THE PHILIPPINES government has decided to fast-track part of the long-planned Mindanao rail network, with the aim of getting the first section open during the presidency of Joseph Estrada. Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Flagship Projects & Programmes Roberto Aventajado announced at the end of January that the government will build the 86 km link between Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City as a public-private partnership.

A project group was formed in July 1998 by the Ramos administration to develop a 2000 km privately-financed network on the southern island, linking Iligan and Cagayan de Oro in the north with Davao in the southeast and Zamboanga in the far southwest. The scheme has now firmed up at 1436 km, costed at 109bn pesos. PCFPP hopes that government backing for the initial line will encourage the market for BOT concessions.

Aventajado is to head a new task force charged with drafting a preliminary feasibility study and getting private contractors on board. Indian and Spanish firms have already expressed interest in the study phase. n