France’s Interinfra group has received a letter of intent from the National Mass Transit Authority for the Karachi metro project which has a total estimated cost of $400 million.

Interinfra’s main shareholder is the Alcatel Alsthom group with a 52.5 per cent stake, followed by Groupe Schneider with 34 per cent, Societe Generale d’Entreprises and Dumez, all of France, with about 6 per cent each.

The French firm bid for the contract against Zurich-based ABB Asea Brown Boveri, Siemens of Germany, Japan’s Marubeni Corporation and the US’ Packwest, a subsidiary of Westinghouse.

Interinfra has indicated that it will be holding discussions on financing with the World Bank, as well as financial and industrial partners interested in operating the system.

The project, which should come into service in 1998, is for a light metro system, with a capacity to transport some 20,000 passengers an hour in each direction. It involves the construction of a surface and overhead system, comprising 12.5 kilometres of line and 15 stations, as well as the supply of 22 two-carriage trains.

Interinfra is planning to share project supervision with Alcatel Alsthom’s consulting engineering subsidiary, Sogelerg, which carried out studies of the route and feasibility of the metro line with the help of a French government grant.

Electro-mechanical equipment would be supplied by France’s Cegelec and Spie Enertrans with the UK/French GEC Alsthom providing the signalling system and rolling stock. Civil engineering work would be carried out by France’s Societe Generale d’Entreprise, Spie Batignolles and Dumez- Grands Travaux de Marseilles.

Interinfra is expected to involve local companies in civil engineering work for the contract.

Interinfra, formed in 1976, has won two international metro contracts to date. It is finishing the second line of the Cairo metro system and is supervising construction of lines two and three of the Athens metro system.

Interinfra’s letter of intent for the contract follows the visit to France in November by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, during which a joint land transport co-operation committee was set up. A key objective was to facilitate the award of the metro contract to French companies, ministry sources said at the time.

French firms could expect to obtain contracts for about half the total value of the $400 million contract, they estimated.