THE China-funded Subic-Clark Railway Project is set to begin construction by the first half of 2020, the transportation department said.

Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade said last week the Philippines may receive from China the shortlist of contractors for the cargo train project within the month. From this list, the government will choose, through a competitive bidding process, the firm that will build the project.

Mr. Tugade said the auction may be finished before the year ends.

“We are expected to commence the process wherein we will be able to connect cargo operations between Clark and Subic by rail… by the first quarter next year earliest, or at the latest, second quarter,” he said.

Because the P50.03-billion Subic-Clark railway is financed through a China loan, the Philippines is required to select a contractor from a list of three Chinese nominees.

The Philippines initially targeted to start building the Subic-Clark railway this year, but the delay in receiving the shortlist of contractors from China pushed the project beyond the timeline.

The railway was originally scheduled to be completed by 2022 — the last year of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s six-year term.

The cargo line is among the government’s 75 flagship infrastructure projects. It will run 71.13 kilometers divided into two sections: a 64.19-kilometer main line connecting Subic Bay Freeport Zone and Clark Freeport Zone, and a 6.94-kilometer link to the Subic Bay Port’s New Container Terminal.

The rail line is part of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) Luzon System Development Framework, which intends to integrate the logistics network in Central Luzon. — Denise A. Valdez