Chinese team begins initial Railway study of the Kerung-Kathmandu connectivity

A team of Chinese engineers look at geographical map of the Himalayas. Around half a dozen technicians have started inspection of sites proposed for the railway line.

KHATMANDU, NEPAL: A team of Chinese engineers has begun pre-feasibility study of the Kerung-Kathmandu railway weeks ahead of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s state visit to China.

Around half a dozen technicians have started inspection of sites proposed for the railway line. Officials from the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport and Department of Railway (DoR) have accompanied the technicians from China Railway First Survey Design Institute Group.

Officials familiar with the plan say the study follows Nepal-China talks to push the project. Railway is among the key agenda of PM Oli’s visit that would give impetus to the project. This is part of the 10-point agreement forged during the PM’s previous visit to China.

“The railway project, including Kerung-Kathmandu, might be among key agendas in the PMs Visit,” an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) said. “The findings of the study will also determine its fate.”

According to DoR officials, the Chinese team will complete study of ground level situation within couple of days and conduct detailed study/analysis in Beijing.

DoR Spokesperson Prakash Bhakta Upadhayaya told the Post, “The team is studying several possibilities for the construction of railway line. The team will note the geological structure of Tatopani, the other bordering point apart from Rasuwagadhi which is considered to be the entry point of Chinese railway line connecting Nepal.”

The Chinese side, according to Upadhayaya, has dropped a hint that Manamaiju that lies towards the west from Tokha is appropriate for building railway station in Kathmandu.

The Chinese team will submit its report by August 2018. China will fund the study.

Though a Detailed Project Report (DPR) will identify overall aspects of the project, the preliminary study shows that it will take at least seven years to complete the project because it lies in one of the most difficult terrains.

“The technical team told us it will be among the most challenging projects commissioned by China. A lot of research needs to be done as the project rolls,” Upadhayaya said.

The current study, though named pre-feasibility, is advanced compared with feasibility studies of other infrastructure projects commissioned in Nepal.

Following a preliminary study on railways in Nepal in the second week of November 2017, a Chinese delegation had concluded that two rail routes-Kathmandu-Kerung and Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini-could be developed in the country.

The team led by Zheng Jian, the Deputy Director (Vice-Minister) of National Railway Administration of China, had made field trips to Kerung, Pokhara and Lumbini as part of the study.

Aspects like altitude variation between Syaprubeshi and Kerung and the gap created between Indian and Tibetan tectonic plates after the 2015 earthquake were the major concerns of the Chinese side during the visit.

The DoR has stated that around 90 percent of the railway line from Kerung to Kathmandu, which is estimated to be around 75-km long, will be either through a tunnel or on a bridge, showing the complexity of the project.

There is optimism over the project. A section of China’s media reported the railway link between Nepal and China would be complete by 2022. The railway stretches out around 540km from Shigatse to the Jilong county in Tibetan Autonomous Region that lies on the international border.

The trans-Himalayan railway connectivity had gathered momentum after Nepal and China agreed on “exchanging ideas and proposals on constructing cross-border railways and railway network in Nepal and support enterprises to start related work as soon as possible” during Prime Minister Oli’s visit to Beijing in 2016.

The government subsequently announced in the budget, that it would prepare a detailed project report of the Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini rail network and that the construction would start within two years.