Train sets tested on Kurtha-Jayanagar track after 16 monthsAs Nepal Railway is yet to recruit staff, queries remain over when the service will begin.
The tarpaulin covers of the two train sets parked at Inaruwa Railway station in Janakpur were removed after 476 days as the sets were operated on the railway track on Saturday for testing the railway service.
The two machines travelled from the parking station to Kurtha, which is part of the Nepal India Cross-Border Railway connecting Kurtha in Nepal to the bordering Indian town of Jayanagar.
“These rail sets were operated for testing to see if their engine, batteries, wheels, piston, generator and lubricants were in order ahead of a formal resumption of the railway service,” said Niranjan Jha, general manager of the Nepal Railway Company, which is responsible for the operations.
Crew members from India’s Konkan Railways Corporation Ltd, which is set to provide 26 of its technical staff for one year to resume the railway service as per a bilateral agreement, operated the trains on Saturday.
On September 18, 2020, the two brand new train sets arrived at Janakpur station amid fanfare. The country had bought them at a cost of Rs846.5 million, only to be abandoned at Inaruwa Railway station for nearly 16 months as the government was not adequately prepared for their operations.
Jha said regular railway service would start by mid-February, claiming that all the preparations have been done. He told the Post last month that the company planned to start operations by mid-January but they are yet to recruit staff to operate the service.
After the formation of the Sher Bahadur Deuba government in July last year, general manager of the company Guru Prasad Bhattarai was removed, among other 150 officials recruited by the KP Sharma Oli administration.
But months after their removal, the new administration is yet to start a fresh recruitment process. New recruits need to be trained to work at track stations and as signal staff.
“The railway service can begin once manpower is recruited and trained,” said Deepak Kumar Bhattarai, director general of the Department of Railways. “These tasks should be done at the earliest to resume cross-border passenger railway service.”
The Nepal Railway Company administration had failed to start the railway service even though staff were recruited early last year. The Indian company had not handed over the railway infrastructure to Nepal and the standard operating procedure for cross-border operations was also not signed between Nepal and India.
Niranjan Jha, general manager of the Railway Company, told the Post last month that the staff hiring process had not been initiated due to uncertainty over the company's budget.
“Our board has not passed the company’s annual budget. Until a budget is approved, we cannot hire staff or sign contracts,” Jha had said. The budget endorsement was delayed after the Finance Ministry notified the company that no budget had been earmarked for the company.
The Post’s efforts to contact him for updates did not materialise immediately.
On January 4, a group of officials from India’s Ministry of Railways and Ministry of External Affairs came to Nepal on an observation visit of the railway track and the trains.
“They concluded that the track is okay for railway service operation. They also checked the train engines and found them to be in good condition,” said Bhattarai. Saturday’s test came a few days later.
Nepal and India signed the standard operating procedure for railway service in October last year. The Indian contractor, IRCON International Ltd, officially handed over the Kurtha-Jayanagar section of the railway infrastructure to Nepal later that month.The government on December 1 introduced an ordinance for the second time to facilitate the setting up of institutional and operational mechanisms such as the railway board, administrative chief and railway staff, and fare determination system.