URUGUAY’S MINISTRY of Transport & Public Works was due to open on December 18 for a period of one month a data room for companies preparing to bid for contracts to upgrade and maintain 962?km of the national rail network.Bidders will be expected to price for receiving 67% of the cost as the work progresses according to contract milestones, with 33% to be paid over a period of 10 years following completion.To accommodate an extra 2?1?million tonnes of freight traffic a year by 2009, including 1?5?million tonnes of forestry products, routes to be upgraded for 18?tonne axleloads and a maximum speed of 40?km/h comprise Pintado - Piedra Sola Tres ?rboles - Livramento Chamberlain - Ombucitos and Fray Bentos - San Jos?. The contracts are to be let by CFU, a new public body owned by the National Development Corporation which will receive funding from the government and from AFE in the form of track access payments.In parallel, tendering has begun for a majority stake in CCF, a new joint venture between AFE and the private sector which will have exclusive rights to offer rail freight services over a period of 15 years. Bids to prequalify are due by January 16. The government envisages that CCF will market freight services, refurbish rolling stock and acquire new locomotives and wagons, but AFE will remain responsible for train operations and rolling stock maintenance. AFE would also upgrade and maintain those sections of the network not entrusted to CFU, receiving track access payments from CCF.