The extensive pre-war rail network of Greater Metro Manila

It’s often been said that Manila (and its neighboring areas) used to have an extensive rail network that was unfortunately destroyed by the onslaught of World War II in the country. I’m not just talking about the regular railway lines but also the rail vehicle lines that we had during that time, the tranvia.

But despite the documentary evidence, including extant photos and videos available of life in pre-war Manila, it is difficult to imagine how extensive that rail network was, especially without a map that would extensively cover it. So gathering all the information that can be found across the worldwide web (which will be linked in the credits below), the Urban Roamer has come up with this Google Map file of all the known commuter rail lines that were in operation in the Greater Metro Manila area before the war.

It must be noted that due to possible scaling issues on the original documents and some changes since the lines were shut down, some of the routes here are only shown as approximate and does not necessarily equate the exact paths. Nevertheless, this should provide an idea as to how extensive Manila’s old rail network was, serving many locations that until now are not served by our current rail network. That’s 10 tranvia lines and 7 main railway lines that existed at different points in time before 1941.

Tranvia lines

I’ve talked about Manila’s old tranvia lines in a previous post, but some points bear repeating here. They were first set up in 1889 as horse-drawn vehicles and were converted to electric by 1902 through the efforts of the Manila Electric Rairoad and Light Company or MERALCO. Yup, MERALCO at that time not only provided electricity but also operated public transportation as well.

As the sole operator of tranvias in Manila and surrounding areas, MERALCO was operating at least 10 known tranvia lines (5 of which it acquired in 1902, the rest it built after), going as far north as Malabon and westward as far as to the Pasig town proper. The Malabon and Pasig lines are probably the most ambitious tranvia lines MERALCO operated, with the Pasig Line the most massive it had built. (the Malabon line was opened in 1888, predating MERALCO’s takeover)

It is unfortunate that none of the tranvia lines survived the war, never to be rebuilt.

Rail lines (that came and went)

Unlike the tranvia lines, the history of the railroad lines of Greater Metro Manila is not as straightforward as it may seem. While the northern railroad line, the Manila-La Union line, was unveiled in 1891, it was actually opened in phases and that 1891 opening only operated up to San Fernando in Pampanga and the La Union link would not be completed until 1929. The southern line that would become the Manila-Legazpi line was also built in phases, with tracks to Muntinlupa and San Pedro, Laguna completed by 1908 and would reach Legazpi, Albay by 1914.

Manila Railroad Company locomotive, 1918 (image courtesy the Parker’s Library Collection via Pearl of the Orient: Discover Old Philippines)

Around the same time as the southern line was being built, the Manila Railroad Company (the operator of the aforementioned two railroad lines and predecessor of today’s Philippine National Railways) undertook an ambitious expansion program that would extend the rail lines to the east and southwest.

From Santa Mesa, a railroad line was built towards Mandaluyong crossing the San Juan River to near the heart of the town towards the north bank of the Pasig River to cross the Marikina River towards Pasig. From there, two lines would branch out: one going north towards Marikina, San Mateo, up to Montalban and the other branching east towards Cainta and Taytay. Another branch would be built in Cainta going up north towards the hilly terrain up to Hinulugang Taktak and ultimately to Antipolo north of the town proper. There were also three notable spur lines that were constructed, primarily to transport goods. The Pandacan spur line served to connect the main railroad line to the nearby Manila Thermal Power Plant in Isla de Provisor and the Tabacalera, the Santa Mesa one may have been to link the vegetable oil company located there to the rail, and the North Harbor spur line connected the harbor to the main Tutuban station.

These posts are said to be the remnants of the old Taktak station of the Antipolo railroad line

Meanwhile from Paco a railroad line was built towards Malate and Pasay towards Las Piñas, crossing the Cavite boundary towards Bacoor to Kawit to Noveleta. From Noveleta, one branch would go north towards Cavite City and another going straight towards Naic.

Unfortunately the eastern and Cavite lines ceased operations even before the war. The Antipolo and Taytay branches were shut down by 1918 and Montalban, Cavite City, and Naic by 1936. Interestingly, part of the eastern line from Santa Mesa to Mandaluyong resumed operations twice in 1949 and 1973 but they proved to be short-lived efforts and they were ceased in 1954 and 1982 respectively. The North Harbor railroad managed to be operation, albeit in intermittent basis, up to the 2000s.


Little physical traces of these old train or tranvia lines exist, save perhaps for the replicas found in places like the MERALCO Museum. Their remnants can be found elsewhere though, in the width of places like Plaza Lacson (the former Plaza Goiti) in Santa Cruz and Plaza Calderon in Santa Ana, two Manila plazas that served as transfer stations of the tranvia lines.

There are also roads such as Kalayaan Avenue which was mostly built over the old Pasig Line. (one part of the line was acquired by the developers of Bel-Air and became Mercedes Street). Other places chose to name their streets in honor of the tracks that used to stand in their place by naming them as “Tramo” and “Daang Bakal”.

Sen. Neptali Gonzales Street in Mandaluyong, formerly named Daang Bakal after the old eastern line that used to pass through this area. Incidentally, the barangay where this street is located is also named Daang Bakal

More importantly, these old rail lines should serve as an inspiration for Greater Metro Manila as it strives to build a new, hopefully more extensive mass transit network to serve an overcrowded metropolis that has been long been suffering from the limited mobility exacerbated by the loss of its old rail network. We can only hope that this dream will be fully realized.

Note: there is documentary evidence of a tranvia line in Escolta, but I did not include it for now because there is no information as to terminal stationsand the complete route this tranvia line took, plus it was no longer existing by the 1930s based on the maps during that time

Acknowledgements to the Philippine Trains Wiki, John Tewell (for uploading the 1934 YMCA Map of Manila) Skyrise Cities

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