In New Delhi on Thursday, Nepal and India signed a memorandum of understanding to create a thorough project report for a proposed $3.15 billion railway between Kathmandu and the Indian border town of Raxaul in the south.
The broad-gauge line will provide a direct link between the Nepali capital and the Indian railway network, allowing nonstop train travel to all Indian towns.
On March 9, the Nepali Cabinet gave the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport in-principle clearance to sign a memorandum of understanding with India to develop a plan.
The 136- to 198-kilometer train link to Raxaul is considered as New Delhi’s attempt to offset Chinese influence in Nepal.
The memorandum of understanding was signed on behalf of their respective governments by Deepak Kumar Bhattarai, director general of Nepal’s Department of Railways, and Anurag Bhushan, joint secretary at the Development Partnership Administration under the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.
According to the agreement, India will complete the detailed project report within 18 months of the agreement’s start date, with Nepal assisting in the process. It will be prepared at no cost to the Indian government.
“The signing of the agreement is a significant step forward,” said Aman Chitrakar, a Railways Department spokeswoman who is part of the visiting delegation in New Delhi.
He stated that the full project report would look into a variety of details, including contract drawings, detailed technical feasibility, and financial feasibility, as well as the project’s execution.
The proposed broad-gauge railway project has already been subjected to a pre-feasibility study by Konkan Railways Corporation. The width of Indian broad-gauge tracks is 1,676 mm.
Analysts say that after China offered to assist Nepal in building a Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu railway to improve cross-border connectivity, India reacted with a proposal for the Kathmandu-Raxaul railway project.
Once this railway is built, goods from India and other nations can be delivered directly to Kathmandu.
Currently, shipments arriving from abroad are transported by train to the inland container depot in Birgunj before being transported by road to Kathmandu and other destinations.
Due to the coronavirus epidemic, the Chinese side has also been working remotely on a full feasibility study for the projected Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu railway, according to the Department of Railway.
After the Indian blockade in 2015-16, former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had made an endeavour to strengthen communication with China.
During Oli’s first term as prime minister, Nepal has asked financial and technical assistance from China to complete a feasibility study and full project report for the Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu and Kathmandu-Pokhara-Lumbini railway projects during a visit to China in March 2016.
China pledged to prepare a full project study for the Rasuwagadhi railway when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Nepal in October 2019.
As part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, India has started a variety of connectivity projects, including railways, rivers, and highways, and has proposed building the Kathmandu-Raxaul railway.
During Oli’s official visit to India in April 2018, the two neighbours agreed to build a new electrified rail connection between Raxaul and Kathmandu with Indian financial assistance.
According to a joint statement released at the time, the railway’s goal is to increase connectivity, improve people-to-people connections, and support economic growth and development.
The two sides signed a memorandum of understanding in August 2018 to conduct a preliminary engineering and traffic survey of the broad-gauge railway. The study was assigned to the Konkan Railway Corporation by India. A preliminary survey has been performed by the railway firm.
According to the study report, the proposed railway will cost between $2.66 and $3.15 billion to build, without including land acquisition and taxes on imports of various technical and other supplies.
The Indian side has proposed that four lines be built to link Raxaul and Kathmandu. After the land has been cleared on the Nepalese side, the building is estimated to take five years.