THE Department of Transportation (DoTr) is targeting to secure a contractor for the China-funded Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Long-Haul Project, also known as PNR Bicol, before the year ends.

Transportation Undersecretary for Railways Timothy John R. Batan told reporters last week the government has scheduled to start the procurement for the PNR Bicol contract package in the third quarter.

“Third quarter is the start of the procurement. We have a three- to four-month procurement period, given the complexity of the project. We’re looking at awarding and signing (the contract) in the fourth quarter of this year,” he said.

The PNR Bicol is a P175-billion, 581-kilometer railway that will be funded through official development assistance (ODA) from the government of China.

One of the flagship projects under the “Build, Build, Build” program, PNR Bicol will link Metro Manila, Region IV-A (Calabarzon) and Region V (Bicol) through one railway system.

Based on the National Economic and Development Authority’s pipeline of projects for ODA financing as of Dec. 28, 2018, the ODA agreement with China for the project will cover the construction and eventual operations and maintenance of the train line, which will run from Los Baños to Matnog with a branch line from Calamba to Batangas.

The Philippine government already signed in November the P14-billion project management consultancy (PMC) contract with China Railway Design Corp. (CRDC), which will design the railway and draft the terms of reference for the bidding of the project contractor.

“Based on our latest coordination meeting with the PMC, we are still on-track to starting procurement by the third quarter,” Mr. Batan said.

After signing the contract for construction, the Philippine and Chinese governments may move forward to sign the loan contract and negotiate the actual loan amount for the project.

“For the China ODA-funded projects, we do procurement first, we sign the contract, then after signing the contract, that’s when we negotiate (the loan),” Mr. Batan said.

PNR Bicol is scheduled for partial operability by 2022, which will reduce travel time from Sucat to Naga to 3.5-4 hours from the current 14 hours. — Denise A. Valdez