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When the Philippines became an American colony in 1901 (officially), one of its primary missions was to defend its new colony in the Far East .  A major part in the early defense program was the fortification of the islands of Corregidor, Caballo Island, El Fraile, Carabao Island - located at Manila Bay and Grande Island - located at the mouth of Subic Bay.(1)   The plan was to fortify these islands with the installation of coast defense batteries and an elaborate mine system that would repel any would be attackers or invaders of Manila and Subic Bays as these two bodies of water were considered as vital and were of strategic importance.  Fortification works started on Corregidor Island (which was later called Fort Mills ) as early as 1904 and this monumental task was given to the US Army Corp of Engineers (COE).  The Engineers had their hands full.  Besides adjusting to the new climate, which was tropical, hot and humid, all supplies, materials and tools had to be shipped from mainland USA .  Nevertheless work had to be started and initial construction was given to "H" Company, 2nd Battalion(2)  and one of their first tasks was to lay out a railway system that they would use in constructing the fortifications and other major structures.

            When construction started, water and food had to be brought from either Manila or Cavite .  The Engineers had to build housing facilities for the construction workers and pave  railroad beds.  Roads were non-existent except for a single road from Bottomside that passed the Spanish Fort and led to the Old Spanish lighthouse. Since the steam engine was considered as the prime mover during the early 1900s, it was just logical that the movements of construction material in the island be done by rail.  The standard railroad gauge to be used was 3 ft (36-inches) as this was the standard gauge used in plantation and construction.(3)  Due to the terrain of the island, the motive power of choice was the 0-4-0 saddle tank engine that was able to negotiate tight curves with a radius of 16-feet.(4)  Another consideration of the terrain was the different elevations of the island.  The Engineers studied the contours and calculated the shortest route from the bottom to the top of the island and proposed to construct a cable incline. (5)

           Work on the railroad system began with the construction of a new pier, which was later called Engineers Wharf .  There , Corregidor ’s first rail tracks were born.  From the old warehouses located at the said wharf, the railroads ran from level to a grades varying from 16% to 25%.  To get to Middleside (elevation 300 feet), a cable incline was built to haul construction materials. The cable line extended all the way to the summit (Topside) by the route later known as "the Golden Staircase." From the summit, the steam engines serviced the hauling of men and materiel, thus paving the way for the construction of the early concrete structures and gun batteries that we know today.  The first rails in the island covered the paths that led to the major structures and coast defense batteries. 


The Second Rail System


The first railroads were laid out to serve the construction work on the island and once this was complete the existing rail paths (except for those leading directly to major installations) were useless to Fort Mills .  Plans were proposed to build electric trolley lines that would transport men and material around the island and, by 1909, construction of the electric line commenced.(6)

            The track and roadbeds were built to best practice standards as the new lines were envisioned to be the permanent rail system for the island.  Overhead wires were constructed and carried 600 volts of direct current electricity.  The lines connecting the batteries were also rigged with overhead wires as part of the electrification program of the entire island.  Once the batteries had been filled with their stores (projectiles, powder, other heavy supplies), the power lines were disconnected using junction switches when the lines were idle.

            Compared to the early railroad track length (3,800 feet), the new electric line needed 14,700 feet of track to reach Topside.  This length was needed because it wound up the steep curves and banks. In all, the track length was estimated to complete six complete circles but the average grade was only 3.4%. The electric line started at the North Mine Wharf and connected junctions to Lorcha Dock and a junction to the South Mine Wharf . A junction was also built to connect Engineers Wharf From here a line ran to Barrio San Jose.  Later, when Malinta tunnel was built, a line passed through it.  The first station was at halfway to Middleside, serving the Corregidor Intermediate School , barracks and the stockade.  From here a series of station were built that led to the end of the trolley line, just in front of the Mile Long Barracks at Topside.  A car barn was located in front of the Ordnance Machine Shop, close to topside.

            The Quartermaster Corps (QM) was responsible for the operation of the trolley system. Motormen, conductors and dispatchers were all soldiers.(7) Whenever they encountered problems and needed technical assistance, the Manila Street Railroad Company (American owned) came in to help out.  The line was run without incident until 1925 when a trolley car ran away down a hill killing eight people. (8)  Other than that, the trolley lines served the island well.  Roads for motor vehicles were still being improved and throughout the 1930s the trolley system remained the primary transport system of Fort Mills .  Passenger service was free and there were also daily freight movements to and fro monitored closely by a dispatcher.


The End of Corregidor’s Railway System


When war broke out on December 8, 1941, orders were issued to move more than 25,000 tons of supplies from the warehouses and other stores in the island to Malinta Tunnel.  The hospital was also to be moved into the northern portion of the tunnel.  All movement of material and personnel within a period of two weeks was done by the electric rail freight motors.  By that time, December 29, the first heavy bombardment of Corregidor took place.  Although damage to the major gun batteries and other defense installation were relatively light, the damage to the other structures and rail system was quite severe. 

