THE Department of Transportation (DoTr) and a contractor from China recently signed a contract for the first package of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Long-Haul Project, the Chinese Embassy in Manila said on Tuesday.

“One of the world’s largest railway contractors from China has signed with DoTr the commercial contract for PNR South Long-Haul Project DB (Package 1) yesterday (Jan. 17),” Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said in a statement posted on his official Facebook page.

“The $2.8-billion railway, one of the flagship projects under President (Rodrigo R.) Duterte’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ program, is so far the highest-funded G-to-G (government-to-government) project between our two countries,” he added.

The Transportation department said in November that only the joint venture of China Railway Group Ltd., China Railway Number 3 Engineering Co. Ltd., and China Railway Engineering Consulting Group Consortium Ltd. had qualified out of three bidders for a P141.79-billion contract for the design and construction of a 380-kilometer railway in the Bicol Region.

The contract covers the first package of the PNR South Long-Haul Project, or PNR Bicol, from Banlic in Calamba, Laguna to Daraga, Albay.

“It will shorten the travel time from 12 hours currently to four hours only,” Mr. Huang said. “It will serve up to 14.6 million passengers per year after (it enters operations).”

The project is also expected to create over 10,000 direct jobs each year and “hundreds of thousands of jobs in related areas by driving economic growth along the line.”

The entire PNR Bicol project consists of a 560-kilometer long-haul rail line connecting Metro Manila to provinces in Southern Luzon.

A segment of the project between San Pablo, Laguna and Pagbilao, Quezon is expected to start operations in the second quarter.

The project is expected to be fully operational by 2025. — Arjay L. Balinbin