Mr Getachew Betru, CEO of Ethiopian Railways Corporation (ERC), says the tender was postponed because bidders had requested more time to prepare their technical and financial bids. "The second reason is that we needed to provide explanations to some bidders who were not clear about some points in the bid document."

However, one contractor claimed that the tender has been delayed because ERC has altered the terms of tender by insisting that it will only accept bids from contractors which have worked on projects to build a minimum of 180km of new railway or highway worth in excess of $US 200m.

India's Overseas Infrastructure Alliance is responsible for engineering design and preparing the bidding documents, while the Indian government will contribute $US 300m to help fund the project, which is expected to take five years to complete.

ERC ultimately plans to extend the line west from Semera to Weldia, Bahirdar and Fenoteselam.