(Adds details of the project)
MEXICO CITY, April 23 (Reuters) - The Mexican government is pushing ahead on a priority rail project, awarding on Thursday a 15.5 billion peso ($626 million) contract for a first phase of construction on its “Mayan Train” project, the government said in a statement.
The nearly $8 billion project, deemed essential infrastructure by authorities, is a top priority of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador who touts it as a major generator of jobs in the country’s disproportionately poor south.
The offer made by a consortium including Portugal’s Mota-Engil, China Communications Construction Company, Grupo Cosh and Eyasa y Gavil Ingenieria, was deemed to have made the best economic and technical proposal, according to the statement from the National Fund for Tourism Promotion (Fonatur), which oversees the project.
The statement said the winning offer was selected on April 2 and was one of 14 made for the contract, but it did not disclose the other offers or which companies made them.
The government has been under pressure to delay or even cancel flagship infrastructure projects due to pre-existing fiscal constraints last year made worse recently by the coronavirus-caused economic slowdown.
Lopez Obrador balked at any possible delay again on Wednesday as he unveiled a nearly $26 billion spending reshuffle that he said would strengthen priority infrastructure projects. But it remained unclear how much of the package represented increases over previously budgeted spending.
The 1,470-km (913-mile) rail project is designed to connect tourist hot spots from southern Chiapas state to the Yucatan Peninsula along the Atlantic coast, including the popular Maya ruins of Palenque and Chichen Itza to top beach resort Cancun.
Part of the project will be constructed along an existing rail line.
Construction is set to begin in the next few days and polices are in place to protect workers from the coronavirus, according to Fonatur. ($1 = 24.8040 Mexican pesos) (Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Alistair Bell and Daniel Wallis)