By Arjay L. Balinbin, Senior Reporter

A CHINESE joint venture has qualified for a P141.79-billion contract for the design and construction of a 380-kilometer railway in the Bicol Region in central Philippines, according to the Transportation department.

Only the joint venture of China Railway Group Ltd., China Railway Number 3 Engineering Co. Ltd., and China Railway Engineering Consulting Group Consortium Ltd. qualified out of three bidders, Transportation Assistant Secretary Goddes Hope O. Libiran said in a text message on Tuesday.

“Three bidders submitted bids but only one qualified,” she said. The contract is expected to be awarded this month and construction will start next quarter.

The contract covers the first package of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Long-Haul Project, or the PNR Bicol, from the village of Banlic in Calamba, Laguna to Daraga town in Albay province.

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

PNR Bicol is expected to cut travel time between Manila and Legazpi City from as long as 18 hours to just six hours with regular commuter trains and 4.5 hours with express trains, the Transportation department says on its website.

Bid documents posted on the agency’s website showed that the first package of the project involves the construction of 23 stations and a depot.

The partial operability segment of the project is from San Pablo, Laguna to Pagbilao, Quezon. It is expected to start operations in the second quarter of next year. The project is expected to fully operate by 2025.

Ms. Libiran said the two Chinese entities that did not qualify for the Banlic-Daraga contract were China Road and Bridge Corp. and Power Construction Corp. of China Ltd.

The other railway projects funded by China’s official development assistance are the P81.69-billion Mindanao Railway Project Phase 1 and the P50.03-billion Subic Clark Railway.