Chinese arrive for rail feasibility studyThe China Railway First Survey and Design Institute Group to do it on a grant basis.
A day after Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s assumption of office, a six-member Chinese technical team landed in Kathmandu on Tuesday to carry out a feasibility study of the Nepal-China cross-border railway. Dahal, the CPN (Maoist Centre) chairman, heads a coalition of two biggest leftist parties and others.
The China Railway First Survey and Design Institute Group will carry out the feasibility study via a Chinese government grant.
“We will probably hold a meeting with the Chinese technical team on Wednesday and discuss how and when to commence the feasibility study, which will take at least 42 months to complete,” Rohit Kumar Bisural, director general at the Department of Railways, told the Post.
During the official visit to China by then foreign minister Narayan Khadka in August, the Chinese side had conveyed its intent to dispatch a technical team to Kathmandu for the feasibility study of the proposed 72-kilometer railway as agreed during the Nepal visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in October 2019.
Earlier, in November second week, the Chinese side had written to Nepal’s finance and foreign ministries and asked them to sign a letter of exchange by November 25, 2022 on the grant for the feasibility study. According to the letter, the feasibility study will cost around Rs3.4 billion (180.47 million RMB).
Officials said although Beijing has agreed to fund the study, the two countries have yet to agree on how to fund the construction of the railway.
As per a pre-feasibility study, the project will cost more than $3 billion. Officials from the two ministries said the Chinese side has proposed to fund the construction through loan. They also added that taking out such a big loan without a cost-benefit analysis would be highly risky.
Aman Chitrakar, senior divisional engineer at the Department of Railways, told the Post that they will sit with the Chinese team and discuss how to move ahead with the project.
“We don’t have the expertise for a feasibility study of this scale. We don’t have the resources–technical and financial—to conduct such studies for either Kathmandu-Kerung or Raxaul-Kathmandu rails,” Chitrakar, who is also the spokesperson of the Department of Railways, told the Post.
According to the letter sent by the Chinese side to the finance and foreign ministries, the feasibility study involves aerial survey and mapping, geological survey and mapping, special technical studies, on-site surveying and mapping, geological survey, construction condition studies, engineering studies, and feasibility study report preparation.
“The Chinese side shall be responsible for undertaking the feasibility study works after the exchange of letters of approval for launching this project by the Chinese government and the Nepali government,” the letter stated.
“Conducting six relevant technical studies includes evaluation on regional crustal stability, activity of active faults and seismic safety; evaluation on the influence of debris flow, landslide, and slope at tunnel portal among others,” the letter further said.
The China Railway First Survey and Design Institute Group in 2018 had prepared technical details for the Kathmandu-Kerung railway line and later conducted the pre-feasibility study.
The Kerung-Kathmandu railway will be part of the 550-km railroad connecting the Tibetan city of Shigatse with Kerung near the Nepal-China border. Although just 75-km long, construction of the Kerung-Kathmandu section will cost over $3 billion due to difficult geophysical terrains and other complexities, according to the pre-feasibility study.
“The first batch of Chinese experts have arrived in Kathmandu today to conduct the feasibility study and survey of the China-Nepal cross-border railway,” the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu said in a statement. “To conduct the feasibility study and survey of the China-Nepal cross-border railway has been a long-cherished dream of the Nepali people…”
The team was welcomed by the Charge d’Affaires of the Chinese Embassy, Wang Xin.
“It is also an integral part of jointly building the Belt and Road Initiative [BRI] between China and Nepal. China gives priority to Nepal’s aspirations and needs in this regard, and will proactively push ahead with the feasibility study with the China aid fund. The two countries will maintain close contact and coordination in jointly carrying out the work ahead with a view of building trans-Himalayan multi-dimensional connectivity network,” the embassy said.
The earlier pre-feasibility study completed in 2016 and later in 2018 by the Chinese companies stated that complicated geological terrain and laborious engineering workload would be the most significant obstacles to building a cross-border railway. The line, which will pass through rugged high mountains, would involve orchestrating complex construction plans—raising questions about the viability of Nepal’s most hyped infrastructure project.
Following an agreement signed by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli during his China visit in June 2018, the China Railway First Survey and Design Institute had conducted a month-long technical study for the proposed railway via different alignments.
During the official visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Kathmandu in March, the two sides signed an agreement related to the technical assistance. Expenses for the feasibility study report and completion of the work on the Chinese side will be borne by the Chinese government, the agreement said.
Similarly, while conducting the feasibility study, the Nepali side would be responsible for providing the Chinese side the project’s basic data, gathering information in line with the requirements and sharing the information with Chinese technical aid units.
The Nepali side would also be responsible for conducting an environmental impact assessment and preparing a resettlement plan in line with Nepali laws and regulations, and preparing the project pre-condition study report.
Such reports would be reviewed and approved by the Nepal government in order to meet the needs of the feasibility study. “The Nepalese side shall provide convenience for the Chinese technical aid unit to carry out the feasibility study works for the China-Nepal cross border railway project in Nepal, including but not limited to dispatching personnel to take charge of and ensure coordination of the project,” the letter stated by the Chinese side while offering to sign the economic cooperation with the government of Nepal.
“The Nepali side will provide a safety guarantee for the Chinese personnel working in Nepal, facilitating access roads, power and communication for Chinese personnel to carry out works in Nepal .”
The total feasibility study expenses of 180.47 million RMB should be paid off under the grant assistance fund stipulated in the Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation between the governments of Nepal and China signed on August 15, 2017.