How Indian Railways kept supply line to Nepal alive even in the face of devastating floods
KOLKATA: One of worst instances of flooding in the region — areas in Bihar and Bengal abutting Nepal — has caused unprecedented damage to the road and rail infrastructure catering to border trade.
But this had little impact on goods bound for Nepal as the Indian Railways was quick to open alternative rail routes to cater to bilateral trade and Nepal’s third-country imports through Kolkata and Vizag ports. Credit should also go to people of Bihar for allowing rail authorities to restrict passenger train services so as to make way for goods movement.
“Goods operations were closed for only three days during August 17-19,” said Vishnu Chaudhary, CEO of CONCOR-run joint venture Himalayan Terminal (HTPL) at Nepal’s Birgunj, which borders the North Bihar town of Raxaul.
Chaudhary said the key Darbhanga-Sitamari-Raxaul rail link had snapped on August 13 and restoration is taking time as the alignment of some key bridges were affected.
Railways has managed the situation by diverting traffic through Sugauli. Passenger train services on the Muzaffarpur-Raxaul route was reduced from four to two, to create a six-hour dedicated window for goods movement to Nepal.
The results are visible. In July, the terminal handled 2,250 TEU (twenty feet equivalent unit) of containerised third-country cargo. In August, in spite of the devastating flood, 2,080 TEUs were unloaded.
Supply of steel, fertiliser, cement from India also went on full steam. In July, the terminal handled 31 rakes, each loaded with 2,500 tonne of steel cargo. The traffic was 25 rakes in August.
“The operations were challenging due to limited window for rake unloading,” Chaudhary reminded.
It means his team had to unload faster than the normal average of 2.2 rakes a day, failing which the entire traffic would be chocked. HTPL ended up unloading up to five rakes a day in August.
Chaudhary expects overall Nepal trade to gain momentum in the coming months, particularly with the restoration of road connectivity. Road movement is still slow. The 30-km link between Sugauli and Raxaul needs urgent repair.
Vizag cargo rising
Meanwhile, Nepalese importers are showing increasing interest to source third-country cargo through the Vizag sea port. While cargo activity stood at 50 TEUs in June, the monthly average rose to 78 TEUs in August.
According to Chaudhary, it may increase to 180 TEUs in September as two fully-loaded rakes (with 90 TEUs each) are about to depart from Vizag.