The International Steam Pages

More Steam in Negros

The full report for January 1998 is below.  Michael Reilly has added an end-of-season comment

"As for Philippine news, Hawaiian-Philippine steam power ended for the season at the end of April but they have confirmed that they expect to have steam in use again, including for line work, in the next season, and have advised October/November as the best times to visit. The situation at Victorias remains thoroughly confused. The PR people advised me that all steam operations ended in September 1997, and that the entire rail network is being gradually phased out. But I visited the mill on 24 May 1998 and spoke to both the General Manager and Chief Engineer, who said that all the existing steam locos remain serviceable and in occasional use; no 5-H had been steamed the previous week to provide power during the mill shut down and they expected the locos to see periodic use for shunting during the forthcoming season: much will depend on the state of the harvest and the amount of cane coming in for milling. I've had no word from La Carlota but the overall picture suggests that activity is no longer sufficient to justify a dedicated trip, but for those who wish to do so, a speculative visit to Negros as part of a wider itinerary in the Autumn could prove worthwhile."

This is my own main January 1998 report:

HAWAIIAN-PHILIPPINE has a fleet of 9 steam locos, 1 Henschel 0-6-0 (1), 6 Baldwin 0-6-0 (2,3,4,5,6,7) and 2 Baldwin 0-6-0ST (8,9). Michael Reilly found 3, 5 and 7 in steam, 1, 4, 6 and 9 dead on shed but did not see 2 or 8.

HP Co front end

I arrived on January 2nd 1998 to find a much higher initial level of security than on my previous visit in 1979, although this soon evaporated. The way to visit appears to be to first obtain a letter of introduction from the Mayor at Silay City Hall. This is merely a pleasant formality, but does take a little time and means that you have to take note of 'office hours', Monday to Fridays only. A waiver then has to be signed at the Mill Office. (To get to the mill, take a Jeepney (P2.50) to the outskirts of Bacolod. Transfer to a Silay Jeepney (P5.00) and then take a further local Jeepney to the mill (P3.50). Travel time is of the order of an hour owing to the abundance of public transport.)

In fact, the mill itself was not operating, probably because of a shortage of cane following the New Year holiday and the opportunity was being taken for routine maintenance - normally the mill shuts down every 14 days for 12-24 hours. Dragon 4 was in steam in the yard and several diesels were seen shunting empties. According to 4's crew, all the other steam locos were on shed, with 6 and 7 the only other likely working locos.

Dragon 4 alive in 1998

By 5th January more or less normal activities had been resumed, the mill had restarted the previous morning. Again 4 was yard pilot and 6 and 7 were in steam on the shed. 2 and 8 were located, set aside some 100m beyond the shed, and unlikely to work again. 9 was under consideration for repair and 1, 3 and 5 were said to be serviceable.

HP Co shed scene

Basically it was clear that the use of steam on the line is marginal, depending on traffic and diesel (8 locomotives) availability. Transport staff said that it is increasingly uneconomic to maintain the extensive rail system (164km with about 200 loading points) and this would probably be progressively cut back. Although the use of 'free' bagasse to fuel steam locomotives was superficially attractive, there were hidden costs. There was the crew of 4 (3 on a diesel), the difficulty of spare parts, the actual cost of baling and preparing the bagasse, not to mention its resale value and its 'leakage' to the local population as a domestic fuel. The road yard by the junction of the main road and mill access road had recently been supplanted by a set of gantries within the mill compound which had further reduced rail traffic. So the future of steam here is anything but secure, not least because the cost of sugar production at the mill far exceeds the world price even allowing for the recent devaluation of the Philippine Peso.

Throughout our visit, empties were propelled out, most were taken to the far end of the working and then left on the return as fulls were collected which meant that full trains usually had a few empties next to the loco. Most loading points are just short sidings and usually there is no room for both empties and fulls together. Steam works mainly on the north (Magalona) and north-west lines (Alicante). At the extremities, cane cars are sometimes taken 'piggy-back' by tractors to and from the field, an exercise in near futility....

On this day, 4 was again pilot and shunted occasionally. There being no other work, I was given a short ride out to the fields and back with 6. In the afternoon, 7 came off shed and assisted with the shunting of fulls which had been brought in by diesels. By 16.00, all steam locos had retired to the shed and I returned to Bacolod.

HP Co 7 shunts in the field

On Tuesday 6th January, the situation was much more promising. An 08.30 visit found 6 and 7 out on the line, apparently Monday being a traditional quiet day. I rode out on a track car and found 7 on the Magalona line about to return on a loaded train. The initial weather was simply abysmal (it had rained heavily overnight), but with two other loading points to service on the return journey, the sky cleared sufficiently for the final approach to the mill at 11.00 to be made in full sun. 6 had meanwhile returned with its train from the Alicante line. It appeared unlikely there would be significant afternoon activity so after taking refreshment I returned to Bacolod.

HP Co 7 arrives at the Central

On 7th January, 7 repeated the previous morning's activity in 50% better weather, with long sunny periods between clouds.

HP Co 7 returns to the main line from a loading point.

During the morning, 6 had left the shed for the Silay line south of the mill. On our return with 7, I was taken out to where 6 had been held for us. 6 then took its train slowly back to the mill arriving about 12.30. The afternoon passed in a long celebratory alcoholic haze.

HP Co 6 on the final approach to the Central.

