In 2000, however, employees of METRO Inc. went on strike, paralyzing Yellow Line operations from July 25 to August 2, 2000. Consequently, the LRTA did not renew its operating contract with METRO Inc. that expired on July 31, 2000, and assumed all operational responsibility. At around 12:15 pm on December 30, 2000, a bomb—later learned to have been planted by Islamic terrorists—went off in the front coach of a LRT train pulling into Blumentritt station, killing 11 and injuring over 60 people in the most devastating of a series of attacks that day, now known as the Rizal Day bombings.
With Japan's ODA amounting to 75 billion yen in total, the construction of the Purple Line began in the 1990s, and the first section of the line, from Santolan to Araneta Center-Cubao, was opened on April 5, 2003. The second section, from Araneta Center-Cubao to Legarda, was opened exactly a year later, with the entire line being fully operational by October 29, 2004. During that time the Yellow Line was modernized. Automated fare collection systems using magnetic stripe plastic tickets were installed; air-conditioned trains added; pedestrian walkways between the Yellow, Purple, and Blue Lines completed. In 2005, the LRTA made a profit of ₱68 million, the first time the agency made a profit since the LRT became operational in 1984.
Read more about this topic: Manila Light Rail Transit System
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