Final location survey for Kathmandu-Raxaul rail set to chug alongAfter Nepal and India signed an MoU on the proposed project in October, Indian side wants to start work immediately.
The government has initiated the necessary approval process to allow India to conduct a final location survey for the proposed cross-border railway line between Kathmandu and Raxaul, an Indian town bordering Birgunj.
The government move came after the two countries on October 7 signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on conducting a final location survey (FLS) for the proposed broad gauge railway line between the two cities. Officials said an FLS is done to prepare working details and make cost estimates.
The broad-gauge line will give the Nepali capital a direct connection with the Indian railway network, enabling uninterrupted train travel to all Indian cities.
The train link to Raxaul, which will be between 136 and 198 kilometres long, is seen as New Delhi’s attempt to counter Chinese influence in Nepal with its northern neighbour also working on a detailed project report (DPR) for the proposed Kathmandu-Kerung Cross-Border Railway.
As the DPR work for the Kathmandu-Kerung railway remains stalled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, India has sprung to start work on the Kathmandu-Raxaul railway as early as possible.
“We had sent necessary documents to the Ministry of Home Affairs to allow Indian surveyors into the Nepali territory,” said Keshav Kumar Sharma, joint-secretary at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport. “We had also sent a ‘master list’ covering the list of goods including the machinery required for field study to the Finance Ministry for tax exemption.”
Sharma, who is also the chief of the development assistance coordination division at the ministry, said that the approval process moved ahead as per the request of the Indian side, who wanted to start a field work for an FLS. “I am unaware of the latest developments in these issues as the Department of Railways is supposed to do a follow up.”
According to Sharma, the physical infrastructure ministry had sent the master list to the Finance Ministry about two months ago.
An official at the Department of Railways, however, said that the Finance Ministry is yet to grant approval for tax exemption for the goods to be brought by the Indian side for the survey.
“The Finance Ministry is taking time to give its approval for tax exemption,” said Aman Chitrakar, spokesperson and information officer at the railway department.
According to the understanding, India will complete the FLS report within 18 months of the commencement of the survey and Nepal will facilitate the process. The Indian government itself will fund the survey work, according to the Department of Railways.
“This delay in the approval process in Nepal may defer the survey,” said Chitrakar.
He told the Post in October that the FLS would study various specifications— from the drawing of contract agreements, detailed technical feasibility and financial feasibility to the execution of the project.
Konkan Railways Corporation has already prepared a preliminary engineering cum traffic survey or pre-feasibility study of the proposed broad-gauge railway project. Indian broad-gauge tracks have a width of 1,676 mm.
As per the pre-feasibility study, the railway line will start from Raxaul and pass through Jitpur, Nijgadh, Sikharpur, Sisneri and Sathikhel before connecting Chobhar, Kathmandu, and there will be 41 bridges and 40 curves.
Once completed, the railway line will provide Nepal direct access to the huge Indian market and its large population and offer an enormous potential for development of Nepal’s tourism, and it will also be a milestone for replacement of fuel-based transportation, saving huge amounts of money being spent on the import of fuel, according to officials.
According to officials, once this railway line is completed, goods can be transported directly to Kathmandu from India and third countries.
Currently, shipments originating overseas are brought to the inland container depot in Birgunj by rail and transported to Kathmandu and other parts of the country by road.
With China prioritising connectivity with Nepal under its Belt and Road Initiative, India also initiated a number of connectivity projects like railways, waterways and roads, and has proposed to build the Kathmandu-Raxaul railway.
During Oli’s state visit to India in April 2018, the two neighbours had agreed to construct a new electrified rail line connecting Raxaul and Kathmandu with India’s financial support.
As per the joint statement issued at that time, the objective of constructing the railway is to expand connectivity to enhance people-to-people linkages and promote economic growth and development.
In August 2018, the two sides exchanged a memorandum of understanding to carry out a preliminary engineering-cum-traffic survey of the broad-gauge line. India had designated Konkan Railway Corporation to undertake the study. The railway company has completed a preliminary survey.
As per the survey report, construction of the proposed railway will need an investment of $2.66 billion to $3.15 billion besides the cost of land acquisition and huge amounts in foregone taxes on the import of various technical and other materials.
The Indian side has proposed building four lines to connect Raxaul with Kathmandu. The construction is expected to take five years after clearance of the land from the Nepal side. Former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had made an attempt to improve connectivity with China after the Indian blockade in 2015-16.
On a visit to China in March 2016 during Oli's first stint as prime minister, Nepal had requested the northern neighbour to provide financial and technical support to conduct a feasibility study and prepare detailed project report for the Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu and Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini railway projects.
When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Nepal in October 2019, China had agreed to prepare a detailed project report for the Rasuwagadhi railway.
“We are where we were,” Deepak Kumar Bhattarai, director general at the Department of Railway, told the Post last week, talking about the stalled DPR work for the proposed Kathmandu-Kerung railway. “There has been no progress as such.”