BEIJING: After a marked improvement in the country’s security situation, top companies in China that have a proven record of quality and safety are eying to clinch multibillion contracts to upgrade Pakistan’s dilapidated railways infrastructure under the $8-billion ML-I project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The China Railways Group – a Fortune 500 company known as CREC – and China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), the largest international Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) contractor of Asia, are among the four Chinese companies competing for the $8 billion ML-I project.

Pakistan would pick one of them to complete the project in two phases.

During a visit to their headquarters in Beijing, officials from these two companies briefed a group of journalists from South Asia about their future investment plans under the One-Belt One-Road Strategic Initiative. The companies also arranged visits to projects they have completed in China. These include the world’s largest bridges, tunnels, roads and bullet trains.

“We are interested to invest in Pakistan and are looking for appropriate opportunities,” said Xu Meng, Deputy General Manager of Marketing Department of CCCC International. He said that CCCC was one of the four Chinese companies competing for the ML-I project.

“The CCCC is fully capable of building sound railways infrastructure in Pakistan,” said Xu.

“The security is no more a big challenge in Pakistan and the company has not experienced any major accident during its past two years of work,” said Xu. He thanked Pakistani authorities for providing foolproof security to Chinese nationals working on CPEC projects in Pakistan.

“The financing agreement for ML-I project can be signed next month on the sidelines of the OBOR Summit being held in Beijing,” said Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reform Ahsan Iqbal, on Monday while talking to The Express Tribune.

In September last year, Iqbal had said that China would provide $5.5 billion in a concessionary loan for the expansion and renovation of Pakistan’s main rail link that connects north to south as part of its investment under CPEC. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) would provide $2.5 billion to cover the remaining cost of the project, he had said.

The CCCC was in negotiations with Pakistani authorities on financing and construction model of the ML-I project, said the Deputy GM of CCCC. The CCCC is one of the world’s largest infrastructure companies. It is also the largest international EPC contractor in Asia. In 2016, CCCC was awarded 108 projects worth $16.4 billion under the OBOR initiative, said Li Qingwei, Executive Vice President, CCCC International.

The company is also working on Karakoram Highway-II project of the CPEC and intends to complete it in March 2020.

Pakistan is a central part of China’s transition from a regional to global power. In its vast network of ports, pipelines, roads and railways, Pakistan and its strategic deep-sea port of Gwadar serve as a staging post for China’s economic rise as a global player. The port will extend China’s reach from the Indian Ocean to a number of regions.

The CREC of China Railway Group is one of the world’s largest construction and engineering contractors. It is one of the world’s top 500 enterprises, standing at 57 among Fortune World Top 500 companies in 2016.

The CREC has been pushing forward ML-I Railway Upgrading and Reconstruction Project in Pakistan, said the company’s officials during visit to its headquarter in Beijing. They said that South Asia was one of the most important marketing areas for the CREC.

The company official said that ML-1 Railway Upgrading and Reconstruction project is 1,872 km in length. It is composed of five subprojects, which is ML-1 line and 1,872 km upgrade of Harvey connection line, new line 2, new Harvey land connecting harbour, station comprehensive development and the renovation of railway institute training centre, respectively.

The early stage of the projects is the soft soil treatment, rail replacement, the reconstruction of the bridge culvert tunnel, reconstruction of crossing and vehicles, new lines construction and signal renovation, etc.

The company official said that project would comprise two phases – the short-term to be completed by 2020 and long-term by 2030. The short-term planning is further divided into two stages, which is Phase I to be finished in 2018 and Phase II, to be finished in 2020.  The long-term planning is Phase III, with an expected completion from 2025 to 2030, said the company official.

The CREC has set up a Preparatory Group of Pakistan ML-1 railway project that is in charge of the project promoting. At present, the official said, the company is in close collaboration with relevant state ministries and commissions in China and Pakistan to prepare the upcoming video meeting.

At the same time, it has arranged a setting for all contractors to optimise the construction organisation design and exchanged ideas deeply with project design team to learn the progress.

In addition, to be better prepared for the project, our company is negotiating related issues with Pakistan office in a timely manner, said the official.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2017.