Developing rail link: Tall promise but little to show offIt was a grandiose promise of major political parties that captured the audience enough that discerning people warned against getting starry-eyed over it.
It was a grandiose promise of major political parties that captured the audience enough that discerning people warned against getting starry-eyed over it. From election manifesto to public events, leaders of major parties acted like dream merchants who ingeniously sold aspirations to their constituencies of developing rail networks to enhance connectivity not only within the nation but also with the neighbouring countries.
Developing railway network has often been a major agenda of every Nepali prime minister visiting India and China—the two nations which have made significant strides in mass transportation through railways.But is that something that can happen anytime soon?Probably not, if you consider the state the government agency responsible for developing railways is in.Not only does the Department of Railways lack a single railway engineer, but the number of civil, mechanical and electric engineers too is not adequate to realise the dream of developing railway lines in the country.
Of the 40 officials the departmet has on its current payroll, the number of engineers stands at eight—a severe handicap the technical status of the government. Four of them are civil engineers, three mechanical engineers and an electrical engineer. “For all the tall promises of developing efficient transportation system, the department lacks capacity even to analyse the proposal forwarded by overseas companies,” Prakash Upadhyaya, senior divisional engineer at the DoR, told the Post. “We don’t even have a single railway engineer.”
According to him, the DoR has sent two of its engineers to China to study railway engineering—a two-year Masters Degree course. “There is no one in the department who understands railways. We expect those officials to evolve as resource for the government in the near future,” Upadhyaya said, adding that the department at present is managing operations by studying content available online as well as consulting with foreign experts. In the absence of expertise, the department has failed to make its position on proposals submitted by half a dozen Chinese firms seeking government’s approval for initiating a study on a rail network connecting Nepal with China.
While preparations for the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of Butwal-Bardibas railway line has been completed, according to the DoR, the DPR of Bardibas-Kakadbhitta is nearing completion. The department has begun a field survey for the development of a railway line in the western region by segregating it into four parts—115-km Butwal- Lamahi; 102-km Lamahi-Kohalpur, 95-km Kohalpur-Sukhad and 94-km Sukhad-Gaddachauki.
Around 75-80 percent of civil works have been completed on the Bardibas-Lalgadh railway line project which is financed by the Nepal government, the DoR said. Likewise, reconstruction of certain sections and upgradation of the Jayanagar-Janakpur-Bardibas railway line and construction of the Jogbani-Biratnagar line is going on under the support of India. Most of these activities, including study is being led by consultants from China and South Korea.
Apart from human resources, the projects are facing severe budget constraints.The government has allocated Rs4.02 billion this fiscal year for DPRs of the Bardibas-Mechi section and the Butwal-Mahakali section under the Eastwest Electric Railway, Mono Rail Development Project, the Kathmandu-Birjung railway and the construction of railway track of the Bardibas-Simara section. The department, however, says an annual budget of around Rs35 billion will be required to see these railway projects gather steam.