At least four Chinese contractors have expressed interest in building the first phase of a rail project on Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippine archipelago.
The four are China Railway International Group, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, China State Construction Engineering and China Communications Construction Company. All are state owned enterprises.
The cost of the first phase, which was to have begun last year, is presently put at $1.6bn, more than twice the original estimate. The capital for the scheme is being provided by China, and the use of a Chinese contractor was one of the conditions of the loan.
Eymard Eje, an assistant secretary at the Department of Transportation, told the Mindanao Daily Express that "at least three" of the four would bid for the scheme, with the Chinese government deciding which they would be.
The Philippine government would then select a winner based on their bids.
The Mindanao scheme, the first rail project in the Philippines outside the main island of Luzon, will be 102km long, and will run along the southeast coast of the island, linking Tagum City, Davao City, the capital, and Digos City.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte named the Mindanao rail project as one of the government’s priority projects in his first state-of-the-nation address in 2016 but, more than halfway into his term, the project has yet to begin.
The Mindanao Daily Express notes that the railroad has been "a lifelong dream" that would help connect Mindanao’s main economic area to the world markets.
Eje said the construction was projected to start in the first quarter of 2020 and could be partially operated by February 2022. When complete, it will reduce travel time between Tagum and Digos from 3.5 hours to 1.3.
Image: A Philippine government image of the Mindanao railway in operation