Train from Janakpur to run up to BijalpuraThe new section will be handed over to Nepal Railway Company within a month and a half, according to officials.
The Kurtha-Jayanagar cross-border railway is set to serve up to Bijalpura of Mahottari district soon. Bijalpura is 17 kilometers from Kurtha.
Officials from Nepal and India have started the groundwork for handing over the newly extended railway line up to Bijalpura to the Nepal Railway Company, according to Nepali officials.
After a long delay, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on April 2 flagged off the Kurtha-Jayanagar train service.
Now the expansion work including laying the railroad and building railway stations, has been completed, Balaram Mishra, infrastructure expert to the Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transportation Renu Yadav, told the Post.
The new railway line will be handed over within a month and a half, said Mishra, who earlier served as director-general at the Department of Railways. “We have formed a committee for taking over and handing over the extended railway line,” he said.
The original plan was to link the cross-border railway from Jayanagar to Bardibas via Kurtha and Bijalpura, whose length will be 68.7 kilometres. The government of India has already decided to provide a grant to construct the first-ever cross-border railway link between Nepal and India. The length of the railway from Jayanagar to Bijalpura will be 52 kilometres, according to the officials.
The Jayanagar-Kurtha-Bijalpura-Bardibas railway is one of the five cross-border links being planned between Nepal and India. Besides this, India has already expressed its commitment to expanding the cross-border railway from Kakarvitta, Biratnagar, Janakpur, Bhairahawa, and Nepalgunj and linking it to the closest Indian railway stations. Work is currently underway for laying another new railway line from Raxaul to Kathmandu.
Besides the Jayanagar-Kurtha-Bijalpura railway link, India is currently working on expanding another railway linking Biratnagar to Bathnaha (India) which will be about 18 kilometres long.
“By mid-July, we are planning to resume the operation of the Jayanagar-Kurtha railway up to Bijalpura and we are preparing for a joint inspection of the railway link with the Indian side,” said Dipak Kumar Bhattarai, director general at the Department of Railways.
Officials said that the passenger train between Jayanagar and Kurtha is running in full capacity.
“Once we expand the railway link up to Bijalpura, we will have more passengers and more income,” said Mishra.
India has spent around Rs10 billion to rebuild the old railway track, and the Nepal government has purchased two train sets for around Rs1 billion.
According to officials, before the formal resumption of the newly expanded railway service, both sides will complete technical works on the ground, including test drive, speed trial, and track inspection, among others.
“The major part of construction of the Kurtha-Bijalpura section has been completed,” said Bhattarai. “There are some technical works to be completed by both sides before the new railway track is brought to use. Once we connect Bijalpura with Jayanagar, the next destination will be Bardibas which will be linked with the proposed East-West railway.”
According to officials, the standard operating procedure (SOP) for the new railway line would be the same as the Kurtha-Jayanagar section and Nepal will not allow people from third countries to travel to India by rail via the Bardibas-Kurtha-Jayanagar railway. The SOP is a document outlining the procedures to be adopted while operating the railway service.
“Though we have not discussed the SOP for the newly extended railway line with the Indian side, it’s likely to be the same as the previous one,” said Bhattarai.
Expressing security concerns, India has said it will not allow the entry of third-country nationals to India via this railway line. The Nepali side has agreed to the condition.
Talking with the Post earlier in November 2021, Bhattarai had said that initially, the Indian side had proposed that third-country nationals should be completely barred from using the railway service even within Nepal. “But we rejected the proposal. Then both sides agreed that even third-country nationals can travel on the railway within Nepal but they won’t be allowed to cross over to India,” said Bhattarai.
According to Bhattarai, India’s security concern was one of the reasons why it took so long to finalise the SOP earlier. With Nepal and India sharing a porous border, the Indian establishment has always been suspicious about the possibility of criminals and terrorists using the border to enter India. Both sides have suffered from cross-border crimes over the last several years.
“We have not discussed this matter but our expectation is that the SOP for the new railway line would not be different,” said Bhattarai.
The Jayanagar-Kurtha will be the first modern railway service in the country. Earlier, there was a narrow-gauge railroad from Janakpur to Jaynagar that had served people from 1937 to January 2014.
The railroad was first laid as a cargo line to carry timber from Nepal to India. After dismantling the narrow gauge track, a new broad gauge railroad was laid with the assistance of the Indian government. The work was completed in late 2019. Currently, as many as 25 Indian technical staff are working on the Jayanagar-Kurtha railway line. India has agreed to train the Nepali manpower too.
“The Jayanagar-Kurtha railway line has shown that we can operate train service in profit and the prospects are good,” Mishra said.