By Arjay L. Balinbin, Senior Reporter

THE TRANSPORTATION department said it expects to receive within the first quarter the short list of bidders from China for the design-and-build package of the first phase of the Mindanao Railway Project.

“Yes, DoTr (Department of Transportation) is expecting to receive the short list from China soon,” Transportation Undersecretary John R. Batan told BusinessWorld in a phone message last Wednesday when asked for an update.

DoTr Assistant Secretary Goddes Hope O. Libiran said China is expected to provide the short list within the first quarter.

Sought for comment, the Embassy of China in Manila said: “China and Philippines are still communicating on this.”

The project is a 1,544-kilometer railway system connecting Davao, General Santos, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Cotabato, Zamboanga, Butuan, Surigao, and Malaybalay. It is financed through official development assistance (ODA) from the Chinese government.

The Philippine government recently awarded the P3.08-billion project management consultancy contract of the Mindanao Railway Project Phase 1 to a Chinese consortium composed of China Railway Design Corp. and Guangzhou Wanan Construction Supervision Co., Ltd.

The DoTr said the project management consultant will assist in the preparation and management of the overall project implementation program, including land acquisition activities, coordination with concerned government offices, review of the project’s detailed design, and supervision of construction activities, among others.

The first phase covers a 100-kilometer railway that will connect Tagum in Davao del Norte, Davao City, and Digos in Davao del Sur with eight stations. It is expected to accommodate 122,000 passengers per day and cut travel time between Tagum and Digos from three hours to just one hour.

The DoTr is hoping to start construction work in April this year. It aims to start partial operations (Tagum-Carmen section) in October, followed by full operations (Tagum-Davao-Digos) in October next year.

“I believe that the winning Chinese companies will do their best to fulfill their tasks, providing professional recommendations and consultancy to the project and offer its satisfactory management services,” Zhu Min, Chinese Embassy Chief of Economic and Commercial Counsellor’s Office, said in a statement in October.

The other railway projects funded by China’s official development assistance are the Philippine National Railways South Long-Haul Project and the Subic Clark Railway.