            The bombs cut the main lines at several points between Bottomside and Topside. Several of these lines were never repaired,  for priority was given to the defense of the island fortress.  There were limited operations at Bottomside using undamaged cars but this did not last very long.(9)

            More damage was to come when the Japanese artillery started their siege of the island.  Once Bataan fell, the Japanese were free to move their heavy guns to bear all their firepower upon Corregidor and the other fortified islands of Manila Bay .  The defenders found other uses for the railroads as portions of them were removed from their track beds and used as re-bars for additional concrete protection, obstacles for beach defense obstacles and other useful purposes.  Trolley cars and engines lay shot up and damaged beyond repair when the island fell on the 6th of May, 1942 .

            When the Japanese occupied the island, they tried to restore the rail lines.  They repaired a single track from Bottomside up to Morrison Hill and beyond this point, but the project was abandoned.  By May 24, 1942 , the Japanese were starting to scrap the island. Since they did not have any heavy transport, they scrapped whatever the POW work parties could easily load into barges and foremost of these were the railroad rails that wound around the island.(10)

            American bombs blasted the island in preparation for an airborne assault throughout January and early February 1945.  What the seige of 1941-42 had destroyed already, the bombing in 1945 further pulverised. The railway system was beyond repair in 1942 anyhow.    When the island was back in American hands, the rails had long since ceased to exist.  What remained were a few rail lines embedded in concrete while the rest (which were not scrapped) remain buried under mudslides and sheet erosion caused by the tropical rains and the elements.




Today, there are only few remains of the elaborate railway system that once snaked around the contours of the island.  What remains of the old trolley stations are markers and concrete slabs. The rail beds and paths are now just pathways and trails and at some places these have disappeared completely.  What was once a proud railway system that was the envy of any country in the Far East has faded away and it now a part of the islands history. Corregidor ’s Railway played an important part in its development from just a mere island in the entrance of Manila Bay to America's premier stronghold in the Far East . Their demise had announced the imminent departure of the face of Empire. 






  1. After the Philippine-American War (1898- 1901),  Civil Government under the US was established on May 3, 1901 .  Almost a year after, on April 11, 1902 , the islands of Corregidor , Caballo, Carabao and El Fraile – Manila Bay and Grande Island in Subic Bay , with Olongapo and the province of Bataan and Southwestern Cavite (at the rear of Carabao Island to Limbones) were declared as US Military Reservation.

  2. I am not certain which was the mother unit of the “H” Company, 2nd Battalion.

  3. Standard Railroad Gauges in the 1900s (US)  at that time were 3ft 6-inches (42-inches) for Commercial and Passenger Rails while 3-feet (36-inches) narrow gauge was standard for industrial, plantation and military use.  Track gauges in the US were later upgraded 4ft 8-inches (known as Stevenson Gauge) and was adopted as standard throughout. However, in the Philippines , it was not adopted. Standard Manila Steam Railway lines were 42-inches while Sugar Rails were mixture of 42-inches, 36-inches and 24-inch tracks.

  4. The Motive Power of choice was the Light Four Wheeled H.K. Porter saddle tank, Class B-S

  5. Cable inclines were operated using a steam engine winch at the top that attached a cable to the car and hauled the car on the steep incline.  Upon reaching the top, the car is then attached to waiting steam engine that would transport the car around the area.  Note that cable lines were important as ordinary locomotive power was limited at certain grades.  A 3% grade can lower the hauling power of a locomotive from 500 tons to a mere 40 tons.

  6. Old construction lines that led to the major batteries were retained and were connected to the new rail lines. The old rails brought ammunition and supplies to the batteries.

  7. This posed a problem as soldiers were mostly on tour of duty.  By the time they were proficient in handling these electric trolleys, they were moved or shipped elsewhere thus leaving a new crew to learn and man the trolleys.

  8. The accident was said to have been caused by an inefficient crew.  Still, the QMC changed the braking mechanism of the electric cars from the Friction Type to a more modern Magnetic Type.

  9. Operations of a few electric cars with power sources coming from the undamaged diesel power station and steam power station continued to operate for a limited time period serving Bottomside area.  Possibly hauling supplies from North Dock to South Dock and Engineers Wharf .  There might be an undamaged steam locomotive that also operated.  I have seen a photo of a locomotive but could not confirm if it was American or Japanese (taken in 1942 at North Dock) via a Japanese source.

  10. Even though the Japanese lacked heavy transport, they were able to scrap Battery Wheeler (Gun No. 1) and haul down the 12-inch barrel now lying by the church.  Another curious feat is how they hauled some of the damaged 12-inch mortars of Battery Geary from Topside to Bottomside.  There may be some documentation in Japanese sources that may contain information on their repair and used on the rails in the island.  But as of the moment, except for  the single line they restored up to Battery Morrison (as mentioned in Charles Small's book), I can't imagine how they brought those heavy scrap metal (barrels, carriages, etc) using just POWs as labor. 


Lost Corregidor

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Secret Corregidor

The Silent War

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Philippine Scouts - Best of the Best

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The Final Line of Defense

An Interview with Col. Massello


Japan Invades the Philippines

Building Malinta Tunnel System

The Retaking of Fort Drum


Total Attack - Corregidor

The Coast Artillery Years

The Battle of Manila

Col. George Ruhlen's Collection


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4th Marines Shanghai / Corregidor

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