epa-efePanama City

A proposed high-speed rail line between the Panamanian capital and the country's border with Costa Rica would require an investment of $4.1 billion, according to a feasibility study by the China Railway Design Corporation, presented here Friday.

The railroad, meant to accommodate both passenger- and freight-trains traveling at speeds of up to 160km/h (99mph), would take six years to build and would generate 6,000 direct jobs during construction and 2,900 permanent positions.

"The project is economically feasible because of the social profitability it represents," Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela said during the presentation.

He said that the railway would promote tourism, boost the economy, increase the value of the surrounding land, reduce transportation times and lower costs, among other advantages.

"It costs four times more to move a container internally in our country than it costs to send it to the ports of Asia," he said.

The passenger train would make the journey from Panama City to the western province of Chiriqui in three hours or less. The trip now takes at least eight hours by road.

The feasibility study was commissioned in 2017 by Varela during his first visit to China, coinciding with the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The project, which is awaiting approval, has the potential to extended into Costa Rica if the neighboring country expressed interest, the president said.

Panama already has a 100-year-old rail line that runs parallel to the inter-oceanic canal and is used mainly to transport containers between ports, though it also serves for tourist excursions.

"China and Panama are two very different nations, but both are convinced of the virtue of connection, union, communication and opening as the engine of the world economy," the Asian country's ambassador to Panama, Wei Qiang, said at the event.

Since the establishment of diplomatic ties in June 2017, China has increased its presence in the Central American country and Chinese companies have been awarded multimillion-dollar contracts to build a bridge over the Panama Canal and a cruise-ship terminal.

China is also the No. 2 user of the Panama Canal, behind the United States.