The Filipino Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and the Philippine National Railway (PNR) have started bidding for the PHP170.7bn ($3.77bn) South Line of the North-South Rail Project (NSRP), dubbed as the government’s most expensive public-private partnership (PPP) project to date.

The project will involve modernisation of the oldest rail system in South-East Asia, beginning with the Manila-Legaspi section including additional branch lines totalling 653km.

DOTC secretary Jun Abaya said: "Rail systems are a driver for inclusive socioeconomic growth. They encourage trade and business activity, and provide access to employment and educational opportunities.

"The PNR, once a symbol of the country’s economic progress, should be modernised into a safe, convenient and efficient system by 2020."

"The PNR, once a symbol of the country’s economic progress, should be modernised into a safe, convenient and efficient system by 2020."

The winning bidder will be responsible for designing, constructing, financing, operating and maintaining the railway network, and providing commuter services on the 56km route from Manila to Calamba, as well as the 478km Manila-Legaspi long-haul rail service.

DOTC also expects to reintroduce services over the 58km branch from Calamba to Batangas, and construction of a 117km extension from Legaspi to Matnog.

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Both local and international companies will be invited in a two-stage bidding process, with the pre-qualification date is targeted at the fourth quarter of this year.

Bid opening is expected to be held in January 2016, and awarding of the contract is scheduled in March next year.

The winning bidder will be responsible for operating, maintaining and upgrading the South Line for 34 years, including the construction period of four years.

Once operational in 2020, there will be ten daily trips with seven train sets passing through 66 stations.

The railway system is expected to yield a demand of 316,000 passengers a day on its opening year, and is projected to entice around 44,000 public and private vehicle users to shift their commutes to the modernised railway.