On January 9th, the day started inauspiciously. It was raining as I arrived and the mill was shut down temporarily. 6 and 7 had been out to the Alicante and Magalona, but they both returned light engine as the yard was full. After a liquid lunch, I found 7 bringing in its load and then rode out with 6 propelling empties to the end of the Magalona line. Although it made good progress outward, loading was so slow that it was after 17.00 before the return working commenced.

On January 10th, the weather was again appalling in the morning. It was raining as I arrived and the mill was totally clogged with cane. As a result, 7 was on shed and 6 was waiting just outside the mill with fulls. Eventually I left on 6 on the Alicante line (7 was due to go east later) around 11.00. I spent an extremely pleasurable 5 hours going to and fro before finally leaving for the mill at 16.30 with a train of no less than 46 fulls. The photographic results must surely have been 'more than satisfactory' to put it mildly. A narrow gauge Baldwin 0-6-0 on the line in 1998 was a total delight and I tried to reward the crew appropriately.

HP Co 6 in the evening sun

I returned briefly in the afternoon of January 12th. Being a Monday, I expected little activity. However, 6 was about to take empties out on the Magalona line at 13.30 and 7 was reported out on the Alicante line. Having the car, I was able to drive out part way before walking 2km down the line to find 7 had no fulls to bring back and was returning light engine.

On January 13th, my last day, I had an evening flight out so I had a shorter visit. Overnight, 5 had been shunted to the front of the shed, so presumably would have re-entered service in due course. 6 and 7 had left for the fields just before our arrival on the Alicante and Magalona lines respectively. For safety, I chose to find 7 (the line runs near the main road), taking a jeepney to the main road and a further jeepney to the level crossing before walking in for half an hour. 7 was just about ready to return to the mill and I had a pleasant last ride in before making my farewells to the mill staff at 14.00.

On January 8th, I went to La Carlota and found things broadly as Michael Reilly did in November 1997.

There are several serviceable steam locos, although they do little very work. In November 1997, 106 and 102 were in steam and in use for yard work, in January 1998 only 102 was in steam spare on shed.

100 and 107 also appeared serviceable and 4 (a Porter unlike the others which are Baldwins) makes up the active fleet. 105 (a wood burner unlike the others which use bunker oil), is steamed occasionally to help raise pressure in the other locos when steam is being raised. The remainder of the fleet is dumped on shed in various states of repair and disrepair.

While, in theory, the mill will let a steam loco work to the fields for visitors, you will need very good contacts (which I didn't have) to get this to happen.

In the afternoon, I popped into nearby Ma Ao mill. To my surprise the decrepit mill was operating using two or three diesels in the yard for road deliveries. One steam loco (9, 0-6-0) is dumped in the shed and two more 0-6-0s and two 2-6-0s (one may be MSC 1) are buried under vegetation outside. I believe that the two 2-6-0s at La Carlota (109, 110) were ex-Ma Ao locos, one has a smokebox numberplate bearing 3.

On the outskirts of Bacolod, 7 (VIW 0-6-0T) is preserved outside Bacolod-Murcia Mill which worked in 1996 but is closed this year. North-east of the city some 4km down the road that runs from the Pepsi bottling plant (past the terminal of the Bata jeepneys) there is a 3ft 6in gauge (Baldwin?) 0-6-0ST preserved outside a new housing development. The only number discernible appeared to be 36230 on one of valve casings.

On January 11th and 12th I hired a car to take us to San Carlos and back to visit the other 'steam' mills. At Talisay-Silay Mill, I found the VIW 0-6-0T (3 & 4) abandoned like the mill itself. At Victorias Mill, only Henschel 0-8-0T 5-H was present (and a spare set of wheels), with Baldwin 13B preserved outside. The other Henschel 0-8-0T (2-H, 3-H, 4-H, 6-H, 7-H and 8-H) were later found stored at Manapla which seems to be the main servicing depot - reached by turning right off the man road by the level crossing just after Km 45 from Bacolod.

At Central Lopez, 3 truck Shay 10 is preserved outside the mill entrance - with the geared side unfortunately shaded by a large wall. Similar loco 9 is preserved in the mill yard east of the mill, in less than complete condition. At Sagay Central (11km south of Sagay), only 2 truck Shay 14 remains more or less intact. There are two more Shay boilers and frames, along with three sets of cylinders and a number of trucks. Baldwin 0-6-6-0 Mallet 7 has been donated to the City of Sagay and is under active cosmetic restoration near the City Hall, next to the main road.

At Danao Development Corporation (40km north of San Carlos near Toboso), there were three locos very dead on site, 7 and 8 appeared to be the Henschel 0-8-0T (one with a Koppel agents plate), 8 had last been used some two years before. 9 was a 0-6-0T (another Henschel?) which had not been used for many years. At San Carlos Milling (the mill is at the north side of town), steam remains well out of use with several diesels at work. 1, 2, 3 and 4 are all Baldwin 0-6-0ST, all are derelict and only the boiler of 4 remains. Baldwin 0-6-0 5 and Henschel 0-6-0T 7 and 8 are in rather better condition.

Overall, I was very glad I had the opportunity to get a last look at Negros steam. Everyone I met was extremely helpful and friendly and I was also grateful for Peter Nash who shared the costs and the numerous beers.

In Bacolod there are numerous hotels (see the Lonely Planet Guide). I stayed at the Pension Bacolod (a very reasonable 95P per night for a single room with shared facilities on 11th Street, north of the city centre off the road to Silay). Le Cafnet at the nearby shopping Plaza by 12th Street co-operated in making this report (and the one from Burma) available rapidly on the Internet and organised our hire car. There are good hotels at San Carlos (I stayed at the Skylite).

Rob Dickinson