THE GOVERNMENT of Armenia has invited prequalification bids for a 30-year concession to modernise and operate the country's rail network, with an option for a further 20-year extension.

Minister of Transport & Communications Andranikl Manukyan says expressions of interest are due by September 14, with shortlisted bidders to be announced a month later. The government hopes to conclude negotiations this year and award the concession by January 15 2008.

Under the proposed concession, the winning bidder would purchase the rolling stock and assets and lease the infrastructure. The concessionaire would operate freight trains on a commercial basis, but may also be required to run passenger services under a public service obligation agreement.

The government is being advised in the concessioning process by transport consultancy HWTSK, with support from the World Bank which has already contributed US$20m towards the rehabilitation of 76 route-km between Gyumry and Ayrum.