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

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Trolley boys in Manila transport passengers on homemade pushcarts on rail tracks

MANILA: As soon as a train rumbles past, the men heave their homemade 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 Philippine pesos (26 Singapore cents) a trip - but face the constant risk of being crushed by a locomotive.

"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.

In the Santa Mesa district, the authorities grudgingly tolerate the carts due to their popularity.

The trolley boys also ply a few other stretches of Manila's rail system, that carries an average of 45,000 passengers a day.

Incredibly, casualties are relatively rare. The police could not 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.

One day, Mr Almeria's 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 US$10, ferrying passengers seeking to escape Manila's infamous gridlock - a collision of poor infrastructure, weak public transit and an increasing number of cars.

Ms Danica Lorraine, 25, shaves nearly an hour off her daily commute.

"You just need to be cautious - very, very, very cautious," she said. - AFP

WORLD